Why Macca won’t touch a Big Mac
from The Vegetarian February 1992
For almost 21 years Paul and Linda McCartney have been vegetarian. Linda’s views are well known. But rarely has Paul spoken at length about his vegetarian beliefs. Here, he explains just why he could never eat meat again.
“For us going veggie was really only down to one thing – that Linda and I both grew up being mad-keen nature-lovers. She, over on her side of the world, was looking under rocks for salamanders in posh Scarsdale, where she grew up.
With me, I was in Speke in Liverpool. But right off the edge of Speke there was countryside So while Linda was looking for her salamanders, I’d be out looking for frogs and sticklebacks.
When we hooked up I was with The Beatles and had this feeling that there wasn’t such a thing as nature anymore – ‘cos I’d left it.
Then, when we got married, Linda started saying “Let’s go to the countryside, let’s get out of London”, so we’d drive an hour out, just anywhere. Linda’d say “Try and get lost” and I’d be there saying “I can’t, I’m driving”. She’d say “Just try it”. It was never a problem, there were plenty of signs. So she was like a new adventure for me, bringing back this nature thing.
Anyway, I had a farm in Scotand which I didn’t really like. I’d never really fixed it up at all.
So Linda said to me that we could do the place up, take down the old shed and re-do all the walls.
Sheepish look from Paul as
he helps out on the farm.
Anyway, over the years we got it all together and instead of having an old neighbour looking after the animals, we did it. Eventually we got our own sheep and started looking after them. So it got really nice with the sheep and we got to start understanding all the animals.
Anyway, one day we were having Sunday lunch – we were still meat-eaters, just building a home with the kids and that – and Linda was a really good meat cook.
We were eating roast lamb for Sunday lunch and it was the lambing season and there were all these beautiful little lambs gambolling around.
Then we just looked at the lamb on our plate and looked at them outside again and thought “we’re eating one of those little things that is gaily running around outside”. It just struck us, and we said “Wait a minute maybe we don’t want to do this”.
And that was it, that was the big turning point and we said we’d give up meat.
The difficult thing was that immediately there was a hole in the middle of the plate every time you came to have a meal.
Gradually Linda started to fill it with spaghetti or a bit of quiche, then egg dishes and cheese pies and it started to get really good and tasty. Plus I brought in a lot of the English stuff; mashed potatoes and rice pudding.
Anyway, litte by little she just sort of filled in and we never noticed not having meat. Then the next big eye-opener for us was when we went on holiday to Barbados and we went into a department store and discovered these tinned sausages that were totally vegetarian.
And once we started looking for them we discovered a whole range of these vegetarian products, similar to the ones that Linda is now marketing under her own brand-name.
Then what happens is that you really get into it and start becoming activist because you realise that what you’re doing is helping to save these poor animals from getting shunted into a slaughterhouse. And so the spiritual side of your life changes.
It was all brought into focus by our youngest daughter Stella coming home from school one day and saying how they’d been having this debate about eating meat and she said, “Mum, when we were talking about it I had a really clear conscience”.
I thought that’s really strong, that, being able to give your kid a clear conscience.
So now it’s all changed for us; it started out almost like a childish thing because we both really loved animals it was almost Disney at first, a love of the Disney bunny rabbits.
It was really odd your children have these toys of little rabbits and then suddenly Daddy’s chopping them up. There is always that terrible point in your life when you have to give up on niceness and go for real sort of horror.
In fact, when I was a real little kid, when I used to go off looking for frogs and sticklebacks, I actually used to be very aware that when I grew up all this would have to end.
But things are changing – it’s a lot easier to be a veggie these days. Like when we were kids, vegetarians were people in saris. And then in the sixties, you’d send out for a sandwich from a vegetarian restaurant, and this piece of dried bread with a bit of lettuce on it would come back and you’d be thinking “Oooer, dear me, I’m not sure that I’d ever go vegetarian”.
But the way we eat now is so kind of passionate, so sort of luscious the way that Linda cooks, that you wouldn’t hardly ever know you were a vegetarian in our house. Because we’ve got it down now to an art and I think that’s the secret – the more you stick with it, the more you find little pleasures.
I remember we had Steve Martin, the comedian to our house and I was barbecuing these bangers and burgers made of Textured Vegetable Protein.
