'I'd see her at the studio, and I'd notice one sock would be down and the other pulled up, and she had this handbag that must have been twelve years old; she was always kind of a shambles, you know? And I thought that was so cool: here was a woman who could have anything, and she probably never had a manicure in her life.'
On a summer's day in 1984, my housemates Susan Blond and Roger Erickson and I piled into Roger's neat Alfa Romeo and drove from our beach bungalow in the Sagaponack neighbourhood of East Hampton to Linda's brother's house a few miles to the east. Susan, Michael Jackson's publicist, had just flown back from the first dates of his world tour and Paul was most interested in knowing everything she could tell him about Michael, at that moment arguably the biggest star in the world. He was also fascinated with the Alfa, and how I'd managed to get myself into the tiny cavity that served as a back seat. James frolicked on the lawn, and a pleasant time was had by all. As always, since around 1982, Linda had greeted me with, 'Have you gone veggie yet?', and as always I told her that I was a little more veggie than the last time we had seen each other and that I was getting there, gradually. That made her happy.
During our visit, Linda suddenly asked me if I liked bacon. Was this a trick question? 'Mmm,' I replied, trying to duck having to give a direct answer, 'I've enjoyed it in the past . . . it's been a while, I think. I'm trying to remember when I had it last.'
'You can admit that you like it,' she said. 'I have a reason for asking. They're making vegetarian bacon now, and Paul and I are really interested in someday putting out something like that and making it available to everyone. So I wish you'd try this.' She went into the kitchen and came out with a stack of cartons of veggie bacon. They were made from something called TVP, or textured vegetable protein. Sounded yummy!
'Try this,' she insisted, 'and you'll never eat real bacon again.' We put the bounty in the little space that remained in the boot of the car and were starting to drive off when Linda, who'd been waving goodbye to us with Paul, called out, 'Just a minute!' and dashed back into the house. She came out with her arms full of more vegetable things disguised as meat. 'We're getting on a plane in a little while and there's plenty here for my brother and his family. Besides, I didn't give you enough; here, take these,' she said.
'Oh, they've got so much, Lin,' Paul pointed out, as I mumbled something like, 'Gee, the boot is kind of full, what with the car cover, and Roger's cleaning fluids, and
'Well, here,' she persisted, 'you hold on to them,' dumping the boxes into the 'back seat' so that only my head rose above the ocean of packaged food. We waved goodbye anew, or at least Roger and Susan did, because my arms were nowhere to be found. When we got home, we stuffed the freezer with as many shiny little boxes as it would hold, where they stayed for days, unopened.
'I know Linda is going to call to ask how we liked this stuff,' I said from time to time to my friends in our bungalow. 'We have to try it.' We'd pass around one of the packages, examine it with great interest and put it back in the freezer. Finally I decided, 'Let's do it!' Roger and I unpacked the 'bacon' and stared at it, blinded by its orangeness and perfect symmetry. Into the pan the strips went; as they fried, they turned a deeper, different shade of orange and stayed perfectly flat, never curling or crinkling or even making much of a sizzling sound. Except for the colour, and a vague crispness, they didn't look too different from the raw product; they tasted OK, if a bit weird, but not at all like bacon.
'What did you think of that frozen food?' Linda asked when next we spoke.
'Very impressive!' I responded.
'Now you keep eating that, even if you don't go completely veggie for a while,' she advised, 'because every time you do, that's one less animal that had to be killed so that people could eat meat. Let me know when you run out, and I'll have more sent to you.'
That was the idea behind it all - eating this 'bacon' was saving the life of a pig. It would have been better if the food were fabulous but, meanwhile, it was a pound of flesh not slaughtered.
We had been given a prototype of what would become, six years later, Linda's own line of frozen vegetarian food. The quality of TVP-based foodstuffs, by the time Linda put her name on the packages, did improve a great deal, the range of products grew vastly and Linda's revolutionary culinary idea, vegetarian food disguised as meat, became an enormous success in Britain. Like McDonald's, they're now counting sales in the billions.
Tim Traharne, the food entrepreneur who helped Linda start her business and now runs it for the family, says about the first batch of frozen dishes given a public launch, 'I can only flinch at their crudeness, compared to today's products.' And he's talking about the stuff they came up with in 1990 - you can only imagine what that first 'bacon' I ate was like, before six years of research, development and taste tests. Then again, maybe you cannot.
It's understandable that Linda could gladly accept a gradual move towards vegetarianism on anyone's part, for she and Paul did not go the whole hog (so to speak) into a meatless and fishless life all at once. There is an oft-told story about the family having a leg of lamb for dinner in Scotland one day, when a lamb either came into view frolicking in the grass outside the house, or wandered into the dining area -there are various versions. In any event, at that moment Linda and Paul supposedly forswore meat forever. This incident is said to have happened in the late 1970s. When Linda's foods were about to be launched in the US in 1994, the accompanying promotional literature claimed that the McCartneys had been strict vegetarians for twenty years; in one interview, Paul says that started when Heather was six and Mary a tiny baby, which would have been around 1969, but members of Wings recall a Thanksgiving dinner with real turkey, and meat and fish were certainly being served aboard the flotilla in Half Moon Bay in the spring of 1977.
