Dream Job, With Red Tape

by Anne Bennett on May 15, 2012


Several weeks ago I flew from Kansas City to San Francisco to visit our son Corbett at Stanford, where he’s in his third year of a five-year PhD program in neuroscience.  I got to meet some of his friends, all neuroscience students and all capable of thinking me under the table.

Stanford is located in California’s Silicon Valley, home to some of the world’s largest technology companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo. This means you cannot walk anywhere in Silicon Valley without bumping into a really smart person.

My best friend Michael’s nephew, John, happens to work at Google. (He’s a research psychologist, one of thousands of brilliant minds inhabiting the Google world.) John gave us a tour of the vast campus, which included a free lunch in one of Google’s 24 restaurants. (Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a free lunch. Meals are provided to all Google employees and their guests at no cost. And you read correctly: Google has 24 restaurants.)

As we embarked on our Google adventure, I made one request of John. Having spent two days with my ascetic son, I was Diet Coke deprived. I had to have a Diet Coke.

John led me straight to a small enclosed area where there was a glass-doored refrigerator filled with drinks and yogurt. Nearby were big bowls of fresh fruit, an espresso machine and shelves of snacks. I marveled at Google’s providing what literally amounted to a free snack shop right on the premises and John replied, “Google’s philosophy is that, in order to foster an uninterrupted creative atmosphere, no employee should have to go more than  50 yards to get a snack or a drink.”

I noticed that the drinks and snacks sat on shelves that were lined with green, yellow or red tape. John said that in an effort to steer people toward a more healthy lifestyle, Google labeled foods according to their healthfulness. The green shelves contained good-for-you snacks, the yellow shelves were borderline and the red shelves were for junk food junkies. Harrumph! Clearly not me!

I casually glanced at the refrigerator where I had gotten my Diet Coke and to my horror–it was on a red-lined shelf. “There must be some mistake,” I said to John. “The Diet Coke is on a red shelf.”

“Perhaps someone put it in the wrong place,” John said, with the sly grin of someone who knows better.

Every 50 yards we came upon another snack area and I hastened to see where the Diet Coke was. Sure enough, it sat on the red shelf right next to regular Coke. To give you an indication of how bad Google considers Diet Coke, the red-lined snack shelves contain Twinkies and potato chips, two leading contenders for America’s obesity crisis.

I was crestfallen. I’d spent the last 45 years on a diet and during that entire time I considered diet soda to be my benign cohort. Here was my favorite Internet search engine telling me in bold red tape that I was fooling myself.

Later, as we said our goodbyes and were leaving the building, Michael stopped at the last snack area and grabbed a bag of organic baked chips from the green shelf.

Smug bastard, I thought, as we walked to our car.


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Margaret May 17, 2012 at 7:52 am

I knew that diet coke was a red shelf food all along. Just didn’t want to admit it.

Anne May 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm

OK, OK, I knew that Diet Coke wasn’t exactly health food. But over the years I drank the Weight Watchers “Kool-Aid” that it wasn’t bad for you. I still don’t believe that it will kill me. That will be alcohol if anything.

Mike May 18, 2012 at 7:51 am

Anne– while I’ve never color-coded my refrigerator shelves, I do place things on specific shelves for specific reasons. For example, the beer always goes on the bottom shelf, way in the back. So when I need a beer, I have to “bend & stretch” to get one. Repeating this numerous times thus incorporates an exercise routine that must be envied, and a wonder of the modern world. Look what it’s done for me!


Anne May 18, 2012 at 9:34 am

Mike, Why didn’t I think of that, incorporating isometric exercise with beer? You’re brilliant!

Jody G. May 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Loved this story, Anne, as I love them all. Haven’t read you in awhile. Eager to catch up.

Betsy August 5, 2012 at 11:13 am

Reading back through your posts & found this one! I’m also a Diet Coke addict. There are lots of people in my world that tell me I’d be just as happy with a bottle of water (ha!) or a smoothie (who are they kidding?). I’ve decided that since I don’t have too many bad vices in my life (aside from an occasional order of fries or trashy reality TV) … I’m going to continue my relationship with DC. It could be much worse … right? 🙂

Anne Bennett August 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Betsy, I completely agree with you. There are far worse things than Diet Coke.

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