Is This an Evil Move on Google’s Part?

Google has long prided itself on its motto, “Don’t Be Evil”.

And despite some bumps along the way, I think for the most part it has lived up to that motto.

However, one newspaper has raised some concerns about one of Google’s latest moves.

In an attempt to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, Google is making changes to the food it serves its employees: everything from blending burgers with mushrooms to a data-driven quest to create the most delicious vegan taco.

While that sounds like a noble cause, the story in Silicon Beat used words like “stealthily” and “surreptitious” to describe the approach that Google has used to influence its employees’ eating habits.

For almost a year, Google has been part of a bigger project run by the nonprofit World Resources Institute called the Better Buying Lab, which aims to study the barriers that prevent consumers from shifting away from meat-heavy diets and come up with strategies to help overcome them. Google recognizes that meat consumption is also an important part of its carbon footprint; by one estimate, raising livestock for meat, dairy, and eggs is responsible for 14.5% percentage of global emissions.

When Fast Company visited multiple Google cafeteria food stations, it found that each one was nudging diners to make one choice in particular: eat less meat.

The tweaks included listing a vegan burger first on a daily menu, putting the vegetable-broth choice for Vietnamese pho soup ahead of the meat broth, increasing the percentage of mushrooms in its hamburger patty from 20 percent to 50 percent, and offering up a prototype vegan taco that’s designed to be as tasty as any taco a carnivore would eat.

These changes are similar to other methods Google has used to encourage healthy eating habits, such as offering smaller-size plates, or tiny servings of smoothies near much larger-size water glasses to encourage people to drink less sugar and more water, or focusing on making salad stations as tempting as possible.

Google claims that it is not trying to guilt any employee into changing their eating habits, but is using data and behavioral science to affect change in a more positive way.

Maybe I’m biased, but I applaud Google for what it is doing. Eating less meat is good for people and the planet, and by offering plant-based options at its cafeterias, it is offering employees the opportunity to explore the benefits of such foods. And if they don’t like it, they can always go back to their old eating habits.

Hopefully some day I’ll get to tour the Google campus and try these vegan meals first hand, but in the meantime, I feel fortunate to work at perhaps the most vegan friendly college in the country – Villanova University.

In fact, just yesterday the campus dining halls were serving vegan minestrone soup, which was so good, I went back for seconds.

That doesn’t seem evil to me, but enlightened.

So Go Google, Go Nova, and Go Vegan.


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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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