Then there's the big caviare controversy. If, as we've seen, the McCartneys were eager to partake of Yoko's caviare when they visited her in early 1981, they cannot have been orthodox veggies at that time. In fact, Paul told an interviewer they had continued eating caviare even after they'd given up eating fish, because 'we thought it's only eggs, OK. Until we inquired into it and someone said the mother sturgeon gets slit head to toe. We said, "We thought they milked her." That stopped caviare.' Milked?
This is not to quibble, and not to question the extent of Linda's and Paul's total commitment to the right, as they defined it, of all things with a heart not to be eaten by humans. One night Mike Fisher, my companion at the time, and I arrived at a party for the McCartneys given by Linda's brother, John, and his wife, Jody, at their home. I had some CDs to give Linda, and my favourite shoulder satchel was then a soft, dark blue plastic, insulated and marked with the brand name 'Petrossian', a famous importer of ... caviare. Linda was in the entrance hall as I arrived in an elevator full of guests, and she lost no time in embarking on a major harangue: 'Petrossian! Caviare? Do you know how they get caviare? They cut the mother open, from one end to the other. They cut her open! They take out her millions of eggs, and that's what caviare is. Oh, that's horrible, Danny, how can you carry something from that horrible place?'
Over Linda's shoulder, her daughter Stella looked at Mike and winked.
'I'll get rid of this, I promise,' I told Linda, and went into the room where people were putting their coats and hid it under the bed. I still have the bag - it's great for keeping iceberg lettuce sandwiches cold, and the Petrossian logo has long since worn off.
One brings up the subject with caution and, it is hoped, some sense of humour, but for Linda this was no laughing matter, nor is it now for Paul, who is the very dedicated keeper of the flame. As a couple, they were the world's most prominent animal rights activists and advocates of vegetarianism; as an individual, Linda McCartney was purely, totally, famously and successfully a protector of all species not human. Directly and indirectly, she probably saved the lives of more animals than any person in history, at least in the history of the West.
Her name in Britain is now synonymous with frozen meatless food; there is even a dog food marketed there that is 'Lin-tested', with a little icon of her face on the package; a cat food is on the way. There are celebrities who are passionate about animal rights, and their passions are commendable, but somehow I do not think that a picture of Bea Arthur or the B-52s on a bag of dog food or a package of frozen 'sausages' would be very meaningful. Linda really was the 'animals' saint', as activists have called her. 'When she died, the animals of the world really took a hit,' comments photographer Dave McGough. 'There is no one to take her place.'
I think Linda was born to be the animals' saint; as a child, she brought home injured animals and was more comfortable, and more fulfilled, with her horses and even with the birds and tadpoles that she would sit watching for hours in a woodland area near her house, than with many of her own species. Motherhood, career, marriage and family diverted her energies, and she was a brilliant success in those areas, but I think her kinship with all non-human creatures was simply dormant for about twenty years; it manifested itself as her children needed less nurturing and started going full-force in the early 1980s. For the last ten years of her life, it was total and, amazingly to all who watched her, growing all the time.
Laurence Juber, who was a staunch vegetarian at the time he joined Wings in 1978, recalls that the McCartneys were 'transitioning into being full-time about it when I first met them'. While working with them at George Martin's Air Studios in London, he would buy loaves of bread, bags of bean sprouts and other non-animal delicacies for Paul and Linda, which they accepted with enthusiastic interest. 'One day Linda wasn't at the studio and I gave a bag of stuff to Paul, and the next time I saw Linda I asked how they had liked it. She said, "Uh oh, you shouldn't have just left that with Paul. It's not in his nature to remember that there's a bag of groceries in the back of the car." Sure enough, she went to look inside the car and there was a container of very gooey bean sprouts in the back seat. It wasn't strictly vegetarian back then. That's the way most people start - they certainly came the distance, didn't they?'
'Gradualist is a good way to describe the way they got into it,' remarks Chrissie Hynde, a very close friend of Linda's and Paul's and an outspoken animal rights activist.
I think Linda did it the right way, and went public with it very effectively. You know, I would do phone-in radio shows and women would call in and say, 'I'm a vegetarian and I'd like to convert my family, but my husband is a real meat-and-potatoes man.' And I'd say, 'Well, then leave him.' That was always my take on it, probably a little bit hardline.
Linda's approach was, 'If your husband is a meat-and-potatoes man, don't tell him. Slip him a veggie-burger and if he says it's delicious, say, "Good! Well it's healthy too."' And she got all those women who read her cookbooks and bought her food to do just that. What she was up to was not primarily about the beauty of vegetables, or the science of nutrition, but about saving animals' lives. If she could do that, her goal was accomplished.
She was always telling me how many dinners she had sold, how many units of non-animal protein, and what the equivalent of that was in terms of animals' lives. I don't think she ever saw it in any other terms, not in terms of a business or her personal success in marketing food, or that she herself had done well, but that every time a cookbook was sold, animal lives were saved. And she'd call in for the latest sales figures, and I think she'd just get on a horse and go for a ride feeling great that someone became a veggie that day.
