What’s surprised me most about being vegan is just how angry it makes some people. I’m continually forced to defend my decision not to eat animal products, and I’m frequently faced with derision or anger if I explain it.
I know negative reactions towards veganism are to be expected, but I never expected one from the editor of Waitrose Food. I was shocked by the contents and context of William Sitwell’s email, and behind its flippant tone I saw the same hostility I so often see. It was disappointing.
The two days after the story ran were among the most overwhelming of my life – but then William stepped down and all hell broke loose. I didn’t think he would resign, but then who could have foreseen what a story this would become?
In the days that followed, we were both subjected to online abuse. People hoped that I’d die or catch a disease, or that at the least I’d never appear in print again: I didn’t deserve a career; it was my fault this poor man didn’t have one any more. What was wrong with me, that I couldn’t take a joke? Are all vegans humourless?
These comments – classic Twitter trolling – didn’t upset me, and I was buoyed by messages of support. But I was frustrated with how the media spun the story. Newspapers documented the abuse William got, blaming ‘vegan terrorists’ and implying we’re all combative and militant. That I received the same level of abuse wasn’t relevant.
People bizarrely began bringing free speech into the equation, and every commentator in the country seemed to have an opinion. (NB: Being able to exercise your right to free speech doesn’t exempt you from the consequences of it.)
Two weeks later, I met William to discuss our experiences. Meeting someone who’d been portrayed as my foe was strange, but I was touched by William’s goodwill. Yet for me, this was never about William; it was about the way society perceives veganism, a way of living that seeks only to avoid cruelty to other living creatures. It’s not ‘extreme’.
William and I have since debated this, and while he does enjoy vividly describing his favourite meats to me, he’s also said that he ‘can’t argue’ with the moral standpoint of veganism. I appreciated this frank acknowledgement – and obviously, I wholeheartedly agree.