So I opened it up and said “There you go Steve”. And a look of horror came on his face as he said “Oh, I’m afraid I won’t be able to eat any of that”. Of course, when I expiained it was all vegetarian, he had about four of ‘em stuffed in his face.
Linda says if you can take the truck driver, the guy who picks up a quick burger because he’s in a hurry and wants something nutritious; if you can slip him a vege-burger and he eats it and is happy with the taste, then you’re really getting somewhere.
I find it exciting because we’re finding more and more vegetarian products that are so realistic – so much so that some of our vegetarian friends won’t eat them because they think they taste too much like meat.
You see these signs in America saying “real meat for real people” but I think that’s just funny.
I notice those sort of campaigns and I notice it implies that people like us are wimps – which I pretty much know I’m not. I rememberJames Garner did a series of commercials saying “real men eat real meat”, doing the “rabbit food” joke. And a while after that campaign ended he had a heart attack. But to give him the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure he didn’t know what he was doing.
I find it a little bit amusing that I’m sure people don’t understand what is going on. Because what happens, like me and like Linda and like most of us, you grow up with your Mum and Dad saying “Eat your meat it’s good for you” and, secondly, it’s our tradition to do so. We’re British and British people eat meat steeped in our traditions, and that is a very important thing in people’s consciousness.
The other great thing is that our tradition is changing. You would never have seen wine on the table when we were kids. Now even ordinary British people can have a bottle of wine with their meals. It’s like you would never have seen us eating curries when I was a kid, but we all do now. So along with all that I think it’s perfectly feasible for people to change.
The other thing, talking about this transition thing we’re going through, is that I don’t think people realise that when they’re eating meat they don’t want to think that this animal you’re eating has had its throat slit, or that it’s died in pain that it’s been hung upside down and bled. When people start talking about that at meal-times you say, “oh come on, leave it out”.
You want your chicken pre-packed and clean; women do not want to stuff their hands up into a chicken and pull out the giblets. People try to hide the fact that they are actually eating something that had a face and a heart, something that had a soul.
And that’s another tradition; in most of the books you read it holds that animals don’t have souls – that’s something I don’t agree with. I think it’s so pompous of mankind to pronounce that. What? Has somebody got inside an animal’s head and found out?
It’s very convenient, I think, to hide it all away. We want our meat clean, we want it pre-packed, no giblets, from the supermarket and all that. We want clean meat – but unfortunately there’s no such thing…
My latest horror is deer farming – which means that deer now go to slaughterhouses. So imagine this image of a row of Bambis going up the conveyor belt with their little sad eyes.
When you hear about things like that, you’ve got to realise that our tradition has got out of hand.
You see my point is that we’ve won the race on earth. Humans have won. There’s no other animal, no species, is ever going to give us a problem. No race of spiders could ever take us over. We could zap ‘em we’ve got the gear. There’s no elephants ever going to rule us, we’ve got guns for them – we’ve got atomic bombs for God’s sake. Any time we want to lose a species, we are the winners we can do it.
But we’re not noble in our success – and I think this is going to be the interesting new phase. That’s what we’ve got to look forward to: a nobility in success.
It’s not “be a good loser, son”, it’s “be a good winner now”.
I look forward to the time when we can suddenly think, “hey, we can relax a bit, we don’t have to keep hating these things”.
We can get a bit Disney about it. We can now start to learn from the male gorillas. How does he pump up without steroids? He only eats leaves.
I think there’s going to be some very interesting developments in maybe 10, 20, 30 years.
The other thing is that a friend of Linda’s said that human beings are conducting a gigantic experiment on themselves in what they eat.
You don’t think that much about what’s in what you eat: I don’t. Maybe as veggies we do a bit more than other people- but not that much.
It’s not as if you’ve got a car and you think “now I need exacty this octane of fuel in it”. You just wake up in the morning and go “what do I fancy today? I’ll have that and that and that”, and you eat up until you feel full.
But you don’t actually look at what would be good for this machine that we are. Nobody actually puts in the correct octane not even the strictest of people, I think. People don’t think what’s in their meat. It’s like Linda says – those animals are dead scared when they go up that slaughterhouse ramp and some of that fear and that adrenalin has got to chemically pass to their flesh – and it doesn’t sound good to me to eat that.
But then we don’t think period about animals. People say fish don’t have feelings. Come on! The human race really is the most pompous thing going; it’s funny, it’s amusing. It’s definitely not serious – it’s too wild to be serious.
But I have faith things will change.