Being a vegan is now out of bounds when it comes to comedy. Picture: Richard Gosling
Being a vegan is now out of bounds when it comes to comedy. Picture: Richard Gosling

Vegans can kiss my grass

SO today is apparently something called World Vegan Day, which must be a bit like Halloween but without anything tasty to eat at the end of it.

And while I'm certainly no fan of veganism - which is a sort of extremist version of vegetarianism that excludes even milk, cheese, and honey on the grounds that it's cruel to the bees - it is only right that, like any other faith, they get their own day.

And what a faith! In the space of a decade or so, veganism has become a new religion for inner-city trendies who don't need to go to Heaven because there's already two amazing macrobiotic grocery shops on their block.

Veganism has also got its own ethical hierarchies, strict dietary codes, and an obligation to evangelise about and defend the faith.

And this year they even got the ultimate prize, even better than a day on the calendar: Namely, Protected Victim Status, meaning that jokes about vegans are now made at one's peril.

Just look at what's happened overnight to British food writer William Sitwell.

William Sitwell (centre) resigned after comments made to a vegan freelancer. Picture: Instagram
William Sitwell (centre) resigned after comments made to a vegan freelancer. Picture: Instagram

Now Sitwell, you see, is one of those strange beings who thinks that if you love food, you think that you shouldn't limit yourself to eating from only one slice (as it were) of creation. And he brings - or rather brought - this passion to his work where, until today, he was editing a food magazine for the UK supermarket chain Waitrose.

Having taken a pitch for a collection of vegan recipes from a hopeful freelance vegan food writer, Sitwell fired back a sharp rejection.

"Hi Selene, thanks for this", wrote Sitwell, who is famously known for the fact that veganism gives him heartburn.

"How about a series on killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Make them eat steak and drink red wine?"

Selene Nelson, the 29-year-old journalist in question, was stung by the rejection, and so of course did what any self-respecting millennial would do, namely, shopped the story to BuzzFeed.

"To have this attitude towards others when he's representing Waitrose is seriously bizarre", she said.

Veganism is the new godliness. Picture: supplied
Veganism is the new godliness. Picture: supplied

No prizes for seeing how this story ends: Waitrose and Sitwell went their separate ways, Nelson got a healthy hit of publicity, and the rest of the world was put on notice that vegans are Not To Be Joked About.

Which is pretty ironic, given that in the West vegans are among the most privileged people in the world.

As a dietary conceit or "lifestyle", it exists most commonly in the most lilywhite and well-off suburbs where people can afford their free-range kale.

What's more, it seems that you can't enter a grocery store or book shop without finding books and products promoting veganism. (It was Waitrose's attempt to get in on this market that is thought to have been why they pulled the pin on the relationship).

Which is why for those of us who sympathise with Sitwell, who once wrote that "(veganism) had slow beginnings among shampoo-averse hippies in the 1970s, but now vegans are parking their tanks on all of our lawns", this is a bit worrisome.

William Sitwell (centre), has resigned from Waitrose Magazine following the incident. Picture: Twitter
William Sitwell (centre), has resigned from Waitrose Magazine following the incident. Picture: Twitter

There are already too many areas of life where one must always be on the lookout for humourless scolds: the dinner table was, until now, one of the last redoubts of freedom.

Because unless you actually buy into the idea of words-as-violence, it's pretty clear Sitwell was being snarky in the spirit of the 18th century Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, today best known for his sarcastic "modest proposal" to solve Ireland's economic woes by selling the country's babies for food.

And if veganism is becoming as big a force as its backers say it is (and it is certainly being given a good kick-along by marketers who see money in them there hipsters), its adherents shouldn't be so thin-skinned.

But no matter: Offence is a currency in our culture, and the vegans have decided to grow their own.

James Morrow is Opinion Editor of The Daily Telegraph.

@pwafork



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