He gained worldwide fame as co-lead vocalist and bassist for the Beatles, and, together with John Lennon, he formed one of the most successful songwriting duos in history. He has continued to make unforgettable music since the band disbanded and he’s one of the most successful composers and performers of all time. But is Paul McCartney vegan?
No, Paul McCartney is not vegan. Even though he hasn’t eaten meat since the seventies and he has raised awareness about animal cruelty and the other negative aspects of the animal industries for decades, he hasn’t given up all animal products and materials.
Paul’s meat eating years
Paul was born in 1942, and he has described the diet he grew up on as “very traditional, based around meat. Sunday Roast would be the big event of the week.” He liked eating meat, but he does vividly recall that his mother once served tongue and he refused to eat it: “No way was I gonna touch that. Because it was a tongue. I mean the rest of it, there was a certain amount of disguise, but not this tongue.”
As he got older, he continued to eat meat, and there were even times when his father would drop off a bag of sausages on the stage during some of his early gigs.
When he and the other band members founded the Beatles, all of them ate meat. On tour, Paul ate whatever food was provided for them and didn’t pay much attention to it. “It was generally just fuel,” he said. There were some moments that stood out to him, though, like the first time they visited the U.S. and noticed the size of the steaks: “You know, we could have all eaten from the one steak that hung over your plate. And then it was kind of over the top, was all we thought really. Just these Americans, you know, they do it bigger than we do.”
In 1968, the Beatles traveled to Rishikesh, a city in India, to learn meditation. They didn’t eat any meat during their stay. While this inspired lead guitarist George Harrison to give up meat in his daily life, it didn’t have the same effect on Paul:
“I think it introduced us all to a different culture … the food there was vegetarian. It certainly wasn’t a great lavish meal of some exotic curry or something. Again, though, I think we kind of thought, or I think I thought of it as fuel. … But it was fine, I didn’t really think about it. We were there really to learn meditation, so the food was secondary. But yeah, it did introduce me to that. And I suppose those were little things that later you’d think: ‘Oh yeah, I know about vegetarian food.’ It was like that.”
The following year, Paul married his girlfriend Linda Eastman, who took his name and became Linda McCartney. Linda already had a daughter from a previous marriage, and after they married, she had three more children with Paul. Paul has said that Linda “became a great cook because she was raising a family,” but in the first years of their marriage, they still ate a “traditional meat diet.”
Why Paul gave up meat
Paul had bought High Park Farm in Kintyre, Scotland, in the late sixties. He spent time there whenever he wanted to get away from urban life and all the attention he was getting from media and fans. There were animals living on the farm as well, and it’s those animals who would change his and Linda’s life forever.
They both gave up meat on the same day, somewhere in the seventies. Paul has described how that happened as follows:
“We were in the kitchen at the farm, sitting down to the usual roast Sunday lunch. And through the window we could see all these little lambs, a great big gang of them, doing that cute thing that lambs do, you know, where they all run to one end of the field like this [doing an impression of frolicking lambs] and then they all ran back to the other end of the field. They were having a great time. And we just looked down at the leg of lamb on our plates. We made the connection and that was it. Linda picked up the ball. We decided then and there to give up eating meat.”
Linda’s meat-free food company
After having made the decision to give up meat, Paul and Linda faced “the challenge [of] what to eat.” This was not as easy in the seventies as it is today. Paul has said: “The food was always around the central piece of meat. So, for us, there was a hole in the plate, which we gradually filled.”
“We started to have a lot of fun with the whole idea. You know, wait a minute, what can we do for Christmas? I wanted to be able to do things, like traditional father things. Here I was, newly married with a new family on the way. So, at Christmas I wanted to carve something. So, as we didn’t have a turkey, we didn’t have a roast, we invented stuff. Linda invented kind of a macaroni turkey. It was like a macaroni cheese, and we let it go cold, and then you pull it out, sort of heat it up, and I’d slice it. You know? So, I mean, we had some pretty goofy things. But you know what, it was good fun. It was great. We enjoyed it. It tasted good. And so it allowed us to, you know, enjoy the whole thing rather than just think ‘uh, we’re vegetarians now, life has ended,’ you know?”
This led to Linda informally starting a food company for friends and relatives. Paul has said that many of their friends told them that they didn’t know what to do when they had guests over who didn’t eat meat. So, Linda made products that they could keep in their freezers for such occasions. And, of course, their friends could also eat the products themselves. According to Paul, “the first aim was that it should taste good, because you’re not gonna persuade people by giving them a lousy meal.”
The types of products Linda made were extremely rare at the time. The following story, told by Paul, illustrates that perfectly:
“I had a great moment when the American comedian Steve Martin was at our house and I was cooking a barbecue, another of these sort of traditional dad things that I wanted to be able to do. So, you know, I was cooking this food. I opened it up and said: ‘Would you like one of these, Steve?’ He said: ‘Oh no, I’m sorry, I can’t.’ He said: ‘I’m vegetarian.’ I said: ‘This is all veggie.’ And it was burgers, it was sausages. And he went crazy, he said: ‘Where can I get this?’ You know, he’d never seen this kind of thing. So, that became the aim, to make this stuff really available, but mostly for it to taste good.”
In 1989, Linda published her first cookbook, Linda McCartney’s Home Cooking. It became a bestseller. Hundreds of thousands of copies were sold worldwide. In this short video, recorded in the year it was published, she explains that it was purely her love for animals that motivated her to write the book:
In 1991, she officially founded the company Linda McCartney Foods. She started out by selling frozen meat-free meals in England, like lasagna, pasta, burgers, pot pies, and goulash, but she quickly expanded her product range and territory. The Linda McCartney’s Home Style Cooking range was released in the U.S. in 1994 and was arguably the first mainstream meat-free meal brand in the country. The brand was extremely successful.
Tragically, Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. Her condition grew worse, and she passed away in 1998, when she was only 56 years old. After she died, Paul told people who wanted to pay tribute to her that giving up meat was “the tribute that Linda herself would like best.”
Paul didn’t give interviews for months, but he made sure that the first media outlet to interview him after Linda’s death was Animal Times magazine, run by American animal rights organization PETA and U.K.-based Viva Life magazine.
He said: “Over the years, because I had the luxury of Linda taking the front role on animal issues, some people would occasionally make out that I wasn’t really committed and that I was a secret meat-eater in the background. Just to prove that’s not the case, I thought, rather than do some general interviews about how much I miss her, which the newspapers would like, I should do it with the PETA magazine because that’s where it’s at.” He vowed to “keep the torch burning” and added: “Animal rights is too good an idea for the next century to be suppressed.”
Lisa Simpson gave up meat forever because of Paul
In 1995, the creators of The Simpsons wanted to make an episode in which Lisa Simpson stopped eating meat. The idea came from writer David X. Cohen, and it was approved by showrunner David Mirkin, who had recently given up meat himself. They wanted Paul and Linda (who was still alive at the time) to appear in the episode. Paul and Linda agreed, but Paul had one condition: Lisa’s decision to give up meat had to be permanent, she couldn’t go back to eating meat in any future episode.
Permanent changes to characters are extremely rare on The Simpsons, but the creators agreed to this one. Fourteen years later, David Mirkin said that Paul was still holding him to his promise: “It’s actually Paul McCartney who was responsible for another permanent change. When I asked him to do the vegetarian episode, he agreed but made me promise to keep Lisa as a vegetarian – and I was happy to comply with that because I’m a vegetarian too! Every time I see him, he always checks – and he’s always surrounded by nine or ten lawyers, so it’s quite frightening!”
In the episode, titled Lisa the Vegetarian, the Simpsons visit a petting zoo and Lisa befriends a lamb. When they get home, the family has lamb chops for dinner and Lisa realizes that she doesn’t want to eat animals anymore. She runs into a lot of resistance, both at home and at school, and is even forced to watch a Meat Council propaganda film. She succumbs to the pressure and decides to start eating meat again, but right at that moment, she runs into Apu. Apu reveals that he doesn’t eat meat either, and he takes Lisa to his rooftop garden, where she meets Paul and Linda. Together, they lift Lisa’s spirits, and she decides not to go back to eating meat.
The episode received positive reviews from critics and even won two awards. This 5-minute video shows the part of the episode in which Paul and Linda appear:
Paul narrated the Devour the Earth documentary
Although Paul’s decision to give up meat was motivated by compassion for animals, he learned over time that there were strong health-related and environmental arguments for giving up meat as well. So, in 1995, he narrated a short 22-minute documentary that covered all the arguments. The documentary, titled Devour the Earth, was written by Tony Wardle and distributed by the European Vegetarian Union.
The video quality is not up to today’s standards and the documentary as a whole looks dated, but it provides a lot of information that’s still relevant today. So, if you’re interested, you can watch it here in full:
Speaking up for the animals in different ways
In the years that followed, Paul has spoken up for animals in various ways. Some of those ways were in line with his previous activism, like promoting National Vegetarian Week in the U.K., and some ways were completely different, like writing a children’s book.
The book, titled High in the Clouds, came out in 2005 and tells the story of animals who lose their home to human development. They go on a journey to find an island where they can live in peace. It teaches children the importance of preserving nature and letting animals live their lives free from human interference.
In 2006, Paul took a stand against the Canadian seal hunt. Together with his second wife, Heather Mills, he visited the Gulf of St. Lawrence to draw international attention to it. The two of them also appeared on Larry King Live to discuss the issue and debate Danny Williams, Newfoundland’s premier at the time. Paul described the seal hunt as “a cruel practice that should be ended.” He suggested that the sealers switched to a different business model, like how whale hunters had switched to organizing whale watching tours.
He also tried to convince people to give up meat by writing letters and giving speeches to people in influential positions. One of the people he wrote to in 2008, or possibly earlier, was the Dalai Lama. Not causing suffering to sentient beings is an important part of Buddhism, so Paul didn’t understand why the Dalai Lama ate meat: “I found out he was not a vegetarian, so I wrote to him saying ‘Forgive me for pointing this out, but if you eat animals then there is some suffering somewhere along the line.’”
According to Paul, it led to a correspondence: “He wrote back very kindly, saying, my doctors tell me that I must eat meat. And I wrote back again, saying, you know, I don’t think that’s right. So we had a little correspondence.” In 2010, Paul said: “I think now he’s vegetarian most of the time. I think he’s now being told, the more he meets doctors from the West, that he can get his protein somewhere else. It’s a little old-fashioned to think that he can only get it from meat.”
While not everyone appreciated Paul using his voice like this, he has argued that his success as a musician shouldn’t disqualify him from speaking up for the animals:
“I do it because I’m morally sort of driven to do it. Something inside my brain says: ‘You’ve got a voice, people will listen to you. So, therefore, you should air your opinions.’ It’s gonna alienate some people who say: ‘Well, he’s just a pop singer, what does he know?’ But then I’d say, well, I’m a father, I’m a grandfather, and I read, you know, I live. And I have an opinion, just like anyone else. And so, I do think, for me, if something really moves me, I think it’s perfectly fair for me to write to someone, ring someone up, and say ‘look, you know.’ And if I’m lucky enough that people, because I’m a celebrity, might take the email, might look at the letter, then I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Paul’s Glass Walls video
In 2009, Paul hosted a video for PETA titled Glass Walls. The video gives insight into the standard practices in the meat industry. Its title is a reference to the statement “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.”
In the video, Paul leaves no doubt about his reasons for hosting it: “I hope that once you see the routine cruelty involved in raising, transporting, and killing animals for food, you’ll join the millions of people who’ve decided to leave meat off their plates for good.” And it should be noted that although Paul uses the word “vegetarian,” he also addresses the cruelty in the eggs and dairy industries in the video.
The 13-minute video has been watched over 20 million times since its release. You can watch it here:
Paul’s Meat Free Monday campaign
Also in 2009, Paul launched his Meat Free Monday campaign. He even spoke about it at the European Parliament. His reason for launching the campaign can be traced back to the United Nations report Livestock’s Long Shadow, which came out in 2006:
“The idea originally occurred to me when I read a report that was prepared by the United Nations, which came out in 2006, called Livestock’s Long Shadow. And in the U.N. report, it stated that the livestock industry is responsible for 18 percent of the greenhouse gases that we experience, or it may even be more. Now, that’s a big percentage. So, I started to think ‘well, what can be done about this?’
“So, I started off writing letters to people like heads of state and people that I thought would have an influence on younger people and on the population as a whole. And I told them about this report, and said what interested me about this report was it wasn’t written by a vegetarian society, so that people could say: ‘Well, you would say that. You know, you’re vegetarian. You want us all to stop eating meat.’ This was written by the United Nations.
