Waitrose Food: Editor William Sitwell resigns over 'killing vegans' row

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William Sitwell pictured in 2016Image source, Getty Images

The editor of Waitrose Food magazine, William Sitwell, is standing down with immediate effect after suggesting a series on "killing vegans, one by one".

He was responding to an email pitch from freelance journalist Selene Nelson who had suggested features on plant-based recipes.

Sitwell, also a critic on Masterchef, apologised for any offence caused.

Waitrose said: "William's email absolutely doesn't represent our views about vegans and vegan food."

He's had support from fellow journalists, including Times restaurant critic Giles Coren, who said: "I have great sympathy for William Sitwell.

"It was a stupid email but should not be a career-ender. Vegans are not a race or a gender or a sexual orientation or a differently-abled group. They just choose to eat plants."

But other writers have criticised him for being unprofessional, with Lauren Collins, from The New Yorker, tweeting that responding to a freelancer's pitch in such a way was "fair grounds for being fired".

Sitwell apologised again after the news of his resignation broke, saying it had been an "ill-judged joke". He highlighted a Waitrose Food issue that focused on vegetables, which refused to advertise meat-based products.

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Morning all. Some news: : John Brown statement, 31.10.18. ‘John Brown Media has today announced that William Sitwell is stepping down as Editor of the Waitrose & Partners Food magazine with immediate effect. Andrew Hirsch, CEO, said: ‘I respect William’s decision and have therefore accepted his resignation. I would like to thank him for his work with ourselves and Waitrose over many years and wish him well for the future. We will work with Waitrose & Partners to appoint a new editor.’ . Waitrose statement, 31.10.18. ‘We have today been informed by John Brown Media, who produce the Waitrose & Partners Food Magazine, that William Sitwell is stepping down as Editor of Waitrose & Partners Food magazine with immediate effect. In the light of William's recent email remarks, we have told John Brown Media that we believe this is the right and proper move - we will be working with them to appoint a new editor for the magazine. We have had a relationship with William for almost 20 years and are grateful for his contribution to our business over that time.’ . Today I just want to make two points. : Firstly, to reiterate my apology to any food- and life-loving vegan who was genuinely offended by remarks written by me as an ill-judged joke in a private email and now widely reported. : Second, a word about my team on Waitrose & Partners Food. For two amazing decades I’ve worked with simply the best crew in the business. There is no more talented art director than Kerry Wakefield, my lovely deputy Jess, PA Morgan, Dr Lucy heading food, Ashleigh on features, Kat and the fab art and subbing team. Thank you - we never stopped laughing (til now!). : This issue from Jan 2017 - with a striking image taken by the gifted Jonathan Gregson - is one I’m particularly proud of. We even refused advertising from those proffering meat-based products.

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The Spectator's Peter Oborne added that it was "a dark day for free expression" and that Sitwell had been "driven from his job by relentless Twitter trolls".

In a statement, Waitrose said it was the "right and proper move" for Sitwell to leave and that they would be working with John Brown Media, which produces the food magazine, to appoint a new editor.

"We have had a relationship with William for almost 20 years and we are grateful for his contribution to our business over that time," the chain said.

'Incredibly ignorant'

Nelson, who writes about food and travel, had suggested ideas on "healthy, eco-friendly meals" as "popularity of the movement is likely to continue to skyrocket".

Sitwell had emailed back 10 minutes later, saying: "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?"

He also suggested making them eat steak and drink red wine, with Nelson responding: "I'm certainly interested in exploring why just the mention of veganism seems to make some people so hostile".

She added she had drunk some "delicious (vegan) red wine last night so I'm sure a feature on that would appeal".

His comments - originally reported by BuzzFeed News - were met with fury from vegans, with one saying his comments had been "incredibly ignorant".

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The Humane Society had also called for him to be sacked.

But it was pointed out that Sitwell was "obviously joking", with another twitter user saying the magazine publishers had overreacted.

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Waitrose said at the time that even though it was a private email, "William's gone too far" and that his words were "extremely inappropriate".

Sitwell, who's also a radio host, said in his own apology: "I love and respect people of all appetites, be they vegan, vegetarian or meat eaters - which I show week in week out through my writing, editing and broadcasting.

"I apologise profusely to anyone who has been offended or upset by this."