Interview for The Telegraph • Thursday, June 25, 2009

Paul McCartney's Meat Free Monday mission

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
The Telegraph
Interview by:
Tamsin Blanchard
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There is a charming, seemingly random video on YouTube of Paul McCartney demonstrating how to make mashed potatoes. It’s a recipe from Linda McCartney’s On Tour book (he is following the instructions from his own well-thumbed copy) and there is something quite endearing about the way he shows you Linda’s tip of how to chop an onion, as he hacks away with the knife the way no professional chef would. He is no Jamie Oliver. Obviously, Sir Paul has many other talents and his guide to making mash the Macca way, a video he made as president of the Vegetarian Society, is just a bit of fun – the perfect accompaniment to a couple of Linda McCartney’s vegetarian sausages. Food was a key part of Paul and Linda’s relationship and when they decided to go vegetarian in the seventies, it was a spontaneous and joint decision. “Linda and I, we were on the farm and we saw lambs gambolling and we were eating leg of lamb…so it was a compassionate thing. That seems to be the least important thing to people these days. It seems to have gone right out of the window, the whole idea unfortunately, because it’s rather a nice thing, a bit of compassion.” These days, Linda’s food still brings the family together. They are actively involved in Linda McCartney Foods, which recently had a bit of a dust off and a rebrand. The family all taste and approve any new recipes, and I imagine, their freezers are well stocked with Linda’s burgers and sausages. It is important to them, their way of keeping Linda’s legacy alive. So when Paul decided to launch a new campaign, Meat Free Monday, it was the perfect opportunity to get together for a rare public group hug. As he muses over a suitable recipe for another cookery video to promote the new campaign, he remembers one of his father’s favourite recipes. “Pea sandwiches,” he recalls. “I remember my dad making one for John once.” But his daughters groan. “It has to be mum’s lasagne,” says Mary. While Mary prepares to take the photographs for this story, Paul takes a tiny mouth organ from his pocket and plays as Stella sings along. ‘This is why Bob Dylan wants to write songs with you,’ she laughs. It’s a family joke. Despite the news reports that the two musicians are about to record together, Paul tells me later that the rumour is totally unfounded. ‘No that’s a newspaper thing. He just said some very complimentary things about me in some interviews and I love him. I think he’s a great poet and writer so I’ve always admired him. I don’t rule it out and I admire him. But we’re not the kind of people who would ring each other up.” Mary takes her place in the picture, arranges her dad’s hair which is blowing in the wind, and presses the shutter. The family is famously vegetarian, but Stella says for this particular debate, she wishes they weren’t. This is not an evangelical mission to make the world veggie but an attempt to do their bit to slow climate change. “It’s an environmental conversation, not a vegetarian one,” says Stella. “It’s ok to just give up meat for one day, it doesn’t make you a vegetarian if you hate vegetarians, it doesn’t make you a cranky, hemp wearing pot smoker. It’s alright, it’s allowed – it doesn’t make you a kind of the person you don’t want to be. It just means you are doing something positive.” Paul read about the campaign in America and decided he needed to get involved. Over the past year, he has been talking about it, writing letters to celebrities and chefs, talking to schools, and galvanising support from as many people as he can, including Woody Harrelson, Doris Day, and Ricky Gervais. Two weeks ago [Monday 15 June], he held a press conference to launch the campaign at Oliver Peyton’s restaurant Inn the Park. Peyton himself – a fully fledged bone marrow sucking carvnivore – has agreed to promote meat free dishes every Monday at the restaurant. The campaign has some weighty research behind it, not least from the UN. “Dad got the report,” says Mary, who is softly spoken but has a cool air of authority about her. “You were sent the report weren’t you?” She looks at Paul who has joined us round the table at the Portobello Hotel in west London, quietly whistling to himself. “Yeah, I was originally sent it. Livestock’s Long Shadow it was called. The UN, who are our appointed global watchdog, said ‘hey, cattle rearing is more harmful than ALL transport.’ That is the statistic I thought was shocking because until then I thought it was aeropolanes, cars and trucks…” According to the report, livestock are responsible for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is indeed a bigger share than that of transport which accounts for 13 per cent. “We’re not just talking about a few cows,” says Paul. “We’re talking billions. I took a drive from Santa Fe down to El Paso, a road trip I was on, and you go past I think about 15-20 miles of cattle as you drive down the motorway and it’s the same cow; it’s a brown and white cow. There are billions of them! And that’s where it comes home. That’s where the methane’s coming from, this is the problem, not just a couple of cows on a farm. It’s not just Daisy and Buttercup any more.” It seems the world is coming round to the Macca point of view and this is too good an opportunity to miss. It’s the first time not eating meat is being promoted by scientists – ‘traditional eaters,’ as Paul calls them, not vegetarians with a vested interest. For Stella and Mary, following their father’s lead is perfectly natural. Linda would certainly have been there, waving her placard. She was already talking about the relationship between food and the environment long before the UN decided it was time to act. This is part of the family’s way of keeping Linda’s legacy alive. “Ideally yes, be vegetarian,” says Mary. “But if not, just reduce your meat intake to make it fun do a meat free Monday.” Listening to them running through the arguments and the statistics backing up their campaign, you feel this is a typical discussion that would happen over a family nut roast. Occasionally, they talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences. “It can be so overwhelming,” admits Stella. “And you can feel so …oh god, but I’ve got to get that plane to there and I’ve got to drive my car with my three kids to here. You are led to believe that transport is the main problem, but actually it’s diet. To be honest we could sit and bang on about it…” Paul: “But we don’t want to bang on, we don’t want to say to you look, you have to go veggie. The idea of this is for the environment, for your children’s future, would you consider just one day a week changing your habits? And then if you decide to do two days, three, four, then so much the better, but if people would do it, it would have a huge impact.” Stella: “If everyone gave it up on a Monday it would be more effective than everyone stopping driving their car on a Monday. We are not perfect. It’s so important to get that across because it’s like oh, those bloody Maccas, talking again about not killing cows! It is boring. But the reality is, I like to think I am trying to do my little bit. I will turn off a light when I leave a room; I will turn off a socket if I don’t want to be using the socket. And those are tiny little things.” Paul: “Even President Obama tells you to do that.” It is a small thing they are asking us all to do. Very few of us eat meat every day of the week, but by cutting back what we eat, we can make a difference. On average we are eating twice the amount of meat we ate in 1961, the year the Beatles first performed at the Cavern club in Liverpool. “The idea of having one type of meat for your breakfast and another type of meat for your lunch, and then another type for your dinner, and in between having your sandwiches with another kind of meat, we really do eat too much of it,” says Paul. To produce a single kilogram of beef, farmers have to feed a cow 15 kg of grain and 30 kg of forage. It is a highly intensive business that is ultimately not sustainable. Livestock production is responsible for 70 per cent of the deforestation of the Amazon jungle and by 2050, the world’s livestock population is expected to rise from 60 billion farm animals to 120 billion. It is a scary fact when you consider that a single cow can produce 500 litres of methane per day, which has around 25 times the global warming impact of CO2. “I think we forget more and more that we are animals,” says Stella, “and we are part of a planetary system where all of the animals are on this planet together and you are made to feel like a hippy dippy jerk that should go and live in a tipi for even making a point of remembering.” Despite the fact that she rarely gives interviews, Stella is the most vocal of the three, passionately backing up her father, shaking her head, saying ‘it’s all money, money, money!’ about the projected growth of the meat industry (world demand for meat is estimated to double by 2050) and butting in with the odd comment like: ‘Greed is not a good look. I was brought up to think this was not a good look. Everything in moderation.’ And she knows her stuff. She urges me (and you) to watch a film called Home that was made by the aerial photographer, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and launched the previous week on World Environment Day. You can link to it from her website. As she says, she tries to do her bit. Although she already incorporates sustainable and organic fabrics in her mainline collection, she also designs a capsule Green Collection which is as purely ethical and sustainable as she can make it and is sold at Barneys in New York and Harvey Nichols in London. On her website, in between pictures of models looking supremely cool and confident in her clothes, if you click on the ‘Green me’ button, you can read Stella’s eco tips – small things we can all do to help slow down global warming. Her London shop is powered by Ecotricity. Her skincare range, Care, is made using 100 percent organic active ingredients and is Ecocert –certified. And of course, she tells her celebrity friends off for wearing fur and doesn’t use leather. “In my industry, there is no alternative in people’s minds to leather shoes. Now I’m not making a leather shoe. I’m doing alright. We can get by. Things change. Humans are the best animals – the best adapters on the the planet. We adapt quicker than a tree does in the rainforest. We adapt, that’s what we do.” In March, she was given an award by the Natural Resources Defence Council (which works to protect wildlife and wild places) in New York. “I was lucky enough to present that to her,” says Paul. “I said that when she joined the fashion world, she first of all was employed by Gucci and my first thought, and Linda’s, was uh-oh Gucci is leather city. When you think of Gucci, you think of leather. We thought how long is it going to be before she caves in on her principles? And we waited, and we waited, and we waited, and she never did. That is a fantastic achievement… and that’s what’s great about new ideas, different ideas, people catch the fire, they get excited with the stuff. It’s just thinking about it instead of just becoming a Gucci slave. Took a little bit of guts to do that.” Despite the fact that Stella feels she has been pilloried for her beliefs and principles, it seems to have paid off. Just as the fashion world has finally come round to her big idea of wearing jumpsuits and your boyfriend’s jacket, we seem to have arrived at a moment when having principles – and a bit of compassion – is not such a bad thing. It is perhaps no coincidence that she is the only fashion person to be included in Time magazine’s annual 100 most influential people list this year, an achievement she is obviously proud of, giving me a high five when I mention it. Just as any father would, Paul admits to having the magazine on his kitchen table, open at the relevant page – a tribute written by Stella’s mate, Gwyneth Paltrow. “Even if you are not vegetarian somehow Stella gets you to believe,” she writes. “She manages to convince you (never sanctimoniously from a soapbox) that killing animals is needless and cruel and bad for the environment.” Paul says she didn’t have to be that way. “She could have caved in and we almost would have forgiven her. The pressures were so huge but the fact that she did not…’ Stella cuts in. ‘I’m very lucky. I don’t think that I am magnificent, I just think I’ve been very lucky. I think I’ve been brought up in a certain way. Mary’s like that, my brother [James, a musician] and sisters [Heather from Linda’s first marriage, and Beatrice from her father’s second] are like that. My husband’s like that. I think that you do stand out if you stand out against things. It was very hard in my industry especially to have those kind of principles and I did have the mickey taken out of me probably up to about a year ago. And people will probably read this and chuck it on their barbie and cook beef on it but the reality is I’m more impressed by people who take a risk and who stand up to good beliefs and I think in this day and age…” Paul: “It’s how the world changes.” Stella: ‘The main thing is not to bang on about it too much. We don’t generally bang on about it, I try to keep my head down and get on with it and design pretty frocks, that’s my job. And dad makes pretty good records when he’s given half an hour in between his potato mashing, and Mary’s a fantastic photographer. But I don’t think we want to come across as forcing people to think a certain way, I think it’s just a very valid issue and life’s too short to not do something you believe in. You’ve only got a short little period on the planet to make something of your life.” With all of this passion and desire for change, I wonder if Paul will be writing a Dylan style protest song to promote their cause. “I do have a few sort of animal awareness songs, but they are very difficult to write. I wrote one called Looking For Changes that was applauded by PETA, which started off with ‘I saw a cat with a machine in its brain’, you know that picture? A hardcore picture. That made me write that, but it’s very very hard to do and it’s not my forte. I wish it was, that would be kind of nice to be driven in that direction. Songs aren’t always what you are passionate about. You’d like to think that they all were but sometimes it’s just about I love you, or you’re great.” And with that, our time is up. Stella’s phone has been ringing non-stop. “We’re going to get a bit of flack for this,” says Paul, who can’t resist singing into my Dictaphone before turning it off. “Why do we feel we need to do it? You know what, because Meat Free Monday is a damn good idea. I mean what are you going to tell your kids? That we can do something about it. This is one of those things that you can do.”


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