JAMES DELINGPOLE: Vegans should be more tolerant and less sensitive

As Waitrose’s magazine editor is forced to quit over a joke: JAMES DELINGPOLE says he wishes his fellow vegans would add humour to their diet

William Sitwell probably didn’t mean to be quite so rude to the journalist who wanted him to run a vegan recipe series. 

I’m sure his reply was an over-the-top flight of fancy, designed to elicit an amusing response.

‘Thanks for this. How about a series on killing vegans?’ the editor of Waitrose Food magazine’s asked freelancer Selene Nelson before continuing in a similarly withering vein.

Becoming a vegan is a very demanding, life-consuming business, like becoming a monk or joining a cult, writes James Delingpole (pictured)

‘Plant-based cooking’, as it’s now trendily known – presumably because ‘vegan’ sounds a bit ugly and unfriendly – is all the rage

But Ms Nelson decided to go public with their private email exchange and tell the world, and Sitwell’s employer, how thoroughly offended she was. 

Well, of course she did. It’s just the kind of prissy, sanctimonious, humourless thing a vegan would do.

Now before anyone accuses me of carnivorous prejudice, let me say in my defence that I’m a vegan, too. Just not a permanent one, I hope.

I’ve been put on a vegan diet for medical reasons, in order – so my dietician tells me – to create the best anti-inflammatory, alkaline environment for my recent stem-cell therapy treatment for Lyme disease. 

But I’ve been a vegan long enough – two months and counting – to be able to see both sides of the debate.

On the one hand, I’ve learned why vegans get so cross and defensive. 

On the other, I do also understand why ominivores find them so annoying and mildly threatening.

There’s a joke about vegans which goes: ‘Q. How do you know someone is a vegan? A. Don’t worry – they’ll tell you!’

Yes it’s cruel but also probably true. 

Becoming a vegan is a very demanding, life-consuming business, like becoming a monk or joining a cult. 

The upside is that it lends a purpose and a bracing rigour to your daily existence. 

The downside is that you do spend an awful lot more time thinking – and telling anyone who’ll listen – about your diet.

Not only are you hungrier than you used to be (no matter how many lentils and nuts you eat to fill the protein gap, they’re still no substitute for a bacon sarnie), but you also have to dedicate much more time to sourcing and preparing your food.

You can’t just nip to the fridge and fill up with a bit of cheese, either. 

So it’s a bit like what my late friend Mike told me about his time as a prisoner of war in Italy: your whole day revolves around meal times.

This is why vegans tend mainly to hang out with their own kind. 

A bit like vampires – only without the blood element, obviously – they exist on the margins of society, cursed (or blessed as they prefer to see it) by their dietary restrictions.

When they go to a restaurant, the only bit of the menu they can read are the words with ‘VG’ next to them (which stands for ‘Vegan’ not ‘Very Good’). 

When they go to a food chain like Eat or Pret A Manger, about the only option available to them is the box containing salad, bits of beetroot, green beans and hummus. 

Believe me, I’ve got very used to that box in its various permutations. 

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It’s delicious and no doubt terribly good for you, but it does become a little wearing once you’ve had it a few days in a row.

The same is true of vegan recipes generally: once you’ve banished cheese and meat (not to mention butter and cream) your palette is almost as limited as if you’d chucked out all the colours and decided to paint only in black.

Yes, I’m sure if you had a vegan private chef he or she could work wonders. But most of us aren’t millionaires.

So here’s what you usually end up eating: curry, curry and more curry, usually made with coconut milk – which non-vegans think of as a rare treat, but which for vegans becomes a somewhat relentless staple. 

You learn to eat your breakfast muesli or porridge with almond or hemp milk. You have a salad for lunch. Or vegetables. 

And that’s it, day in day out, forever, if you’re planning on doing this thing permanently.

Yes, there’s no doubt that things are a lot better than they were. 

‘Plant-based cooking’, as it’s now trendily known – presumably because ‘vegan’ sounds a bit ugly and unfriendly – is all the rage.

