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Your Employer Wants a Lot More Say in What You’re Eating

We’ve found the center of the venn diagram of corporate responsibility and the slow-food movement: Lunch. Google goes as far as to monitor the most popular snacks among its employees in order to furtively help them consume less calories. (For example, replacing loose M&Ms with individual bags, thereby reducing the average caloric intake from 308 to 130.) There are also company-wide weight loss competitions — remember that episode of The Office? — as well as biometric measuring sessions for corporate wellness.

It only gets more rigid from there. Members of The Wing, a feminist workspace and social club among young female professionals, aren’t allowed to bring their food or drink into the space. Instead, they’re encouraged to purchase items from the in-house cafe (which is presumably full of ethically sourced food). Meanwhile, other companies are regularly bringing in vegetarian chefs and/or holistic doctors to address the way employees approach eating and implementing #meatlessmonday style programs.

Similarly, WeWork announced it was now a “meatless organization” in a company-wide memo earlier this month. This had two practical implications: 1) WeWork will no longer serve beef or pork during company meals and celebrations; and 2) employees in WeWork’s 406 locations around the world will no longer be able to expense meals containing meat when meeting with clients. “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact,” WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey argued as justification for the change.

At Slate, Felix Salmon calls this new meal plan both “draconian” and ignorant: “Internally, WeWork’s policy is pretty incoherent: It bans lamb, for instance, and it bans chicken, but it doesn’t ban eggs. Eggs cause just as much environmental damage as chickens do, and much less than lamb does. It’s hard to see much environmental logic in a policy that’s fine with factory-farmed salmon but that forbids people from eating pigeon. (There are far too many pigeons in the world, eat as many as you want.)”

But in a lot of ways, none of the details really matter. It’s the optics that are important. Because these days, businesses believe their values are just as crucial as their products. And so, having a strong perspective and identity — no matter how wrong the specifics might be — is a market differentiator and the key to lasting success. This is true of internal corporate policies, too. That is, promoting specific values and beliefs also benefits recruiting. More and more employees, especially millennial and Gen Z employees, want to work at companies that align with their personal values.

Along these lines, there’s an organization for vegan professionals called Vegan Leaders in Corporate Management (VLCM), which primarily targets managers and executives at Fortune 500 companies like Google, Boeing and Apple. According to a statement of their values, VLCM members don’t differentiate between their ethics as vegans and their ethics as business people:

“The rising trend of vegans in the business world to a large degree mirrors the trend in the overall society (unprecedented public discussion of veganism, unprecedented supply and demand of vegan alternatives, etc.) Additionally, business professionals might particularly be drawn to the vegan lifestyle, and find it highly compatible with their existing driven, informed and responsible lifestyle. This is not a widely discussed or recognized theory but conceptually, many values that define good business leaders (integrity, care, knowledge, innovation, initiative and self-improvement) are the same as the values that underlie the vegan philosophy.”

Its members, of course, only offer more of the same. “I work to convince ‘sustainable’ and ‘environmental’ mutual funds to include the welfare of animals in their screening criteria when evaluating companies in which to invest,” an investment banker writes in a testimonial on the site. “This effort has been helped by new relationships I gained from the Vegan Leaders group.”

Some people argue the widespread adoption of veganism could be way more environmentally beneficial than electric cars, which WeWork’s McKelvey cites in his memo. (Meanwhile, Tesla’s leather-free vehicles are now vegan; Elon Musk’s diet, however, is not.) But others, like Salmon, are unimpressed by how CEOs benefit from branding their companies with these values without living by them themselves (a la Musk). He critiques McKelvey’s proposal as being more of a branding opportunity than a solemn environmental promise:

“It’s arrogant paternalism of the highest order for a billionaire American co-founder, one whose own personal carbon footprint is surely in the top 0.1 percent of global citizens, to impose his own preferred environmental solution on thousands of employees who were probably doing much better than he was, on that front, all along. (McKelvey is building a multimillion-dollar mountaintop house in Utah.)”

Maybe he won’t serve lamb chops at dinner parties there, though?