For some of us, going meatless is a personal lifestyle choice. At WeWork, it’s now company policy.
WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey told his estimated 6,000 global staffers that the company that provides shared workspaces around the world will no longer expense meals that include meat and, in addition, the company will stop paying for any red meat, poultry or pork served at its company events, Bloomberg reported.
The move was said to be part of a move towards saving the environment. “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact,” McKelvey wrote in an internal memo this week, “even more than switching to a hybrid car.”
What limiting food choices say about a company
How will this new policy get enforced? Bloomberg reported that employees who eat meat for medical or religious reasons can talk with the company’s policy team to discuss their new options. The move has also sparked outside criticism.
At Slate, Felix Salmon said that the ban was “performative vegetarianism” that does not make sense from an environmental perspective: “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,” he wrote.
From a branding perspective, the move to limit food choices also builds a tribe mentality. If you have ever had a friend launch into a longwinded talk about their choice to go vegan, Paleo, keto, Whole 30, etc., we intimately understand that food choices create food tribes that become a part of someone’s identity. In this way, food choices are not just about fulfilling day-to-day hunger needs, they become emotional choices that signal one’s personal values.
One study that analyzed histories of food choices found that they can increase a sense of belonging. “Food taboos can strengthen the confidence of a group by functioning as a demonstration of the uniqueness of the group in the face of others,” Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow wrote in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine.
WeWork’s meatless announcement signal that it plans to be special corporate food tribe. It remains to be seen if the tribe of employees affected by this move will feel a greater sense of belonging, as science says it can do, or if the new policy will create a new kind of tribe — one that’s united against the meatless ban.