Given its aspirational, health laden and environmentally mindful value proposition UK supermarket Waitrose and Partners must have been spluttering over their oat milk lattes when they saw the editor of their Waitrose Magazine, William Sitwell, lambast vegans this week. When a freelance writer, Selene Nelson, contacted him offering a series on vegan cookery, he replied: “How about a series on killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Exposing their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat? Make them eat steak and drink red wine?”. The ensuing outcry from a vocal vegan lobby included a change.org petition receiving more than 2,000 signatures and a predictably furious social media tumult.
Response? Waitrose, along with other food retailers see the non-meat market as an important, eye catching new business line. The furore around Sitwell unhappily coincided with the same week as World Vegan Day and a big marketing push for the release of Waitrose’s annual Food and Drink Report, which focused on new trends in plant based food such as “Jackfruit, a veggie pulled pork substitute” and “Aquafaba, chickpea water used as a vegan replacement for egg whites”. The company had no choice but to ask for his head and Sitwell resigned. In a statement Waitrose said it believed it was “the right and proper move”.
Impact? Although Sitwell had previous form in attacking the so called snowflake generation he immediately apologised and many commentators rallied round, the incident was a stark reminder that a misstep can be played out instantly in the public sphere, the target of mass outrage can be potentially career ruining.
Sitwell’s mistake it seems was being exposed as being out of step with the ambitions of his employer rather than simply having a nasty, crass sense of humour. He wasn’t out to inspire hate in the way that some of the vegan lobby have accused him, but in the end it was hard commercial logic that drove the decision to sack him.
Swim England prefers the shallow end
In another example this week of the current obsession with finding offence in everything, Simone Webb, a PHD student in gender studies, appeared across a page on Swim England’s website which offered advice to women on what to wear in the water if they are self-conscious about their body shape.
In the article, swimmers with a “flabby stomach” were advised to “choose a loose tankini”, as “bikinis totally expose a jiggly belly and trying to squeeze it into a one-piece will not slim your stomach, only emphasise it”.
That Swim England might have the gall to lecture overweight women on what to wear in the pool triggered an inevitable howl of sanctimonious outrage from the usual self-appointed moral guardians. Swim England promptly donned its own costume of sackcloth and ashes with an immediate apology and an unconvincing story about the page being an old one that should have been taken down years ago.
Yet the advice provided was arguably not in the least bit patronising, but addressed a very real world issue, that for many men and women body shape is a big obstacle to taking the plunge. Practical advice on what to wear to mitigate concerns and to bolster confidence in the water might reasonably be expected to encourage more people to take up swimming. Precisely Swim England’s goal.
It is a measure of the times in which we live however, where organisations are subject to continual attack from a social media mob who want to see only victims everywhere, that practical and useful advice might be airbrushed and sandpapered to the point it becomes meaningless and really rather shallow.