- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

ROANOKE (AP) — For telephone company Chief Executive Officer Norm Mason, a vegan and lifelong animal lover, there was never any doubt what he would offer at his company cafeteria.

Soy steaks and soy sloppy joes, veggie burgers, nachos and other meatless, eggless, butter-free delicacies are cooked daily using heavy bags of texturized vegetable protein.

If that doesn’t sound so great, consider this: It’s all free.

Mr. Mason says he created the “Vegeteria” out of concern for the well-being of his 200 employees of Cat Communications International. So he is giving them all the fresh vegetables, meat substitutes, cakes and drinks they could ever want.

“This was a way to say: ‘Look, we don’t feel it’s right to have the flesh of an animal, an animal killed for your benefit,’” Mr. Mason said. “I see it no different than smoking. People are asked to go outside and smoke.”

Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), says Mr. Mason is part of a growing number of vegetarian and vegan CEOs, including Steve Jobs of Apple Computers Inc., Michael Eisner from Walt Disney Co., John Mackey of Whole Foods Market Inc. and Bill Ford of Ford Motor Co., who have made it easier for employees to eat meat-free.

“They haven’t actually prohibited eating meat, but they’ve certainly increased exponentially the vegan offerings in their cafeterias,” Mr. Friedrich said.

But Mr. Mason, who is a PETA member, wants to go beyond catering to vegetarians. He sees a person’s craving for meat as a nasty habit that can be broken and hopes to nudge his carnivorous employees toward a different lifestyle.

So far, however, Mr. Mason’s carnivorous employees have been slow to reform.

“They have this thing called ‘soyberry steak’ instead of Salisbury steak,” said Michaela Goodman, 19, a customer service staffer who was delicately picking at a plate of corn and coleslaw.

“It just didn’t seem right. The fake meat stuff is not for me,” she said. “I tried the nachos, though, and that looked about the same. It was pretty good.”

Ginger Hinkley, 33, was more practical about her salad: “I’m not one of those veggies, but it’s free. Where else could you work and they’d actually give you free food?”

A few disgruntled employees called a local TV station to complain about not being able to bring meat into the Vegeteria. But Mr. Mason says they still can eat meat — they just have to take it into another company room. Or they could go out for lunch.



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