It was Hynde who encouraged Linda to come out from behind the cookbooks and the frozen foods and to establish herself as a vocal and active spokesperson on behalf of the animal kingdom. 'She was the least pretentious person I've ever known,' says Chrissie, who first met Linda in 1983.
I got a baby present, some clothes, when I had my first child, and it said, 'Love - Paul and Linda and the kids', and I'd never met them. I was just amazed. Well, about a month later I was rehearsing and Paul was in the next studio; it wasn't easy for me, but I walked over to him and said, 'Gosh, thanks for the baby clothes.' He looked a little embarrassed, and he said, 'Oh. My wife.' Then I met Linda a few weeks after that, and I liked her instantly. I'd see her at the studio, and I'd notice one sock would be down and the other pulled up, and she had this handbag that must have been twelve years old; she was always kind of a shambles, you know? And I thought that was so cool: here was a woman who could have anything, and she probably never had a manicure in her life, and she obviously just didn't give a fuck.
Then, I hadn't talked to her for a few years, but she sent cards and I knew, from being a new mother, that it can take up all of a person's time taking care of one kid, and she had four. She was being a superlative mother and, for me, that was an inspiration. I had been very anti the whole American nuclear family thing, I was such a product of the Vietnam War, but when I saw how nurturing she was with her children, it was obvious that that was the right thing to do. When her children were getting old enough that they didn't need that much nurturing, we began to talk on the phone more often, and most of that was about animal stuff. I'd been thinking about starting something really big, like the vegetarian answer to McDonald's, and one day she called me and I went straight into it. I knew that the one way to get her attention was to imply that she was a snob, because that was the last thing she would ever be, or wish to be.
I said, 'Listen, McCartney, why don't you get off your high horse and do something? We're starting a revolution, and you should be part of it.' I knew she'd be horrified if anyone thought she was above the cause. And she stammered a bit, and she answered, 'Look, no one wants to hear what I have to say, they just want to see me standing next to Paul when he gets awards.' I told her, 'Wrong! People are so impressed with fame that they don't care why you're famous. You've got a voice and you can use it, and people do want to hear what you've got to say. And whether they like it or not, you've got the voice, and you can do whatever you want with it.' She just happened to get me on a day when I was on a tear.
She was reticent, and I understood why. She'd been preoccupied with her family until then, and the press and the public certainly hadn't made her feel as if she had any great contribution to make on her own. She'd always been portrayed as jolly and up and optimistic, all peace signs and good-natured stuff, but I said, 'Come on, get your fist in the air, no more mister nice guy, this is serious stuff.' Soon after that, she and Paul were at some premiere, and there was a picture of them and Linda had her fist in the air! And the caption was about her. It said something like, 'Linda McCartney, seen here with her husband, punches the air.' I thought, 'Whoa! I'd better shut up, I don't want to inspire her to do that again.' But I knew the energy was there, and she probably just needed a kick in the ass to say, 'Yeah, you can do it.' Because we both had this intense appreciation and love of nature, and we felt how noble animals
are. To me, the whole animal kingdom is God's link to man, and it will give you all the answers. But Linda and I never had discussions about religion and we never talked about God. It was always Man vs. Nature.
By the end of the 1980s Linda's first cookbook, Linda McCartney's Home Cooking, was published. Although she was performing with Paul on his first world tour since Wings had broken up, she clearly had her own agenda, and being one of her husband's back-up musicians was not her main concern. The kids were still with them on the road, but James was twelve, audiences were no longer scary, the critics had long since said everything condescending about Linda that they could, her photographs were being acclaimed at museums and galleries around the world, and now she had a passion and identity of her very own.
Not that she was at all indifferent to Paul's success on the road, or to her part in it. 'The crowds have been incredible, and if it carries on like this it'll be great,' Linda told me in a phone call from Madrid in November 1989. 'Although you do forget where you are. When you leave a country, you feel like you're still there. I think we went to Italy after Germany, I can't remember. During the day, you know where you are, but then you come to the halls at night, they're all the same. Even though I love seeing the excitement in people's faces, and their happiness at being in the same room with Paul. And I'm still amazed at the way they carry people out of the audience after they've fainted. I counted sixty in Paris.'
'You counted them?'
'Well, I know the set pretty well, and I can do more than one thing at a time, in spite of what you may think.'
Since I was doing a story on the tour for the syndicated radio show I was writing and producing for MJI at the time, I put to Linda the usual cliche question: 'What are you looking forward to as far as the United States' leg of the tour is concerned?' She was off and running.
'Well, Paul is definitely just playing to all his fans, and I love the idea of him just doing that, and of course I like coming back to America, but you know me, I want to get my point of vegetarianism across, Danny.'
'How are you doing that?' I asked dutifully.
'Well, my cookbook which - do you have one?'
'No, you said you'd send me one. But I wrote about it anyhow.'
