Big Mike’s Bean House – Revisited

Last December, my article was titled, Big Mike’s Bean House. It was inspired by an article my friend, Covington County Circuit Judge Ben Bowden, sent me, “If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef.” The Judge is apparently obsessed with protein because last month he sent me another article from the New York Times titled “Memo From the Boss: You’re a Vegetarian Now.”

My original article discussed a study done by researchers from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculating the environmental effect of Americans substituting beans for beef in their diet. One of the researchers, Helen Harwatt, stated, “A relatively small, single food substitution could be the most powerful change a person makes in terms of their lifetime environmental impact – more than downsizing one’s car, being vigilant about turning off light bulbs, and certainly more than quitting showering.”

Nine months later, the stakes have risen. This is no longer about a voluntary diet substitution. For people employed at WeWork, it is about their job, their lives, and their livelihood. WeWork, a sponsor of the 2017 Houston Southern Smoke Barbeque Festival, is no longer a safe place for carnivores.

WeWork is a large company that specializes in providing shared office space to businesses. WeWork has more than 6,000 employees and controls office space in 23 U.S. cities and 21 other countries. WeWork’s corporate values include a mission to build a community – a place you join as an individual “me” but where you become part of a greater “we.”

Last month, WeWork announced it was going vegetarian or meat-free. The company will no longer serve red meat, pork or poultry at company functions and it will no longer reimburse employees for meat during a business meeting. Miguel McKelvey, WeWork’s co-founder and Chief Culture Officer, said, “The decision was driven largely by concerns for the environment, and to a lesser extent, animal welfare. Research indicates 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.” It appears Mr. McKelvey is a fan of Ms. Harwatt’s study.

Mr. McKelvey says, “I don’t eat meat, but I don’t consider myself a vegetarian. I consider myself a ‘reducetarian.’ I try to consume less and be aware of the decisions I’m making. Not just food, but single-use plastics and fossil fuels and energy.” Mr. McKelvey also indicates imposing his values on his employees is a natural part of being a corporate leader, “Companies have greater responsibilities to their team members and to the world these days. We’re the ones with the power.”

Google tried to impose “meatless Mondays” at two of its many cafes at company headquarters. Employees rebelled, throwing away silverware and staging a barbeque in protest. Lazlo Bock, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, said, “Human beings really don’t like when you take choice away from them. What people are much more amenable to is nudges. How can you change the environment in a way that doesn’t remove choice, but it sends a signal for people to make a good decision?”

Mr. McKelvey says, “We’re coming at it from an awareness and mindfulness perspective. The headline has been meat-free, but this is a much larger effort to develop personal accountability in our team.” There is no question that WeWork has the right to impose meat-free conditions on its employees. This is not a legal issue, it is a control issue about a few executives imposing their personal world view values on their employees, even if that includes what they can eat at work. It is certainly not the inclusive, open community values that WeWork expresses on their website.

WeWork’s policy is simply another attempt to impose a personal restrictionist view of global warming on other people they control or influence. If global warming is a serious problem, it deserves serious treatment, not nonsense about people eating or not eating meat. Some employees will accept WeWork’s mandate. Other good employees will leave because they value their freedom of choice. WeWork and Mr. McKelvey will be the big losers. They would do better by exploring how we all can better live with the results of global warming instead of imposing restrictive conditions on personal lifestyles.

Big Mike’s Steakhouse in Andalusia continues to do very well. People routinely wait for a table to enjoy their steaks. WeWork employees will have to look for a table at Big Mike’s Bean House.

I hope you have a good month.