Chrissie Hynde and Mary McCartney: Talking About a Revolution

The two vegetarians discuss animal welfare and why farming has to change.

By Natalie Jamieson
Published 30 Sept 2018, 22:28 BST
Chrissie Hynde meets an adoring fan... a rescued cow at the Ahimsa Dairy.
Chrissie Hynde meets an adoring fan... a rescued cow at the Ahimsa Dairy.
Photograph by Michael Bowles

The summer’s morning when Mary McCartney, National Geographic guest editor, met up with her long-time friend, Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders,  to discuss why dairy farming is due a revolution, there was a storm brewing. The UK had been gripped by a heatwave for weeks, the heat rising until the inevitable thunder clouds rolled in to change things the very next day. The location was Mary’s studio in west London. In the middle of planning a new exhibition based around her book, The White Horse, a number of her framed prints lay nonchalantly against one wall, while on the floor, a selection of photographs were awaiting their final groupings for the upcoming public showing. There were echoes of her family all around and by the open window, a black and white image of Mary’s mother, Linda McCartney, wrapping Mary’s sister Stella in a loving embrace. But a storm was definitely on the way…

"I’m not just an animal lover, I like people. That's why I'm into the Ahimsa (non-slaughter dairy farm) thing because it's about farming." Chrissie Hynde
Photograph by Michael Bowles

Mary McCartney: What was your family like and how did you become such an animal lover and activist?

Chrissie Hynde: I lived next to a housing estate, next to the woods that they were cutting down to build the housing estates. Very ordinary, American, suburban, my dad worked for the phone company, my mother was a secretary. It [activism] never came up, but when I was 17 I thought about it for about two minutes because the hippie thing was happening. I heard the word 'vegetarian' and that was all I had to hear.

Photograph by Michael Bowles

Mary McCartney: How did you move from being an animal lover and a vegetarian into proper activism?

Chrissie Hynde: Going back to the 1980s, there were people talking about environmental issues, rainforests and things, but nobody was tying the plight of animals into animal rights. And to me that was such a major disconnect because the animals are the environment. There's the earth, there's animals, there's people and there's what's upstairs and it's all linked together and if you don't make these connections you're just floundering.

Ahimsa farming is about taking cows out of giant warehouses and putting them back on the land, says Chrissie Hynde.
Photograph by Michael Bowles

Mary McCartney: Tell us about your support of the Ahimsa Dairy and how it aligns with your values.

Chrissie Hynde: The word ahimsa comes from Indian Vedic culture, and that’s where this whole cow protection thing comes from. There are four principles: never kill cows, milk cows by hand, give oxen meaningful work, and cows must suckle from their mothers. These are all followed by the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation, based in Rutland.

Industrial farming took over after the second world war so while me and my hippie friends were so busy getting high and getting laid and talking about banning the (nuclear) bomb. Industrial farming is the reason that I—and the vegan and animal-rights communities—have rejected animal products. Big business and corporations have pushed small farmers off their land, and now there’s no alternative to industrial farming.

On a small family farm, a farmer would never take a calf away from its mother, so now what's been perpetuated is this non-truth which in order to get milk, you have to take the calf away from the mother. Totally untrue. In Ahimsa farming, the calf has to suckle from the mother, it's the second principal. So, the animal rights people, I'm pissed off at them because they're perpetuating this thing that is totally untrue about milk and farming. Some of them have dropped me as a patron because I'm promoting milk products now.

Pay more for better quality, ethically produced milk, and don't waste any of it, says Chrissie Hynde.
Photograph by Michael Bowles

Mary McCartney: So how does ahimsa offer a solution?

Chrissie Hynde: At the moment, milk that you buy in any shop here, is less expensive than beer. It's less expensive than (bottled) water. They've over-produced milk so much, so milk is cheap, dirt cheap. Ahimsa milk is going to cost as much as a bottle of beer (approx. £2.25 for 1 litre). It can't be cheap, but truffles aren't cheap, wine isn't cheap, look at the stuff people buy. The thing is, people drink too much of it. You wouldn't dump half a pint every week because you didn't finish it. You'd be more careful with it. That's the whole thing about nutrition, just don't take too much.

And on Chrissie Hynde's rock star rider... a bag of carrots!
Photograph by Michael Bowles

Mary McCartney: What does this mean for the way we farm?

Chrissie Hynde: The number one problem in the world right now is topsoil—we don’t have any. Taking cows out of warehouses and putting them on the land is what ahimsa farming is about. They eat grass, it goes through their system, and what comes out is called green gold, which we call cow manure, and that completely corrects the topsoil. I live in the city, I'm not a farmer. I'm not pretending to tell a farmer how to run his farm, but I've seen it's possible.

Mary McCartney: Ahimsa farming seems very practical, but it doesn't sound very lucrative.

Chrissie Hynde: If you follow the money it won't lead you to an ahimsa farm. Ahimsa farming, unlike vegan, vegan is now an industry. There's a lot of money to be made in vegan because you don't have to be vegan to make vegan products. I don't care what you eat, drink, who you sleep with, that's your business. My business is cows, land, earth, and this is my life's work. Me being in a rock band is a vehicle for this and always has been as far as I've been concerned.

People have always had a symbiotic relationship with animals, says Chrissie Hynde.
Photograph by Michael Bowles

Mary McCartney: Do you think ahimsa could be something that does catch on?

Chrissie Hynde: I think it's a revolution. I think it absolutely will catch on. It is happening, we're just seeing the very beginning of it.

Mary McCartney: You and my mum (Linda McCartney) became close friends, as you were both passionate and outspoken about animal rights.

Chrissie Hynde: Everything always led back to the same conversation with us. She was the least pretentious person I ever met. She and I had this animal conversation going about the plight of animals and the environment. She and I just connected on this stuff and in my heart of hearts I know she would be all over this thing. She would have been in Rutland [at the Ahimsa farm] with me, milking cows. 

Linda was a very gentle, sweet, kind-hearted person and a really nice person. Whereas I'm kind of an asshole so I don't really like to align myself with things because I think people will think 'well if she's in it, you know, come on'. I don't want to put people off because of my personality, so I try to keep certain things quiet, but this just can't be quiet any more because we're running out of time. 


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