Lots of millennials are embracing it, stars like ‘Deliciously Ella’ Mills and the boys behind the bestselling Bosh cookbook are making money from it, and restaurants and food shops are getting better at catering for it.

You’d think they’d be grateful for this increasingly vegan-friendly culture. But not a bit of it – it has just made them more demanding and militant.

The Vegan Society, for example, is lobbying the government to make it illegal for caterers not to provide a vegan option. 

And as soon as Sitwell’s comments became public, vegans were clamouring for him to be sacked – which he was, of course. 

William Sitwell (left) resigned after he told vegan freelancer Selene Nelson (right) in response to her story pitch: ‘How about a series on killing vegans, one by one’

One email that pinged into my inbox was from the Humane Society with a letter from its executive director Claire Bass, demanding that Sitwell be dismissed.

‘As a vegan myself and as the mother of a vegan child, I want my son to grow up in a world where hateful, violent language aimed at our lifestyle choice and beliefs are not accepted,’ she pontificates.

Well I’m sorry but this kind of hectoring, holier-than-thou tone is precisely why some people find vegans so eminently mockable.

Yes, anti-vegan prejudice can be annoying sometimes. 

I do hate it, for example, when I’ve posted a picture on social media of some delicious vegan dish I’ve prepared – something from Ottolenghi maybe – and all I get is rude remarks from carnivores about what revolving slop it looks.

But if you’re going to choose an alternative lifestyle, I’d say you should learn to smile at the brickbats, rather than spend your whole time in a state of fulminating grievance and self-righteous victimhood.

It’s not altogether clear to me, in any case, that vegans are really in a position to claim the moral high ground over the rest of society. 

Yes, of course, I appreciate their respect for animal welfare, and I understand the potential health benefits, but I’m less convinced when they try telling us that they’re doing it to save the planet. 


In California, the explosion in demand for that almond milk I mentioned earlier is causing tremendous environmental damage.

According to one expert it takes 1,611 US gallons of water (in a state where water is scarce) to make one litre of almond milk. 

Farmers are ripping down biodiverse citrus groves and replacing them with almond trees to feed this insatiable demand.

There are similar problems with another hipster vegan staple, the avocado. 

In California, where again most of them are grown, it takes 72 gallons of water to grow a pound of avocados.

In Mexico, where they are known as ‘green gold’, they are often grown in areas controlled by violent drug cartels, which profit outrageously from the protection money they demand from farmers, who are murdered if they resist.

Then there’s quinoa – a superfood grain that few of us had heard of until a decade ago but which is now a must for vegans. 

Such is the growth in demand that people in Peru and Bolivia, who’ve been relying on its low-fat, high-protein nutrition for centuries, have been priced out of the market and can no longer afford it.

Yes, I accept that there are environmental costs to meat-eating, too. 

The difference is that carnivores don’t keep banging on about how selfless and noble they are every time they tuck into a juicy steak.

Vegans, on the other hand, really do seem to imagine that they’re on a higher moral plane; and that furthermore, the only right thing to do is for everyone else to join them.

This mildly sinister, proselytising side of veganism was brought home to me when I bought a carton of Oatly oat drink and noticed on the side, the legend: ‘You are one of us now!’ 

I’m sure it was meant as a jokey piece of marketing. But lurking underneath is an unpleasant ‘them and us’ divisiveness.

And I’m really not sure I appreciate this almost Marxist politicising from my ordinary supermarket products.

My enforced stint on a vegan diet has given me a lot of sympathy for the rigours vegans endure; it has helped me lose weight, and all that extra salad and veg it forces you to eat has definitely made me a lot healthier.

But I’d hate to have to live in a world where everyone ate that way – which is, I fear, many vegans’ ultimate goal.

Maybe if they want to be treated with more tolerance they should learn to be more tolerant themselves.

Oh, and get a sense of humour: that wouldn’t hurt, either.

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