Meat consumption, as a personal choice, has a big impact on the environment. So WeWork, in a move to reduce its carbon footprint, announced in an internal email a few weeks ago that it wouldn’t be serving meat at company events and it wouldn’t be expensing meals with meat in them. Unless you work for WeWork, a company that builds offices and digital workspaces for startups and other corporations, you probably didn’t notice. But the beef industry, and its defenders, sure did.
To be fair, the beef industry itself was fairly tongue in cheek about the whole thing. The North American Meat Institute issued I Choose Meat Dot Com to “fight meat denial” in the workplace. No, really. That’s the top of the site.
The site suggests you hide hot dogs in banana peels and keep pork chops in your pocket, and on a more serious note, does offer nutrition data. Of course, one has to season this pro-meat propaganda with some salt and maybe a little lemon pepper. The beef industry’s more vocal supporters, however, are less amused. The Weekly Standard posted an article that seemed to think WeWork was at the vanguard of an anti-meat corporate shaming campaign, which is a bit of an odd take for a company policy WeWork doesn’t even mention on its own press website.
An op-ed for the Dallas News goes a bit further, claiming that WeWork was engaging in “tribalism” for shaming meat-eaters:
For all the lip service to diversity, corporate tribalism enforces legally acceptable homogeneity. You can’t racially discriminate, but you can use Stuff White People Like as a guide to approving expense reports. A meat ban keeps out the kind of Neanderthals who make a big deal of loving bacon.
While we have no firm data about the demographics behind the internet’s bacon mania, the jab about vegetarianism appearing on the Stuff White People Like blog is a funny one. Still, comparing not wanting to pay for burgers out of corporate funds to outright racism seems just a wee bit excessive, especially since the policy doesn’t apply to personal lunches.
If there’s something serious to take away from this, it’s that perhaps we need to stop and consider why we politicize food so much. Eating a certain way is so tied to political identities that even meat feels somehow divided along party lines. It’s fair to argue food is inherently political, at least to some degree, but that a corporate guideline that most people outside WeWork hadn’t even heard of set off a reaction at all speaks to just how we invest certain foods with ideological meaning.
This goes both ways, of course — both meat eaters and the anti-meat crowd often present this choice as if it says something bigger about them as humans. Perhaps we’d be better off as a society if we just accepted that we can eat what we want, but we’d have to do that while admitting that there’s no such thing, financially or ecologically speaking, as a free lunch.