Today marks ten years since the death of George Harrison. As a life-long Beatles fan, mere words cannot express how much their music has been the soundtrack to my life and an endless source of inspiration and pure joy so I will not try, nor bore you with the long-winded particulars. However, I will confess that I am drawn to George’s solo work more than the others due to its spiritual essence, uplifting melodies and his distinctive guitarwork. There is no need for further depressing details, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who meets this anniversary with a heavy heart.
Although they disbanded over 40 years ago, the Beatles remain as current and relevant as ever, but recently George’s life was brought under the microscope with Living In The Material World – the three-hour plus biopic directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. Under the guidance of Harrison’s widow, Olivia (who produced the film), the life story of the Beatles’ lead guitarist is told brilliantly through photographs, interviews and film footage. And while George’s long-time commitment to being vegetarian may not be as important as the some of the more historical facts left out or given minimal time – i.e. the “My Sweet Lord” plagiarism lawsuit, John’s death and the Beatles’ reunion in 1995 – I do believe it played a major role in George’s life.
George may have not been the first Beatle to go vegetarian – early quotes from John Lennon speculate he was veggie in the early to mid–‘60s – but he was indeed the first to commit to it. As for when and why, my research points to around 1966, and contrary to popular belief, it was not due to religious reasons. In her autobiography Wonderful Tonight, his ex-wife Pattie Boyd states that she and George stopping eating meat when a friend gave them a book about the inhumane treatment within the veal industry. (Pattie adds that while George remained vegetarian for the rest of his life, she went back to eating meat when she left him for Eric Clapton in the early ‘70s.)
Another element in the timeline is found in the Beatles Anthology book. It recalls that during the filming of Help, the band was each given a copy of The Illustrated Book of Yoga from the author Swami Vishnudevananda. George read the book years later when he became interested in Indian philosophy and was planning a trip to Rishikesh. George is quoted: “I read his book after I became vegetarian. The thing that repelled me about eating meat was the idea of killing animals. But the main issue is that meat-eating is not healthy and it’s not natural. In the book he says things like: monkeys don’t get headaches; all human ailments and diseases come from an unnatural diet.” Elsewhere in Anthology, George states that he thought the “Butcher Cover” photos (where the band posed with headless dolls and raw meat) was gross and stupid, and he was disgusted by the whole thing. Perhaps his love for animals brought him to vegetarianism, but his belief in Eastern religions and spiritualism made his dedication to it that much stronger.
Unlike his bandmate Paul McCartney – who along with wife Linda went veggie in the ‘70s and both became strong animal rights advocates – George was somewhat private about his vegetarianism, although like many vegetarian homes, he and Olivia would not allow meat to be cooked or served there. (It would be an unjust to detail the McCartney’s work devotion to animal rights and vegetarianism here; that will wait for a future post.) John Lennon was vegetarian on and off. He and Yoko discovered macrobiotics in the late ‘60s, and he is said to have switched back to eating meat at times throughout his life. Plus they ate sushi often. Ringo Starr is currently a vegetarian, but I’m not sure how long he has been. Web sites speculate he started when the Beatles went to India in 1968, but I believe it was much later. His entry to Mary Frampton’s Rock & Roll Recipes (published in 1980) was simply: “Travel to your local fish and chips shop. Ask for cod and chips. Add salt and vinegar to taste. Eat with fingers for best results.”
Fortunately, that book also featured George’s recipe for Lentil Soup along with other recipes from notable ‘70s musicians such as Steve Howe, Keith Emerson, Steve Winwood and, of course, Mary’s ex-husband Peter Frampton. It’s long out-of-print, but the recipe has appeared in other cookbooks as well as on plenty of websites. I made it, and it was quite good!
Dark Horse Lentil Soup
1 Red Chili
1 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
2 Large Onions, Chopped
2 Garlic Cloves
1 Cup Lentils (you can use one or more types)
2 Large Tomatoes, Chopped
2 Green Peppers, Chopped
1 Bay Leaf
Salt and Pepper to taste
Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan. When oil is good and hot, add the red chili and cumin seeds. When the seeds stop sputtering, brown the onions and garlic in the seasoned oil.
In a separate deep pan, wash the lentils in plenty of water. When clean, liberally cover with water. When the onions are browned, add them to the pan of lentils. Now add the tomatoes, peppers, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Potatoes and carrots and small boiling onions may be added for a more substantial meal.
Bring to a boil, cover and turn down to very low heat. The soup is ready to serve in an hour and tastes even better the next day.