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Chrissie Hynde talks slaughter-free dairy: 'If you don’t have to kill an animal, why would you?'

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 15/01/2020 David Ellis
a person sitting on a cutting board with a cake © Provided by Evening Standard

“I’ve been saying the same s**t for 40 years,” says Chrissie Hynde.

It is, in fact, the first thing she says when we sit down. “This started when I was 17. I thought: if you didn’t have to kill an animal, why would you?”

That the Pretenders frontwoman is an advocate of meat-free eating is hardly news, especially for those familiar with her track record. “I’ve gone to jail with [Peta president] Ingrid Newkirk,” she grins. She even had her own entirely vegan restaurant the Vegiterranean, “the only one in Ohio,” she says proudly. Now, though, she is calling for more people to eat slaughter-free milk and cheese, and is supporting (some) dairy farmers to boot. For many ethically-inclined vegans, the dairy industry is the devil, so it’s a surprise — especially as she wants the capital’s restaurants to follow her lead.

Hynde is kick-starting her revolution with a collaboration with Soho’s Sanctum Hotel where, at her suggestion, the Wild Heart Grill is dropping meat in favour of an all-vegan menu, though it will use milk and cheese from her slaughter-free farm. Dishes will include avocado tempura with white bean and coriander, baba ghanoush of roast cauliflower, and a Wellington of king oyster mushrooms and salt-baked beetroot. The hotel, long a mainstay of the rock industry, with the likes of Metallica and Guns N’ Roses among its regulars, has been more used to serving steak with bottles of Jack Daniels on the side.

“She came bludgeoning through the door, started talking at me,” hotel owner Mark Fuller says, giving a wry smile, “But then I started listening. I’d resisted and resisted and resisted because of what you think you should be. But the world has changed. And I’ve changed; I’ve had thyroid cancer, I’ve had to look at the way I lived.”

It helped, too, that Fuller had enlisted Michelin-starred chef Garry Hollihead as a consultant. Hollihead had long wanted to go vegan to keep up with the times — there are thought to be about 150 vegan restaurants in London — but Hynde’s work with the slaughter-free Ahimsa dairy helped persuade him now was the time; having the freedom to use milk and cheese meant many of the limitations of strict veganism could be averted without compromising on animal rights. When he put them together, Fuller says, “it was a collision of stars.”

Hynde hopes the project will encourage more restaurants to support an old style of farming, one which looks after its animals. At Ahimsa in Rutland, calves aren’t taken from their mothers, the milking is done by hand, and they don’t use artificial insemination, unlike in industrial farming. The cows, she adds, are vital: pesticide-intensive agriculture, used broadly for the country’s vegetable farming, destroys the land – "the top soil is finished, and we can't grow anything if there's no top soil" but “the cows’ dung can make it perfect again.” It’s much needed, according to Hollihead: “We’ve totally destroyed the countryside.”

“Look, I’m overjoyed with the way this vegan thing has gone, it’s fantastic,” Hynde says, “But the argument with plant-based would be: what are you going to do with the cows and the animals? You can’t just let them around a valley on their own, they’d get killed overnight. Domesticated farm animals need protection.”

The singer is hoping her work with the Sanctum — including lending them 60 of her paintings for an exhibition that she hopes will draw crowds in — may encourage other places to follow suit. It’s a start and Ahimsa products are already in Notting Hill club Laylow.

Demand, though, outstrips supply: the farm is only a little more than self-sustaining, which Hynde figures, "is too radical for most people". But, she argues, if the public demand it of their restaurants, they will demand it of their suppliers. It’s a revolution of dining, of farming, and of sustainability. “We’ve been saying a lot of this stuff for 30 years,” she exclaims, “I’m serious!”

Chrissie Hynde's paintings will be on display at the Wild Heart Soho Bar & Grill from January 16, accompanied by the new menu. 20 Warwick St, Soho, W1B 5NF, sanctumsoho.com. For more on Hynde's slaughter-free dairy, visit ahimsamilk.org.

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