Autumn 1997 | What A Difference A Day Makes – Ian McKellen

Those of us born in Britain in 1939 have a dietary advantage over succeeding generations. We were fed, unless living on a farm, with only wartime rations, which by today’s standards might be thought unhealthily meagre. On Saturdays, when we stocked up for the week, my mother blended the butter, the margarine and the top of the milk into a spreading paste which only lasted till Thursday.
Then it was dry bread until the following weekend. Similarly with meat. We managed a roast on Saturday lunch; which was served cold on Sunday after morning church, then ran out in a shepherd’s pie on Mondays.

Perhaps that’s why, post-war, I never developed a taste for steaks, chops or fish. Or was it rather a distaste for the slaughter of baa-lambs, Moo-cows, bunny-rabbits, quack-ducks and chuckey hens? Dead flesh only ever seemed really appetising when it was disguised by mincing or hidden by pastry or batter. I preferred corned beef, sardines or salmon scraped out of their cans and mashed into sandwiches with no signs of their living shape left.

Then came the day that made the crucial difference. I looked down from my terrace hanging over the Thames one morning. It was low tide and there, stranded on the pebbles, was a four-legged corpse – hairless, white and bloated. Was it a calf or a sheep or a goat or a dog? I stared at it until the tide rose and washed it away. For 24 hours I was off my food. When I started eating again, I couldn’t face meat – fresh or tinned.

Overnight I was vegetarian and I have been for 15 years or more. I’ve seen the pictures of factory farming and followed the politics of mad cow disease and felt effortlessly superior. Yet it’s not reason or conscience that keeps me off meat and fowl (and these days fish, too) -just a memory of that unidentifiable, decomposing body on the beach.

Ian McKellan - Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne with Ian McKellan after his brilliant performance of No Man’s Land

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  1. You DID teach us how to make good scrambled eggs – so I take it you eat SOME animal products?

    Comment by Der Foofenzie on 29/11/2016 at 3:21 pm

  2. Respect.

    I grew up in the late 70s / early 80s, and my experiences with meat were limited; my mother for example would occasionally pan fry thin, battleship-grey top sirloin steaks. I never had a “true” steak until meeting my eventual wife in the early 90s.

    If meat can be produced humanely and sustainably, I’m all for it. I particularly look forward to lab-grown meats (so that your favorite cut of meat could be grown without being attached to a living animal).

    A bit ominously, along those lines who knows if some mad scientist will harvest human DNA and derive “meat” from that. Have a dark crush on someone? Perhaps you’d like to submit a sample of their DNA so you can commission a “rump” roast of theirs for dinner.

    Comment by Darth Continent on 29/11/2016 at 3:35 pm

  3. Lifelong vegetarian here. Never had meat, have no interest in trying it.

    I can’t believe that I’d never heard of you until “Apt Pupil” and “Gods & Monsters” jointly got released, Ian.

    Comment by Lee on 29/11/2016 at 4:09 pm

  4. Dear Sir,

    I thank you for sharing your story. I had no idea you were vegetarian. I find it so wonderful to learn of other people’s decision to not eat animals. It is inspiring. Especially when we learn of those we admire. Thank you sir. And may you continue to bring blessings into the world, through your efforts and craft.
    Marko Vegano Madrazo
    Vegan 4 years.

    Comment by Marko Madrazo on 29/11/2016 at 9:44 pm

  5. I’ve been vegetarian since the late 60s–finally faced the cruelty of eating animals. I’m ovo-lacto but there’s no rooster involved in our locally bought eggs from a neighboring farm. I check websites about “vegetarian” cheese also.

    Comment by Linda Beckman on 30/11/2016 at 12:13 am

  6. My 10 year old daughter declared at the beginning of this month that she no longer wanted meat. She loves dairy too much to go vegan. So, after much research in recipes and a lifestyle change, we have gone vegetarian. I have lost 22 pounds so far. Would have lost more if chocolate wasn’t so good.
    Loved you in Gods and Monsters.

    Comment by Ruth Fitzpatrick on 30/11/2016 at 1:13 am