The editor of Waitrose Food magazine joked about “killing vegans one by one” after a freelance writer pitched an idea about plant-based recipes.
William 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 said she had “never seen anything like it”.
Waitrose admitted Mr Sitwell had “gone too far”.
Ms Nelson, whose work has been published by HuffPost, Salon and Food Republic, had suggested a regular series on vegan cooking, featuring recipes, commentary and news.
In an emailed respond 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?”
Ms Nelson replied: “I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘exposing their hypocrisy’, but I’m certainly interested in exploring why just the mention of veganism seems to make some people so hostile. It sounds like you have some opinions on this?”
The writer said she had been shocked by Mr Sitwell’s response.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she told BuzzFeed News: “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’?”
Ms Nelson, who has been vegan for just over a year, said she “wasn’t telling [Mr Sitwell] to go vegan, or not eat meat, or that it’s bad to”.
“I was just suggesting including some more plant-based recipes in the magazine,” she said.
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.”
In a statement, Mr Sitwell said: “I love and respect people of all appetites be they vegan, vegetarian or meat eaters, which I show week in week out through my writing, editing and broadcasting. I apologise profusely to anyone who has been offended or upset by this.”
A spokesman for Waitrose said: “Even though this was a private email, William’s gone too far and his words are extremely inappropriate, insensitive and absolutely do not represent our views.”
The upmarket supermarket launched a new vegan range earlier this month.
Ben Williamson, senior international media director at animal rights group Peta, said Mr Sitwell was “completely out of touch with the British public... and his own publishers”.
More than 3.5 million people in the UK now identify as vegan, according to research published earlier this year.
Scientists have warned the world must drastically reduce its consumption of meat and dairy products to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies