We spent the morning at Uber HQ in San Francisco chatting with Gaby Camacho, a culinary writer turned Food Program Manager who’s on the leading edge of corporate food program practices…
Growing up in Tijuana, a notoriously a “bad environment”, Gaby has come a long way. Prior to her current role as Food Program Manager at Uber, she had first-hand experience building food programs at two of the largest companies in Silicon Valley – Google and Twitter.
Today, she’s on a mission to build a sustainable food program that supports local communities and celebrates small business owners by giving them an opportunity to feed the talented brains that keep the city’s wheels spinning.
Why do you provide food in the office?
To optimize the workforce’s efficiency. To make sure people can stay on site and do as much as possible while also being as healthy and nourished as possible.
“Increased collaboration is a great bi-product of our food program. You can go to lunch with your team and it’s a work lunch.”
What do you mean by “optimize the workforce’s efficiency”?
If you think about the amount of time it would take any worker to leave their offices to go eat … it would be at least an hour. By providing food on site we probably reduce that by half. When we provide food here employees spend 5 minutes to grab their food and eat at their desk. At Uber getting the work done is the top priority.
More importantly, we’ve seen many teams use that lunch time for team building and meetings. Increased collaboration is a great bi-product of our food program. You can go to lunch with your team and it’s a work lunch.
Lunch is major food occasion but the snack breaks are also a really great way for people to collaborate too. At Google we liked to call these “casual collisions” – bumping into somebody in a break room and then being able to bounce ideas off of one another. We’ve seen that happen here with your Replenish machines. People hear about it from a colleague and come in groups to geek out over the machine and talk about what flavors they like and go back to their desks as a group. It’s like the new watercooler.
Why is optimizing for efficiency so important?
The way that users experience our product outside is a reflection of the way TK (our CEO) has built this Company on the inside. Optimizing for efficiency is what we do for customers, and what we live by here.
“But I’m trying to tip the scale. I want to try to nurture the small pockets of culture that are trying to bubble back up.”
Gaby Camacho looking at micro kitchen snack options
What makes nurturing local companies so special and unique to you?
In the culture that I grew up in, there was a lot of fostering small companies, like supporting a person selling tamales out of a cooler, and being a part of that community.
Sure I work for these large tech companies that have, in some ways, edged out smaller companies, and changed the culture in the city so significantly. For example, rents are exorbitant, and people who had been here for a really long time had to leave. But I’m trying to tip the scale. I want to nurture the small pockets of culture that are trying to bubble back up.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Partnering with vendors like you guys. Vendors like Bluestar. Smaller vendors who are a lot more invested, willing to experiment, be flexible, and provide a personal touch.
For me part of what’s fulfilling is being able to have that mutually beneficial relationship not only where the company is providing us with a super cool product but we are helping that company grow too.
BlueStar crew making their first Replenish smoothie.
Tell us more about the food program you’re developing.
We’re basing our program on the Cuesa’s four guiding principles for sustainable food:
• Environmentally Sound: producers actively work to create and sustain cultivated landscapes and use practices that conserve and restore resources
• Humane Animal Treatment: animals are allowed to engage in the natural behaviors and are harvested in ways that minimize stress
• Economically Viable: producers operate within a framework of sound business planning
• Socially Just: producers and their employees receive fair and reasonable compensation and work in a safe and respectful environment
First, we’re working with partners like Bon Appétit that help facilitate these sustainable practices. Second, we’re using that framework to guide all of our future decisions. Lastly, we are applying those principles to a new product rollout with careful product selection.
One of the biggest core values we have at Uber is to celebrate the cities that we are in. We hire local people to run local offices because those are the people who understand local customs, holidays, culture. So the food program will reflect that – we want to work with vendors and align with business partners to support the local economy.
If your job was a movie, which movie would it be?
Immediately I thought Groundhog Day. [Laughs]. Maybe it would be more like a Speedy Gonzalez cartoon so it would be a mix of both.
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Diana Kennedy. She is a food Anthropologist based in Mexico who writes books about pre-colonial Mexican food during the indigenous times when people were spit-roasting, fire-roasting, or steaming things over an open fire. Before we got breads or dairy products, very close to a paleo diet. She’s one of my food heros, but it would be super intimidating to cook for her. So I would invite her to dinner if somebody else was cooking for her…
Uber cafeteria lobby “STAY HUNGRY” installation