If you missed the madness, freelance writer Selene Nelson dropped William Sitwell an email, pitching an idea for a regular series of vegan recipes, accompanied with news and collaboration with a selection of chefs, to appear in Waitrose Food magazine. It would tie in with Veganuary, and be in-keeping with the direction that Waitrose & Partners is moving in. Not a strange pitch by any stretch of the imagination – and certainly a ‘trend’ to jump on if ever there was one at the moment. William Sitwell did not agree.
Whether he got out of the wrong side of the bed (doubtful, it was 3.25pm), he hadn’t had enough coffee (we’ve all been there) or he was knee deep in arrogant-mode, his response was somewhat uncalled for:
“Hi Selene, thanks for this. How about a series on killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat? Make them eat steak and drink red wine?”
A bit of an over-reaction, you might say. He’s never been subtle, but this is quite an extreme and defensive response to what was a humble pitch based on recognition of a growing ‘trend’ and a series that would align with the ethics and sales strategy that Waitrose & Partners are moving in.
As vegans we are either labelled as snowflakes or extremists. We’re brainwashing everyone around us, living an extreme lifestyle or taking everything to heart because we’re so sensitive. It can often feel like we can’t win – but at the end of the day, it’s our choice and our bodies, and we know we’re doing the right thing. The issue with the Sitwell drama is that one simple email caused his downfall – and was that right?
His respons was rude, uncalled for and shortsighted. But was being forced to step down from a 20-year relationship the answer? And what reflection does this have on our reputation as peaceful protestors? As soon as Sitwell had pressed send and Nelson had taken to social media to share the response, vegans across the country were petitioning for his resignation.
Worse things have happened to us non-meat eaters – remember when Gordon Ramsay fed vegetarians ham? He’s been working for almost 15 years since then. At the end of the day these were a handful of cutting words in an unprofessional email – it seems so unbalanced. If I’m honest, it’s an over-reaction. The publicity the incident needed has been earned. The apology it deserved has been received. But resignation and the unknown imprint on his well-earned career? The potential impact on one of the best food magazines in publication? Will this leave an empty seat at the Masterchef tasting table next year? It all seems so unnecessary – and, as Giles Coren said, quite a worrying position for a journalist to be in. With vegans across the country throwing the incident in the same bucket as racism and sexism, and using it as an example of how ‘attacked’ we often feel as a community, it was a divisive incident.
What I would say, is that it highlights the divide between the future of Waitrose & Partners, and the heart of Sitwell’s true direction as Editor of Waitrose Food magazine. The two were not on the same path, so perhaps there is a silver lining.
What should we take away from this? Don’t mess with vegans (read: don’t make death threats in general, really), don’t be rude, understand trends and your audience and always remember that you’re representing a brand when you’re responding to pitches from journalists. All things that make a lot of sense to most of us. But shouldn’t we all just ‘lighten up’ a bit, too?
Nelson has since written this piece for the Independent following Sitwell’s resignation. Janet Street Porter wrote a reaction piece about vegans being ‘snowflakes’, which may be similar to this article, however it was published on The Daily Mail so I haven’t read it.