“And when I heard about Meat Free Monday, which we didn’t start, it was already a campaign that was growing in various parts of the world, I thought ‘that’s a perfect way.’ Because it doesn’t say to people: ‘Look, you’ve all gotta go vegetarian.’ That’s maybe too hard for people to do and it maybe makes people dig their heels in. What this campaign suggests is just for one day a week, you think about not eating meat.”
The environmental arguments against meat were front and center in the campaign, as you can see in this 5-minute video which also features Paul’s daughters Stella and Mary, as well as Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone:
In the video, Paul actually says “one day without eating animal products” instead of only referring to meat. And on other occasions, he has said that he hopes that once people experience how easy one day a week is, they will give up animal products on other days as well.
From a vegan perspective, however, the approach is controversial. Some vegans support it because they think it’s an effective way to get people to take a step in the right direction, while other vegans object to it because they think it undermines the ethical argument. Everything else that we consider wrong is considered wrong every day of the week, so why would killing animals be any different?
Paul hasn’t gone vegan
Paul has continued to speak up for animals, but he hasn’t gone vegan. In 2018, he was asked about it directly. The question was asked in the third person, “Is Paul McCartney a vegan?”, and he gave the following answer:
“No, he isn’t. He’s a vegetarian. But he eats cheese. I’ll tell you why, it’s a compassion thing for animals, and it’s a kind of thing that I recognize a lot of people think is dumb. I mean, actually, less people these days than before, but a lot of people think ‘uh, you know, uh.’ But to me, all the creatures on the planet, that live on this planet, this one little sphere in space, we’ve all got a shot on a life, and so many animals don’t. I like the idea of giving them their little shot. Plus I’m very happy being vegetarian. You can get loads of vegetarian options these days. So, it’s not like it was in the old days when you just got a boiled sprout.”
So, even though he uses the question as an opportunity to speak up for animals, he’s very clear about the fact that he’s not vegan. And it’s not just because he eats cheese, he has also been spotted wearing a non-vegan coat:
This picture was taken in November 2017 and Paul was wearing a Canada Goose coat. Canada Goose is notorious in the animal rights movement for its use of goose down and its use of real fur from wild coyotes. The particular coat Paul was wearing didn’t have a fur trim, but being a Canada Goose coat, it was lined with down.
Why Paul should be vegan
Paul deserves credit for giving up meat in the seventies and for all the work he has done over the years to convince others to do the same. It’s truly impressive. And although the Vegan Society already existed in the seventies, it was very small and it’s quite possible that Paul had never even heard of the concept of veganism. So, it wouldn’t be fair to criticize him for not going vegan straight away.
However, he did learn about veganism over time. It has even come up in his own activism since as early as 1995. The documentary Devour the Earth, which he narrated, stated: “It takes more than twice as much land to feed a meat eater than it does a vegetarian, and half of that again is required to feed a vegan.”
In Paul’s 2009 Glass Walls video, he even went into detail about the egg and dairy industries. This is what he said about dairy:
“Female cows produce milk for their offspring, not for human beings. Mother cows in the dairy industry are kept perpetually pregnant to keep the milk flowing. Their calves are taken away from them shortly after birth, which causes both of them profound distress. On today’s dairy farms, mother cows are treated as nothing more than milk machines. Some are genetically manipulated to produce ten times more milk than their calves would naturally suckle. Several times per day, they’re hooked up to these machines which can cause painful mastitis from repeated milking. When they’re no longer useful for milk production, they too are sent to slaughter, usually to be ground up for burgers and soups.”
That same year, in an interview, he also mentioned having a vegan daughter and he said that veganism is easy: “When Linda and I originally decided to go vegetarian, we had to consider the nutritional aspect. And my youngest daughter now is vegan, so you have to even think a little more carefully. In truth, once you do start thinking about it, there are a million solutions. When Linda and I first started, there weren’t so many. Nowadays it’s so easy.”
So, he’s aware that the arguments to stop eating meat also apply to other animal products and materials, and he knows that being vegan is easy. He has educated countless people on this. So, by continuing to eat animal products like cheese and wear animal materials like down, he’s not just being inconsistent and contributing to unnecessary suffering, he’s also undermining his own activism.
That’s tragic, and it doesn’t have to be this way. He can align his actions with his words by going vegan. And, hopefully, he will.
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