Waitrose Food magazine editor William Sitwell is stepping down from the post after coming under fire for joking about “killing vegans”.
Mr Sitwell, who also appears as a critic on the BBC programme MasterChef, suggested journalist Selene Nelson pen a series of articles about force-feeding meat to vegans, whom he accused of “hypocrisy”.
Ms Nelson had suggested a regular series on vegan cooking, featuring recipes, commentary and news.
In an emailed response to her pitch last week, the magazine editor wrote: “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?”
In a statement, Waitrose & Partners Food Magazine said it believed that it was the “right and proper move” for Mr Sitwell to step down as editor.
The statement said: “We have 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’ve 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.”
In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Mr Sitwell said he wanted 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!).”
Ms Nelson said she had been shocked by Mr Sitwell’s email.
She told BuzzFeed News: “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve written about many divisive topics, like capital punishment and murder cases and domestic violence, and I’ve never had a response like that to any of my articles or pitches.
“And he’s the editor. He’s representing Waitrose and he’s talking about ‘killing vegans, one by one’?”
She added: “If William Sitwell wants to continue eating meat and hating vegans, that’s his prerogative, but to have this attitude towards others when he’s representing Waitrose is seriously bizarre.”
Dominic Ponsford, editor-in-chief of the Press Gazette, said: “I think it’s rather sad really. Colourful, outspoken editors are a good thing. It’s a shame to lose one.
“I think, given his track record, it’s rather a kneejerk reaction from Waitrose if they were involved in him stepping down. To me it looked like a light-hearted comment to a freelance.
“I think, sadly, we live in quite a censorious age and people are rather easily offended. I think irony doesn’t translate well on email or social media. I think it’s why William Sitwell has lost his job.”
The upmarket supermarket launched a new vegan range earlier this month.