MY SIDE OF THE STORY

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Just Williams - By Se­lene Nel­son

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 .Iwas 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.

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