Vegetarianism at the workplace: WeWork goes meat-free; but is it fair to their employees?

Does a company have any business laying down dietary restrictions on its employees? In an email to employees, WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey said the firm’s upcoming internal “Summer Camp” retreat would have no meat options for attendees.

Written by Jyotsna Basotia | New Delhi | Updated: July 31, 2018 12:18:57 pm
Wework vegan, vegan workplaces, vegetarian workplaces, vegetarian offices, Wework office vegetarian, indian express, indian express news Does an employer have any business controlling their employee’s diet? (Source: Thinkstock Images)

Dress codes have long been a part of corporate culture. Nowadays, some offices enforce cell phone-friendly hours too. But can your workplace decide what you’re getting for lunch? Co-working company WeWork Cos informed its 6,000 global staff that they will no longer serve poultry, red meat or pork at its events, nor will it reimburse employees for meals that contain meat at lunch meetings or business tours.

In an email to employees, WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey said the firm’s upcoming internal “Summer Camp” retreat would have no meat options for attendees. The multi-billion dollar real estate company will no longer serve poultry, red meat, or pork at its events, nor will it reimburse employees for meals that contain meat at lunch meetings or business tours.

According to The Guardian, this call was taken as a bid to “leave a better world for future generations”.  McKelvey’s email states: “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact, even more than switching to a hybrid car.” The company also went on to assert that the action could save an estimated 16.7 billion gallons of water, 445.1 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and more than 15 million animals by 2023.

Apparently, WeWork’s new rule does not imply that members who work in its facilities cannot bring their own meat, or that they can’t serve meat at their own events. What’s more, the meatless campaign is not the only one of its kind.

Plant-forward recipes have been a favourite at Google, and PETA too has a Meatless Monday workplace initiative. But, to say WeWork’s controversial decision to ban meat for its employees hasn’t been digested easily would be an understatement. After all, does an employer have any business controlling their employee’s diet?

Battling it out

Even for a country like India, where vegetarianism is a part of many religions and cultures, few companies would pass such a diktat. While this may be a change for the better and may even encourage people to be environmentally conscious, it also is an infringement of personal freedoms and choice.

There is also much debate on how meat has been singled out. For instance, their menu bans lamb, pork, chicken and beef, but not eggs or fish. How do the latter two contribute any less towards making the environment greener and cleaner? If WeWork really wants to harbour results, it might as well implement a plant-based diet or go fruitarian.

Why go vegan?

In WeWork’s defence, vegetarianism is definitely one way to go green and to let other species coexist on the planet. According to Reuters, Americans eat about 10 billion burgers each year. If you replace 30 per cent of the beef with mushrooms, it would have the same impact as taking 2.3 million cars off the road. Moreover, it takes 25kg of grain and roughly 15,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef.

Not enough to win you over to the vegan way of life? Well, if everyone became vegetarian by 2050, food-related emissions would drop by about 60 percent. If they went vegan, the decline would be around 70 per cent.
It’s not a question of whether it’s wise to go vegetarian or not, though. The question is whether a company has any place in demanding its employees turn vegetarian. Yes, organisations are within their legal rights to place such restrictions on their premises or on what office expenses would include. But maybe it would be wiser to simply incentivize employees to turn vegetarian, rather than making it the law.

Keeping all points in mind, would you take the plunge to go meat-free, or do you feel it’s an infringement of your personal freedom?

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