'I will send you one, I'll bring you one personally. I want to talk about things like that myself, because that's really all I'm interested in: no slaughter of animals and no experiments on animals. That's what I'm about. I don't want to drive people crazy with it, but you know me, I'm just outspoken that way. If I believe in something, I'm gonna say it. And what it's about is, if you love animals and don't want to eat them, this is a very non-cranky way to do it.'
'I see that the tour will be in California at Thanksgiving, and then you'll be in New York?'
'Yes, and that will be a turkey-less Thanksgiving, because turkeys shouldn't be murdered!'
'Now, Linda, you promise that this will be non-cranky? I mean, the press, Paul's fans, they've stopped hitting on you; now you're telling them they're murderers?'
'Well, that's what it is, isn't it? And I'm showing them a nice way to stop.' Linda went on to tell me that they'd been to the Prado that day and it was fantastic: 'Bosch, Goya, El Greco, Breughels, Velazquez. Oh my God! We go on in fifteen minutes! See you next year in November.'
Of course, it wasn't perceived by everybody as non-cranky. All the backstage catering on the tour was vegetarian, naturally, but the crew were told that as long as they were part of the McCartney organization, they were not to eat meat anywhere. No sneaking off for real sausages, or the job was in jeopardy. There was some resentment on the part of the 'real men' who hauled equipment and drove trucks, and there was no doubt some illegal consumption of sausage. If anyone got fired for that, which I doubt, it was certainly not publicized; the bosses would indeed have seemed cranky, and people who work tours cannot risk being seen as trouble-makers, but the point was made. 'This is a vegetarian tour, like it or leave it.'
It was, as I said to Linda, and as her friends certainly noted, brave of her to challenge the world on the subject of food just as she was becoming 'acceptable'. The girls who hated her for marrying Paul must have got over that in the intervening twenty years, and the guys who hated her for presuming to be in Paul's band had realized, it was to be hoped, that there was nothing to get all that upset about. Experienced musicians had known that, although she appeared to be amateurishly playing keyboards with only one finger, as Paul told Chrissie Hynde in a wonderful interview he did with her for USA Weekend in November 1998, 'You can't play those instruments [Moog synthesizers] with more than one finger. Well, you can play with as many fingers as you like, but only one will register. She was synthesizing a whole orchestra, and that's really difficult to do. She learned it all, and she did it all, and she took it kind of seriously.' And as Pete Townshend says, Linda's voice was integral to the sound of Paul's music after the Beatles, whether or not most people knew that.
In any case, the mockery had died down by the time Linda decided to hit the world over the head, albeit nicely (at first), with the 'Go veggie!' motif. It was, after all, courageous of her to provoke the public all over again, but she had long since realized that she was not going to do well in popularity contests. Popularity was her husband's province, and it was not only unattainable for her, but not very desirable either. So what? It was nothing compared to what she believed in, which was essentially a complete reordering of the relationship between humans and animals. I made the mistake once of asking her about the requirement that the road crew 'go veggie' for the duration of the 1989-90 world tour, and told her I'd heard some of the guys were complaining that the McCartneys were being 'a pain in the butt' on the subject. 'A pain?' she replied, fixing me with a look that was both anguished and shrivelling. 'Let me tell you about pain! Do you know what kind of pain ... etc.?' The annoyances borne by humans were as nothing compared to the suffering of animals - nothing; not in those exact words, but certainly as a doctrine, this was the mantra of the last decade of Linda's life.
If Chrissie Hynde convinced Linda that she could say something and do something to promote the cause of animal rights, it was Dan Mathews who showed her what there was to do, and exactly how very effective she could be. Smart, handsome, funny, creative and totally dedicated, Mathews works at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), one of the more radical ('We're theatrical, but not violent,' he cautions) animal rights organizations, and I first met him in March 1989. He was organizing the first Rock Against Fur concert in New York, and after talking to him for a while on the morning of the concert, and being totally charmed, I asked him if he knew Linda and Paul, or if they knew of him or the work PETA was doing. He said he didn't know, but that he would love to be in contact with them. I called Linda that same day and told her there was someone fabulous I had just met who was doing animal rights stuff and that I thought they would adore each other. I gave her his phone number. She lost no time in contacting him. As Mathews recalls,
It was right after the Rock Against Fur concert and we were having our department heads meeting, when the secretary burst into the room and said, 'Dan, there's a call from England, and she says it's Linda McCartney calling for you.' Sure enough, it was Linda. She said, 'Hi, Danny told me about you, and I hear you're doing great things and it's not just fur, and by the way, are you veggie?' She was asking me if I was veggie -1 answered, 'Well, if you only knew. Of course.' We talked for about ten minutes, and I told her some of the things we were doing, undercover exposes in slaughter houses and fur farms, and she was very enthusiastic. Very casual, almost as if we'd been friends before she even called, and then at the end of the conversation she said, 'If you ever get over to England, please come and see us; here, take our number down, it's just for friends, but please call.' Here was Linda McCartney calling me, sight unseen, giving me her home phone number.
I was going to England a month or two later, and I called, and they invited me to their house and said they'd have a car pick me up at my hotel in London and take me to Sussex. Well, everybody knew I was having a heart attack because I was going to visit them, I was going to see these mega-celebrities. But I never felt intimidated, mainly because of Linda's tone in that first phone call, that mellow voice. So simple, so direct; she'd heard about something she thought was cool, and she wanted to help, and called. She was as interested in us as we were in them.
It was a two-hour drive, very beautiful, and we went past the gatehouse up this long drive, and there's Paul and Linda, standing side by side, their arms around each other and waving with the other hand, all smiles on the front porch. I guess I thought the house would be bigger and more sprawling, but it was just a comfortable size, and we went right into the kitchen, where it seemed everything happened, and she asked if I wanted a cup of tea or coffee, then she fixed it. No maids, no servants, none whatsoever. Paul was so sweet and smiling, their eyes were so enthusiastic and they actually seemed to be excited that I had come to visit them.
They explained their motivations to me, it was important for them to do that. Linda's was purely from the ethical issue of animal cruelty, whereas Paul was more concerned with the environmental impact of the meat industry and there were things about that which really upset him. He was being very supportive of the Friends of the Earth organization at the time, he was planning to give them a special prominence on the upcoming tour. Eventually, their attitudes came to be nearly identical, but at the beginning, she was interested in one aspect of the humane movement and he was into another part of it, and they reinforced each other over the years.
Paul's never been afraid of the more radical stuff we've done. There was a concert promoter once whose wife worked for the Ringling Brothers Circus, and they saw that PETA had a booth at the show and the guy said to Paul, 'Do you know about these people? They dumped a ton of animal manure on the Ringling Brothers' corporate headquarters in some kind of protest,' and Paul replied, 'Whatever works. Sometimes you have to do that kind of thing.' That told me a lot about Paul. He's never been afraid of the more radical stuff.
The McCartneys joined PETA in campaigns against General Motors, L'Oreal cosmetics, Gillette razors and meat in general. In the Midwest, the pork lobby learned of the association and 300 pig farmers in Iowa returned their tickets to Paul's concert. It was front-page news in the region, with protesters at the concert carrying signs saying, 'I Wanna Hold Your Hoof and 'Paul, Don't Have A Cow, Man!' Paul and Linda loved it.
When they were on tour, I would hook up with them. In Florence Linda and I had a press conference, and she urged Italian women to honour St Francis of Assisi and stop wearing furs. I held up a fur coat, and she spray-painted it. It was all over the papers. In Paris, L'Oreal had just stopped their animal tests, and Linda had been a big part of that campaign, so Linda and I and Cliff, my lover at the time, did this photo opportunity with Cliff dressed as a rabbit, and we opened a giant bottle of champagne and challenged other companies to join L'Oreal.
Paul was often busy doing his thing to publicize the concert, and I always sort of felt that Linda and I were like Lucy and Ethel, going off to do these things while Ricky [from the extraordinarily successful American 1950s sitcom, I Love Lucy] led the band. She would say that he had to do whatever it was, but 'Let's do this.' You know, it was practical. She did it with him, she did it without him.
One of Mathews' favourite memories of Linda is of walking round her house with her one day and emptying the live mousetraps.
When I got there she said, 'Oh good, you're just in time, we've had some mice in the house and I want to go check out the traps.' She had these little cages where the mouse can get in, and then the cage closes but the mouse is not injured. She'd check them every day, take the cages with the little mice and get in the car, then she'd let them out at the edge of the forest. It was part of the routine - get the papers, make coffee, check the live mousetraps. No grandstanding, just a normal part of her life.
You know, never once did I see her snap. Never once did I see her roll her eyes at somebody. And she was never one of those fake air-kissing people. She was a breath of fresh air in any world, but especially in the celebrity world. Linda already had some baggage, what with marrying Paul and playing in the band, and then she did what she thought was right and fought for what she believed in. Nobody has done what she did, it's made her an icon in the humane movement. People, especially women, are told, 'Oh shut up about animals, there are more important things to worry about than animals,' and Linda changed that. She spoke up about it when nobody that prominent was saying anything, and she helped initiate a change which will be a permanent one. She popularized something that was almost unimaginable before. She became effective and respected, and I thought that was pretty great, and it had to have been encouraging for her, after all she'd been through. And she stayed involved until the end of her life - two weeks before she died, she faxed us asking for vegetarian cat food recipes. There was such a thing, it had just been developed.
The last time I saw Linda at her house in Long Island, we were having a dinner of corn and salad and she was quoting statistics on how much water and land cattle consume, down to the gallon and the acre. My East Hampton hostess that particular weekend was Naomi Rosenbloom, who had actually dated Linda's father many years earlier. She was utterly charmed by the family - so charmed that she overruled me when I responded to Linda's dinner invitation by saying that Naomi and I actually had plans that evening, knowing that Naomi is not a veggie kind of gal. Well, we could always raid Naomi's fridge afterwards, and did. 'I didn't love the food,' Naomi has said to me more than once in recalling that day, 'but that was the nicest family I've ever met in my life. Those children! The most beautiful, polite, most naturally affectionate children I have ever seen in any family - and in a rich family! Because you know they're usually the worst. How did they do it? You tell me she really was a famous cook? Well, OK - a famous mother I can see, but...'
