“You’re Vegetarian Now”

A young billionaire you’ve never heard of just took a slice out of your paycheck. How much, no one is yet sure, but Miguel McKelvey is actively trying to turn his employees into vegetarians. Last month he announced he would no longer reimburse employees for business meals that include meat, a directive that has already sent shudders throughout the meat industry.

The North American Meat Institute moved quickly to “Fight Meat Denial,” launching IChooseMeat.com, which offers the “Top 10 ways to sneak meat into the office.” It’s mostly satire—such as a hot dog hidden in a banana peel—but the fact NAMI felt the need to respond to McKelvey suggests the nation’s leading meat organization sees the long-term danger in such corporate policies.

McKelvey and co-founder Adam Neumann launched WeWork in 2010, a startup that provides shared workspaces, technology startup subculture communities, and services for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, small businesses and large enterprises. Forbes estimates the company is worth $20 billion and manages 10 million square feet of office space. WeWork has 6,000 employees, and 100,000-plus members who have access to health insurance, an internal social network, social events and workshops, and a summer retreat.

WeWork’s enforced vegetarianism is a warning to livestock producers.

The announcement from McKelvey, who serves as the company’s “chief culture officer,” says banning meat from business meals and company functions was driven largely by concerns for the environment, and, to a lesser extent, animal welfare. In the corporate memo, McKelvey says, “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.” Additionally, he thinks the action could save “over 15 million animals by 2023 by eliminating meat at our events.”

Argue the validity of those points if you wish, but WeWork’s anti-meat edifice made headlines. In McKelvey’s first follow-up interview with The New York Times, he says he believes imposing his values on his employees is a natural part of being a corporate leader today.

“Companies have greater responsibility to their team members and to the world these days,” he says. “We’re the ones with the power. Large employers are the ones that can move the needle on issues.”

WeWork is also phasing out leather furniture, single-use plastics and is going carbon neutral. In time, McKelvey told the Times, the company will evaluate its consumption of seafood, eggs, dairy and alcohol.

WeWork’s enforced vegetarianism policy is much more than a whimsical directive from a technology startup with an inflated sense of self-importance. It should serve as a warning to all livestock producers that they must reshape their image to include food attributes modern consumers consider important—sustainability, animal welfare, social responsibility.