This week the editor of Waitrose Food magazine resigned over a toxic email he’d sent to a vegan journalist. When she proposed a series of plant-based recipes, he replied: ‘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?’
William Sitwell’s remarks were embarrassing for Waitrose, who had recently launched a new vegan range, and a day later he announced his departure.
While many vegans defended Sitwell online, reasoning a man’s life should not be destroyed over some thoughtless remarks, there was also the old familiar hurt. The fact that society considers it normal to ridicule, even threaten vegans, that if we complain, we’re accused of being oversensitive. Had the ‘joke’ had been made about any other minority group, it would spark outrage, but vegans are considered fair game.
Most people are unaware that veganism is protected under law, giving it the same status as religious belief. For anyone who thinks Sitwell’s email was just a bit of fun, consider this: vegans are not subscribing to some man-made set of rules based upon the presumption of a deity no one can prove exists. We choose not to participate in a practice nobody on the planet would deny exists. Non-human animals are killed by humans for food. Fact. As a “faith” veganism is irrefutable.
The moment Sitwell stepped down, the backlash began, his Old Etonian friends penning vicious attacks on humourless vegans and this ‘outrageous’ assault on freedom of speech. Never mind that vegans did not get Sitwell fired. He resigned for commercial reasons. Should a private work email be aired in public? Maybe not. But if those are truly his views, the man is a dinosaur, totally out of step with the direction Waitrose is headed.
The supermarket had just reported sales of vegetarian and vegan food were up by 85% compared to last year, that a third of Britons had stopped or were reducing meat, with one in eight of us now vegan or vegetarian. If this is the case, how much longer will society accept such caveman humour?
Perhaps my senses have been dulled by an excess of tofu, but I don’t see why Sitwell’s email is so hilarious. Mention it to a meat eater and their lips immediately twitch.
So why do people hate vegans so much? Like all prejudice, it springs from ignorance and fear. But it goes deeper than that.
Then, in 2007, a study found that British newspapers were overwhelmingly ‘vegaphobic,’ routinely portraying vegans in a derogatory fashion, thereby marginalising them and reinforcing the societal norm of speciesism.
Mocked and reviled, vegans are portrayed as pretentious kooks or unwashed lunatics, thus reassuring the masses that it’s fine to kill and eat animals.
Of course there are plenty of weird, self-righteous or angry vegans out there, but not everyone is like that. The same way not all meat eaters are right-wing, gun-toting fascists. Every vegan is different. Just like any other faith system, each one of us is on our own path.
I am happy to admit I’m not a real vegan. To be considered a card-carrying member of that tribe I would need to eliminate animal products from every aspect of my life, campaign and convert others. At best, I would be classed as ‘plant-based,’ because just controlling your diet can be challenging enough. (Despite the fact that milk can be fatal for people with allergies, ask in a supermarket bakery whether a loaf of bread contains dairy and they will look at you as though you just farted.) While I’m full of admiration for vegans who go the whole hog, I am on my own journey. And frankly, anyone who wants to call me a hypocrite for not always knowing if my printer ink, lemons or toothpaste are vegan, can sod off.
Sadly, as Sitwell’s email proves, there is a desperate desire to prove we’re not doing it right, to unpick our principles and expose us for liars. But how many Christians give up their worldly goods, don sackcloth and preach the word of the Lord in the market square?
Vegetarian from birth, I’ve been subjected to these interrogations all my life. Then, last year, I had an epiphany.
A man I was dating, having plied me with the usual barrage of arguments about why I should eat meat, suddenly exclaimed: ‘Do you think I’m a murderer?’
And in that moment I realised, this is what all the ridicule and hatred boils down to. This is what you are afraid of.
‘Of course not,’ I smiled to reassure him. ‘I think you’re someone who’s happy for the killing to be done on your behalf.’
He didn’t like that one bit and dumped me the following week. But I’m still grateful to him for revealing what bothers you so much. You don’t want to be a murderer. And you hate us because we’re not.
Vegaphobia is more than an aversion to vegetarians or vegans. It’s a refusal to acknowledge the suffering of animals. You need to mock us because it allows you to deny their pain.