Beyond Krispy Kreme: How The Pandemic Has Exposed America’s Fatphobia

Lydia Wang
·4 min read

Although many of us can’t wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine, some people are still wary of side effects. Others distrust vaccines altogether. According to a recent NPR study, 49% of Republican men say they will not get vaccinated (fun!), citing distrust in the White House and scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci. There are many reasons to get the shot, and on Monday, doughnut chain Krispy Kreme announced one more: From now until the end of the year, anyone who brings a vaccination card into one of its locations will get a free glazed donut.

“We all want to get COVID-19 behind us as fast as possible and we want to support everyone doing their part to make the country safe by getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to them,” wrote chief marketing officer Dave Skena in a statement. This isn’t a one-time offer, either: vaccinated Americans can score a donut a day at any U.S. location. The company will also incentivize employees to get the vaccine with four additional hours of paid time off.

Naturally, Twitter exploded with excitement and surprise — and then, jokes, which quickly turned into fatphobic digs. “Such irony,” wrote one user. “Krispy Kreme donuts were the comorbidity that made me eligible to get vaccinated in the first place!”

Even worse, some doctors criticized the initiative. “Krispy Kreme offering free doughnuts for getting vaccinated is like Marlboro offering free cigarettes for getting a flu shot,” Dr. Eugene Gu, MD wrote on Twitter. “We have an obesity epidemic in this country that is killing us. Corporations that ride the COVID-19 vaccine as a marketing ploy for junk food is terrible.”

Many of Gu’s followers took issue with his statement. Krispy Kreme’s plan is a marketing technique, yes, but it’s also a harmless one. It might encourage a few skeptics to try a little harder to find an open vaccine appointment, and it might drive some new customers to the chain. The ploy won’t end the pandemic or have a significant impact on anyone’s health. But are all the Twitter jokes and criticisms really about health, or are they just rooted in fatphobic outrage?

“Tens of thousands of lives depend on vaccine hesitant people getting vaccinated as quickly as possible so the US reaches herd immunity but yesterday a number of pundits were mad at Krispy Kreme for incentivizing people with donuts,” Aaron Rupar wrote on Twitter.

Since its onset last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified fatphobia in America. Many experts took issue with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s assertion that obesity worsens outcomes from the coronavirus. In an op-ed for Wired, dietician Christy Harrison acknowledged studies proving that individuals with higher BMI were also at a higher risk for COVID, but argued that they were short-sighted and didn’t take into account factors including healthcare discrimination. The reports, Harrison wrote, fail to “control for race, socioeconomic status, or quality of care — social determinants of health that we know explain the lion’s share of health disparities between groups of people.”

Then, we saw another wave of vitriol when fat people became eligible for the vaccine. “I’m annoyed obese people of all ages get priority vaccine access before all essential workers,” wrote Blake McCoy, a Fox 5 anchor in Washington, D.C., in a since-deleted tweet. “When most stayed home, we went to work everyday last March, April, May and everyday since putting ourselves & loved ones at risk.” He later apologized, after many people called him out for shaming and perpetuating attacks against fat people who choose to get the vaccine.

Krispy Kreme’s gimmick is just that: a gimmick. Even if the campaign is self-serving, it also encourages those who are eligible to protect themselves and others from the virus — and really, it’s never a bad thing to offer free food during a time of widespread economic instability and food insecurity. The real problem here is the odd, mass panic over the idea of a vaccinated person — especially one who happens to be fat — receiving a free Krispy Kreme donut.

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