How Google Got Its Employees to Eat Their Vegetables
The tech giant is engineering a way to encourage its employees to eat healthier — and it might just help the rest of the country
Tina Williams eats greens for breakfast every day. She didn’t always. There was a time when the only vegetables she regularly ate were canned corn or potatoes. But Williams works at Google in New York City, where the food is free and her favorite kale-quinoa-avocado salad is available starting at 8 a.m. each workday.
Growing up, Williams would never have believed that she would one day eat salad for breakfast. Her middle-class family lived outside of Boston, and she remembers feeling sorry for the kid she knew whose mom always bought whole-wheat bread. But over nine years at Google, where she eats breakfast and lunch five days a week, she has learned to like bok choy, a vegetable she previously wouldn’t have recognized in the supermarket, and Brussels sprouts, of which she says, “It turns out I really like when they are well-prepared.”
Williams, who is 35, tall, and fit, now feels good about how she eats. But she knows that her healthier diet depends in large part on Google. When she took maternity leave a few years ago, she didn’t have time to prep greens every morning — never mind that despite multiple attempts, her version of the kale-quinoa salad never turns out quite right. “That’s what I fear if I lose my job,” Williams told me. “The food implications! Which is nuts.”
Google’s free food is a well-known perk, both in and beyond Silicon Valley. The company’s first chef, Charlie Ayers, won his job in 1999 by cooking a meal for Google’s then 40-some employees that included, among other dishes, Sri Lankan chicken curry with roasted pumpkin. It wasn’t long before every ambitious Silicon Valley company was compelled to compete with the legend of Google’s food. A 2014 headline from nerd-food site Serious Eats summed up its reputation: “Lunch at Google HQ Is as Insanely Awesome as You Thought.”
For some time now, Google has been quietly adding a (virtuous) new wrinkle to its food program: It’s no longer enough just to keep its employees happy; it’s trying to make them healthy, too. Over the past five years, the company has…