If Waitrose let Sitwell go because it thought vegans were humourless, it had a point

Should we be publicly held to account for comments made in private?  Is it right that someone should lose their job because of those comments?  Freelance journalist Selene Nelson pitched a series of articles to then editor of Waitrose Food Magazine William Sitwell and, when she didn’t like his reply, decided to have a go at ending his career.

Clearly, Sitwell acted without taking due account of the humourless, self-righteous indignation with which some vegans relentlessly spout their opinion.  How do you know if someone’s a vegan? They’ll tell you.

From a PR perspective, one has to assume that Waitrose’s decision to let Sitwell go was guided by the fact that the number of vegans in the UK is growing – currently there are 3.5 million of them, with more expected in the new year, thanks to the (ironically) cheesily named Veganuary. Waitrose has responded to this growing demand by launching a new vegan range of food – their heavy-handed response to a private email being shared on Twitter can only have been to protect themselves from the inevitable vegan outrage of which Sitwell is now the target.  Hell hath no fury like a vegan scorned.

In other scenarios, a simple statement about private comments being a private matter might have been enough.  But when it comes to vegans, seemingly ever-poised to unleash sanctimonious outrage, Waitrose had to throw Sitwell under the carbon-neutral, ethically manufactured, lentil-fuelled bus.

We have to remember that, like many other commentators, Sitwell has made a name for himself by giving acerbic, but often amusing, feedback to Masterchef hopefuls each year. To date, none of them have gone back to the kitchen in tears afterwards. As Giles Coren pointed out on Twitter “You should be able to take the piss and not lose your job,” and this is more true of Sitwell than most, as someone who has literally made a career out of it.  Waitrose, in ‘accepting Sitwell’s resignation’, has added fuel to the fire of a society obsessed with sensationalism and pseudo-political correctness. Someone made a bad joke in an email. Get over it, people.

Ultimately, whether you found his comments funny or not, the point is that this was a freelancer asking Sitwell for work in a private email.  The fact that she didn’t receive the response she had hoped for has resulted in Sitwell losing a job that he had held for two decades, and Waitrose losing a valuable asset: the readership of Waitrose Food Magazine stands at 680,925 and has shown a growth of 68% year on year. A productive partnership has ended as a result of one person effectively throwing her toys out of the pram.

If Waitrose made the decision they did because they thought vegans didn’t have a sense of humour, they had a point.

Link to the full story on PR Week here

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