Why leaders of some of India’s most powerful corporations are vegetarians. Elon Musk wants to send vegetarians to Mars. It isn’t clear if Musk, the founder of PayPal, Tesla and techno-entrepreneur of the moment, is a hard-core vegetarian himself, but his plans for a colony on Mars envision crops being grown in giant bubbles with methane and oxygen harvested from the Martian atmosphere to make fertiliser. Animals for meat, or even milk, would be a superfluous cost, which will make this vision of the future not just vegetarian, but vegan.
This may just seem practical, but it is probably not unconnected that the Martian vegetarians idea was first floated by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, the publicity-focussed animal rights group, or that Steve Jobs of Apple, whose techno-god mantle Musk is clearly trying to take on, was famous for the fruits only diet he followed for years (as is shown in the recent biopic Jobs). In India we have long been used to businessmen who are vegetarian for community reasons, but abroad it seems that some are turning that way for shrewd reasons that combine practicality with publicity.
This is quite a change. For years, the world of business seemed to be the one place really resistant to vegetarianism. For centuries the point of being rich was eating what you want, and apart from India, that has meant meat. A vegetarian diet was for those too poor to eat anything else and as people got wealthier, the more meat they ate. Businessmen bonded over beef steaks and used their wealth to buy ever more exotic meats, like foie gras, sharks fin and fugu (potentially deadly blowfish). High pressure meant high protein, and changes in the business world, like the rise of Asia, simply meant more expensive non-vegetarian foods, like the way sushi has become a business dining staple.
et a few years back a business magazine published a story on the rise of the “Power Vegans” and while the number of business titans profiled — Ford Motors chairman Bill Ford, casino mogul Steve Wynn, real estate tycoon Mort Zuckerman — was not that large, there were some interesting factors in common. (Tech tycoons, like Musk, also featured, like Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter).
First, many of them were in businesses where having a high profile was important and with going vegetarian much in vogue among Hollywood celebrities, some of them seemed to be using that bandwagon (Michael Eisner, the erstwhile head of Disney is another rumoured vegetarian).
Second, it is notable how most of them were not just vegetarian, but even more rigorous vegans.
A vegan diet requires much more control, and can become quite expensive if one wants to consume all the exotic ingredients (chia seed, almond milk, seaweeds) that can become part of the diet, and this suits many businessmen with a mania for micromanaging all aspects of their life. Their wealth also enables the purchase of the required ingredients and, in a sense, a vegan diet can become a form of conspicuous consumption. Meat is now cheap in much of the West, so in an interesting twist, it is vegetarian/vegan food that is now prestigious. Wynn’s casinos in Las Vegas, the Meccas of mega consumption, now all have extensive and expensive vegan menus.
And the health benefits don’t hurt. The top business leaders know that their health is a matter of investor concern — Jobs’ sad end and the speculation it lead to about Apple’s future was again a wake-up call (though it should be noted how pointless his diet fads were in preventing it). Becoming a very public vegan sends out a signal that you are taking your health seriously and hopefully investors will think the same about your company’s health.
Besides, there are also more personal benefits.
One vegan restaurant owner has been quoted on how the rise of power vegans tends to be linked to the rise of younger vegan wives. Many of these top tycoons get very publicly married again to young, glamorous women who are often strict vegans or vegetarians themselves. For a while at least, from a combination of wifely pressure and wanting to seem youthful, business tycoons might have good reason to take vegan diets to heart.