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Anyhow, I interrupted Linda's agronomics lecture, interesting though it was, and asked, 'Linda, what do you feed your dogs?'
'Aha!' she exclaimed. 'Vegetarian dog food! There is such a thing. They love it - you take soya and mix it with [whatever] and you start feeding it to them when they're puppies, and they'll eat it forever, and they'll never care about meat again.'
'OK, then what do you feed your cats?' I'd seen an army of felines in the (non-leather) saddle house on their farm, and they didn't seem all that veggie from a distance.
'Nh,' was what Linda's answer sounded like. She looked away, sort of covered her mouth with her hand, and said what sounded like, 'Nh.'
'Nh,' she repeated.
'Oh Lin,' Paul said, 'tell Danny that we give the cats fish.'
'I hate it! I hate it that we have to do that!' she burst out. She was genuinely upset at the thought.
'Do you stand on the shore of the ocean and think about all the fish out there?' I asked, incredulous that she seemed to be so angry at herself for participating in the carnivorous food chain, however indirectly.
'Yes, I do,' said Linda. 'But you know, they're working on a veggie cat food right now. The next time we meet, I hope I can tell you that our cats have gone veggie.'
Linda never had a chance to tell me that, but by golly, it is happening.
A great fan of Linda's home-cooking was none other than the poet Allen Ginsberg, who had first met Paul through Barry Miles (Paul's and Allen's biographer) in 1967. In 1994, when Miles was working on Paul's book, Allen came to the UK and was eager to renew the acquaintance, so a Sunday dinner at the family homestead was arranged. Miles and Ginsberg both noted how physical and affectionate Paul and Linda were with their children, who were all there; 'lots of hugs and touching', Miles recalls, 'more like a big Italian family than a usual middle-class English one - but then, of course, they were neither of them English middle-class'.
The crowd sat around the kitchen table, clearly the social centre of the house, and dined on vegetable lasagne and a veggie loaf, which the guests found delicious. 'Allen rather greedily helped himself to seconds before anyone else, and then polished off the last portion, proclaiming it to be the tastiest food he'd eaten in a long time. He genuinely seemed to love it,' Miles remembers, but then, if you've eaten Allen's cooking, you'll know why he enjoyed it so much. Linda and Allen talked about vegetarian diets and health problems - alas, they would both succumb to cancer within a few years.
'Linda behaved as if Allen was an old friend,' Miles wrote to me on e-mail. 'It's something he sometimes brings out in people, but by no means always. She touched his arm while speaking, and Linda indulged her nostalgia for New York, because they were the only two New Yorkers in a roomful of Brits. Allen liked her very much, which is rare, because he was notorious for not even being able to remember women's names - he just blanked women from his life, but Linda remained there, possibly because she was famous, but also because they had a rapport.
'When we left, Mary drove us back to town, and I was very struck by the hugs and kisses between Linda and her girls, and also the way they unselfconsciously spoke about how much they loved each other. Linda often came across as strident in public, but in private she was much softer, vulnerable, open and loving.'
Allen, Paul and Linda saw each other again at the McCartney home in East Hampton; they wrote haikus together (Allen's revenge for them serving him veggie loaf?), which sadly are lost, but, as Barry Miles recalls, they were formal seventeen-syllable haikus, and pretty good.
Simply as good hosts, the McCartneys had not cracked open Linda's Frozen Meals, tasty as they were, but served the freshest ingredients available, usually produce grown on their own farm. Typically, when they had decided to explore the world of mushrooms, they flew over a French mushroom expert and went around the grounds with him, photographing all the local toadstools and annotating the pictures for future reference; these were divided into two piles - edible and poisonous - and kept on file.
Food manufacturer Tim Treharne was named by Linda in 1997 as one of the 'main men' in her life, besides her husband and son, in the magazine Woman's Journal. '[He] heads up my food company and made a reality of my dream to create a range of veggie meals. We work well together because he's a good, kind man.'
Treharne was in the meat business and, through his vet, who was also the McCartneys' vet (although they lived sixty miles apart), learned of Linda's and Paul's eagerness to market vegetarian food. 'We met,' he remembers. 'The whole situation was bizarre, in that we were obviously worlds apart. They were devout vegetarians and world famous, and I had been in the meat industry for thirty years and was unknown outside of it. So we were not people that anybody would logically have put together.'
An understatement but, as novices in the business of marketing a line of food, the McCartneys were made to understand two simple facts. First, their name on the package would result in one sale per customer, but what was in the package would determine whether or not the customer came back for more. (Treharne used the example of Frank Sinatra's sauces and Paul Newman's salad dressings; Sinatra's products were off the shelves within a month, but Newman's products delivered the goods, and the rest is history.)
