Local vegan chef, consultant and author JL Fields resigned from the Gazette's freelance team Jan. 12, letting Features Editor Nathan Van Dyne know that her decision stemmed from that day's editorial, titled: "Re-impeach Trump — and re-divide the country?"
But actually, that was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. (Perhaps not the most fitting idiom given the vegan nature of her reporting, but you get the idea.)
I spoke with Fields by phone Jan. 14 to learn more about her decision. (I've also reached out to Van Dyne to see if he wishes to make any comment on behalf of the paper, and will update this post if he does.)
A quick transparency note first: When Fields first moved from New York to Colorado Springs in late 2012, she contacted me to inquire about contributing to the Indy. I helped edit her first piece in June, 2013, titled "One outsider's intrepid move into dining plant-based in the Pikes Peak region." She wrote a little more for the Indy until opting later to launch her monthly column in the Gazette; she printed in between the regular food reviews by Robin Intemann. Fields and I have kept loosely in touch since as professional friends.
Also of note, Fields and Intemann's work has been missing since the paper temporarily suspended its food criticism due to the pandemic around when the first lockdown happened. But Fields says she was told toward year's end that a budget remained for it to resume sometime in 2021; so although she's been inactive for many months, she was still on the roster. (Hence the formal resignation.)
Back to that Jan. 12 editorial submitted by The Gazette editorial board — which consists of Chairman Ryan McKibben, Vice Chairman Christian Anschutz, Publisher Chris Reen, Editorial Page Editor Wayne Laugesen (who attended the Trump protest in D.C.), and Newsroom Operations Director Pula Davis — Fields says she felt livid.
"This was so hypocritical, somehow making it look like the other side was dividing the country after four years of [Republicans'/conservatives'] complete divisiveness," she says. "It was tone-deaf. Them trying to act like the divisiveness had nothing to do with Trump. That the new administration was somehow responsible for mending what was clearly done by someone else.
"So I sent an email to my editor," she continues, "basically saying 'I'm a raging leftie liberal and for the last six years I've been writing for the paper I saw past the editorial page ... I knew what I was doing, but now I'm done.'"
She confesses to "compartmentalizing" the board's work away from her own and that of the other editors and writers. Over the past year in particular, she says, she was continually upset by the board's position on primaries and election topics.
"I was getting really frustrated where they were coming out on Black Lives Matter, around George Floyd's death," she says. "How they came out around racist policies that Trump supports. And how they were responding to local social justice issues."
"Justice" is the keyword to Fields. The concept underpins her veganism. "My veganism is an ethical motivation — ethics around justice," she says, clearly referencing animal well-being as a central tenet.
She jokes that when she first moved to the Springs, friends back in New York said things like "You know how the Springs is, right?" And she admits she actually didn't, quickly finding some stereotypes to be true. "When I was teaching my cooking classes, people would look so shocked when they learned I was writing for the Gazette. They'd say 'what are you talking about?'... they couldn't associate the two things."
But that's exactly why she chose to write for the daily, she says. "I wanted to get the word on veganism out to as many people as possible and reach new audiences that didn't know about it."
Speaking here as the Indy's longtime food and drink editor, I will concur that as an alternative newsweekly our readership's likely to be more familiar with veganism. Rather than preach to the choir, she was taking her fight to people she believed she could challenge. So, she made a deal with the devil, in a way.
"I always knew philosophically that I wasn't someone their board was talking to when I read the editorials," she said. "And honestly, I didn't always pay attention to them. But I felt like writing for the larger paper was doing the greater good."
And it worked. She says she was told by her editors that she had a good following. And she heard directly from restaurants she'd written about that they were seeing new faces when her reviews printed. "It had an impact."
Both in the past when she shared her reservations with others, and with this recent resignation, she says she's heard support from others associated with the Gazette. Former and current employees reached out to share that they too don't agree with the editorial board; they sought to distinguish themselves from it.
"Remember, there's the editorial board and there's the rest of us, and many of us think like you do," she recalls hearing as the prevailing sentiment. It gave her momentary peace, that "I was working with like-minded people — and I had great relationships with them."
But that ultimately could only count for so much.
"Many of us makes these excuses for the greater good ... I compartmentalized and gave self-justification, but I just couldn't do it anymore," she says. "I couldn't continue at the expense of other people."
As for fans of Fields' work, she can now be followed on her own channels. Below is her full bio:
JL FIELDS is a vegan chef, health coach, and chef consultant to food, health, and wellness brands. She is the founder and culinary director of the Colorado Springs Vegan Cooking Academy and a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator.
JL is the author of several cookbooks: The Complete Plant-Based Diet, Vegan Baking for Beginners, Fast & Easy Vegan Cookbook, Vegan Meal Prep, The Vegan Air Fryer, and Vegan Pressure Cooking. She is the co-author of The Main Street Vegan Academy Cookbook with Victoria Moran and Vegan for Her with Virginia Messina and she served as the vegan dining review for the Colorado Springs Gazette for six years