You Can Have Both: Excellent Public Health and Excellent Pizza

Frank Bruni in The New York Times writes about a business that practices excellent public health and provides excellent food at the same time.. Let’s spread the word so that more restaurants will do the same. Read Frank Bruni’s opinion piece here:


September 16, 2021
Ben Wiseman
I can rage about the number of Americans who refuse to get Covid vaccines and who, as a result, have prevented this country’s vaccination rate from rising to the level where people are as safe as possible and the economy less encumbered. And I’ve raged, believe me.
I can get depressed about the situation. I’ve done that, too.
Or I can get a pizza. That’s my strategy going forward.
Pizzeria Mercato, a much-loved Italian restaurant just five miles from my house in Chapel Hill, N.C., requires not only that all of its employees be vaccinated but also that any customer who wants to dine inside provide proof of vaccination. No jab, no grub (at least not at a table). That’s the deal, one that trumpets the importance of vaccines and provides a vaccination incentive to boot.
I love that. I want to support it. And I wonder: What if more restaurants did likewise? (Some do, including Danny Meyer’s, but not enough of them.) And more hotels and sportsfitness and entertainment venues? (Ditto.) And airlines? (Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, just announced such a policy.)
What if the willfully, proudly, stubbornly unvaccinated — people who have access to shots and no rational medical exemption but still won’t get them — were ever more frustrated as they sought their pleasures and ever more inconvenienced as they ran their errands? Would that wear down the resistance of at least a few of them? Isn’t it worth trying?
My impulse isn’t punitive. It’s practical. The new vaccination mandates that President Biden announced last week — a warranted measure, in my opinion, that he took in response to dire circumstances — won’t cover tens of millions of Americans, and it needs to be part of a broader, more coordinated campaign to lead, nudge and, yes, shove Americans toward sanity. That would help make the effort bigger than one man and one political party, for whatever that’s worth in these madly partisan times.
But even leaving that aside, requiring that customers be vaccinated is a way for businesses to better protect the workers who come in contact with those customers. It additionally allows business owners to communicate their values and take a stand.
It grants customers the same opportunity. Where to nosh: the eatery that barely enforces whatever local mask mandate may exist or the one that demands a jab? Disregard who has the tastier tostada. Choose the more principled citizen (and the safer place). Then pick the airline that requires that its employees be vaccinated.
Pizzeria Mercato was closed for all but curbside takeout for more than a year of the pandemic. In early August, shortly after its dining room reopened, its owner, Gabe Barker, announced that diners would have to provide proof of vaccination before being shown to their seats.
His decision was informed by data about the efficacy of vaccines and by conversations with his wife, a registered nurse who works at the University of North Carolina Medical Center, where, he told me, an overwhelming majority of people hospitalized for Covid-related reasons are unvaccinated.
“I’m not telling people how to make their own decisions about what to do with their bodies, and I’m not here to politicize a global health crisis,” he said. He’s just doing what “allows me to come to work every day and mitigate risk,” he added.
He also wants to try, however he can, to lessen the burden on health care workers. On top of being physically drained, they’re “mentally defeated,” he said. “They believe that this round of Covid was avoidable.”
After word of his policy got out, he and his restaurant confronted some vicious posts on social media and the restaurant’s phone lines were jammed with nasty calls. “There was a lot of inconsiderate commentary that my decision was relatable to policies in Nazi Germany,” he said. “My mother is Jewish.”
There was also, rightly, praise. Three weeks ago, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, held a news conference at Pizzeria Mercato to thank Barker and praise his example.
Barker said that his bottom line hasn’t been hurt: Some people are making it a point to patronize Mercato.
It’s where my food tomorrow night will come from. Some neighbors are having me over for dinner on their deck and they’re getting takeout from Mercato. That delights me not just gastronomically but also ethically. It’s good eating in more ways than one.

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