Second, and a very bitter pill to swallow, was that Linda was going to have to deal with the meat industry as it existed, if she were going to be in the food business putting out what was not merely a niche product. It was not appropriate to be in one branch of the industry while being seen to tear down another part of it. And even more important, according to Treharne, 'the technology and manufacturing expertise needed to produce Linda's products was in the very industry she was against, the meat industry. As she said, she had to learn to "sleep with the devil".' Research in such critical areas as transportation, refrigeration, marketing and so on is financed, in fact, by the producers of meat - you cannot put out a line of frozen foods to be sold in supermarkets without relying on that (hated) area of the industry. So be it.
Cleverly, Treharne and the McCartneys aimed their products not at pure and devout vegetarians, who make up only a very small percentage of the food-consuming public, but at what they called 'Mrs Slightly Green', a category which accounts for an astonishing fifty-six per cent of the food market in Britain. Mrs Slightly Green has to feed a family on a budget; probably has a daughter who doesn't like meat; and has a husband whose health she's concerned about who doesn't exercise, is overweight and is very much a 'meat man' who won't change his habits. So Mrs Slightly Green has to feed her husband, says Treharne, 'non-meat products without making him feel "wimpish". She has to give him food he recognizes and relates to.' As Paul has said many times, most People expect to see some sort of meat in the middle of their dinner Plate; the meat comes first, the other items on the plate are complementary. Hence TVP disguised as meat, and a good disguise it had better be.
On 30 April 1991, Linda McCartney's Meatless Entrees were launched, in a colourful package with a photograph of Linda on the front. The six initial products, the names of which might mean more to British consumers than to English-speaking people from other countries, were: Ploughman's Pie, Ploughman's Pastie, Beefless Burgers, Golden Nuggets, Lasagne and Italian Style Toppers.
Linda's bestselling cookbook had preceded her foods by about two years, so a television and press publicity and marketing campaign was a natural for the public to digest, so to speak. In a typical spot, Linda introduces herself and talks about her meat-eating early years and her conversion to vegetarianism. Some vivid examples are put in to appeal to animal lovers and all the Mrs Slightly Greens of the world. '. . . We were behind a truck of chickens, tightly packed, beautiful chickens, and [then the truck] turned into a chicken processing plant . . . People [say that] fish don't have feelings. Yeah, pull them out of the water, they're so happy, they say, "Hey thanks! I didn't like it in my own kingdom. You want a few of my friends?" I mean, everything has feelings, who are we to murder them? It's just something that's in me, I think. I love life, and nature and animals are life.'
In one of her sweetest vignettes, Linda stands in a meadow talking about cows and walks over to them, saying, 'Hello, hello ladies, young ladies, hello! Cuties! Moo!' Then, standing adoringly next to a cutie, she talks about how she once rode a cow, how the young ones are taken away from their mothers and how they give you nice dairy products, in much the same way that chickens give you eggs. Without seeming to notice that Linda's been standing there, the cute cow just turns and walks away. 'Goodbye,' Linda says with a loving smile, as if she knew the cow was not going to be cuddly with her and she didn't at all care. If a dog behaved like that, or even a cat, one would expect to see the affectionate human get a tiny bit insulted, shrug for the camera, indicate, 'Oh, it doesn't matter, I know she loves me.' But Linda does none of that. 'Goodbye.' It's a cow, it's being a cow, Linda does not expect it to act like a person, or demonstrate training, or be appreciative, or do anything cute. It walks away. It's a cow. For Linda, it can be nothing more, and nothing better; it's quite perfect as it is.
By the time Linda McCartney's Home Style Cooking line was ready for an American launch, in 1994, there were eighteen of her products in the English supermarkets. Meals were selling by the millions, and the industry (and the McCartneys themselves) were very impressed. Clearly, Ploughman's Pasties were not going to be a hit in America, where the word 'pasties' is understood to mean those little adhesive circles that strippers put over their nipples. Nor is the ploughman associated with nutrition ... as a rule. So for the US, and with the help of a manufacturer named Fairmont Foods in a small town in the centre of Minnesota hog-country, nine new vegetarian entrees were readied: Spaghetti Milano, Lasagne Roma, Pasta Provencale, Pasta Primavera, Rigatoni Marinara, Chili Non-Carne, Burrito Grande, Fettucine Alfredo and Bavarian Goulash. Market research had clearly indicated that dieting Americans, or those going veggie - even if temporarily - seemed to be in a mostly pasta frame of mind.
A huge publicity tour, complete with politicians and Paul, did little to help, and because of some confusion with the manufacturing company and its new owners, the line failed to get off the ground. One food reviewer only found four of the nine entrees in his local supermarket, a bad omen.
There were other setbacks too. In October 1992, steak was found in a batch of about 3,000 of Linda's Deep Country Pies. Linda was quoted as saying she was 'horrified', and added that 'there could simply have been a mistake in the packing, or it could be something more sinister'. A spokesperson for the UK's Vegetarian Society got the final quote in the Daily Telegraph coverage of the disaster, talking about 'immense distress' and 'revulsion'.
Nor were the food writers enchanted. The meals were found to contain a good many calories, one third of which were fats - a proportion that is severely frowned upon by the gurus of healthy eating. Linda seemed not to care, admitting that something had to be done to make these things taste good, and better fats than meat. The nutrition gurus were unmoved. 'Animal welfare is a proper concern, but the health of humans is equally so,' wrote Glyn Christian, who was appalled by the fake-meat concept, in the Sunday Telegraph. 'If you are to give up meat successfully, it is surely best to reduce it slowly rather than playing pretend.'
Cruelly, one writer in the Arizona Republic compared Linda's foods to Paul's music after the Beatles: 'The Pasta Primavera reminded me of McCartney's album, Pipes of Peace - there was nothing there, really. Certainly nothing memorable. Creamy, but mostly bland. The Rigatoni Marinara fared better, like maybe Venus and Mars. A little spicier. Zesty. Catchy, sort of, like the clarinet solo in "Listen To What the Man Said".' Clever, very clever. 'Linda McCartney oozes with the sincerity of the seriously rich', begins an article in the Observer from 1995, headlined 'LOVE, LOVE ME DO, NO COW IN MY STEW'. (Sue Whitall in the Detroit News turned the music connection into a positive, with 'LINDA MCCARTNEY SAYS HER VEGGIE ENTREES WILL SEND BLAND ON THE RUN'.)
But everyone seemed ready for a reaction that focused first on Paul, then on Linda. No one believed that 'Linda Eastman's Home Style... etc' would ever have gone anywhere in the first place. And on the tour designed to promote the US launch of her products, Linda gave press conferences all over the country, which were interrupted halfway through by the voice of Paul, on the questioners' mike, asking something like, 'How does your husband like your food?' Then he'd join Linda onstage, the photographers would go insane and the questions thenceforth would be about a Beatles reunion. 'Any more food questions?' from the organizers would be met with more Beatles questions. Once again Linda was sidelined, even when it was her project in the spotlight, but it was ultimately to her advantage, of course, that the possibility of Paul's presence guaranteed a large press turnout for her beloved frozen meals.
But although it didn't work in America (the first time out; there are still plans to do a US launch), in the UK Linda's food line was, and is, a sensation. In 1995 a factory dedicated solely to the manufacture of Linda's products opened in Fakenham, in Norfolk. It employs nearly 500 workers and no meat is allowed on the premises; it is the only completely vegetarian food plant in all of Europe. A professional bicycling team, the Linda McCartney Pro Cycle Team, is now on the roads and proud of consuming 8,500 vegetarian calories per day per cyclist, mostly in the form of Linda's own foods, of which there are now forty-two varieties. And early in 1999 the billionth box of her food was sold in the UK. At the time of her death, and in her own right, Linda was one of the richest women in England. What's more, Linda's third cookbook, Linda McCartney on Tour, is another bestseller; she is now the most successful author of vegetarian cookbooks in the history of publishing.
Linda's picture was taken off the front of the food cartons, at her request, when news of her cancer was made public. There is now a picture of her, with her hair short and dark as it grew back after her chemotherapy, on the back, a quote from Linda and assurance from the McCartney family that 'this product meets with Linda's ideals for a great-tasting quality product'.
'Everything Linda stood for is in the name on that package,' says Tim Treharne, managing director of Linda McCartney Foods, now owned by her family, who still approve every new development in content and packaging. 'This was a tremendous achievement for her. She had become more comfortable with it over the years, and I saw her go from being "Paul's wife" to being Linda herself. She was her own person, and with her ideas, and all of us working together, we succeeded beyond anyone's dreams.'
Dreams that began, I suppose, when she discovered that there can be bacon, or almost bacon, with no blood shed. Everything grew from that.
'We're coming to America to launch my frozen food line,' Linda called to tell me, early in 1994. 'We're going to start with supermarket chains in the Midwest - soon it'll be everywhere.'
'Wow,' I said. 'That is so great. It means I'll get a chance to taste it.'
'You haven't tasted it? Well, maybe because you can't get it there yet. But you are using my cookbook that I gave you, and Mike is using it too?'
'Oh, religiously,' I fibbed, as I grabbed a copy from the kitchen cookbook collection, where it had sort of languished. 'We going to try Aubergine Fritters tonight! Hey, honey, what's an aubergine?'
'It's eggplant, but it's not a good time to buy it now. Did you actually ever use my cookbook? Those recipes are really good.'
'You've honestly cooked Sauerkraut? Come on.'
'They've all been tested and tasted, that I can promise you. Listen, I’m going to send you some of my frozen food.'
'You know, I have such a small mailbox. The mailman folds everything, CDs, everything. Maybe it's not a good idea.'
'Well, soon you'll have them in your neighbourhood . . . what?'
'D'Agostino,' I answered; the name of my local supermarket.
'I'm going to make sure they're in every D'Agostino. I'll call you when we're in New York. Do you like Mexican food? There are two Mexican meals.'
'I can't wait, but mainly I can't wait to see you. You'll give my love to Paul and the family?'
'Paul's right here, I'm sure he wants to say hello. Oh ... he's waving hello, it looks like he has to run somewhere. Well, I love you. If you go veggie, you'll live longer and I can love you for a longer time.'
'Goodbye my darling.'