On April 17, 1970, Paul McCartney released his first solo studio album — McCartney — a few weeks before The Beatles released Let It Be, the band’s final record. The cover of McCartney features a photo taken by his wife Linda. Nestled inside Paul’s fur-lined jacket is their newborn daughter, her face peeking out at the world. The iconic image represented a new phase in the life of the ex-Beatle and became part of pop culture history. Mary McCartney — the baby girl in the photo — said, “I was born into fame, but no one recognizes me on the street. I can go for a walk without being bothered.”
Photographer, filmmaker, author, chef and host of her own TV cooking show, Mary McCartney has vivid memories of her childhood in rural Scotland during the 1970s, growing up close to her siblings, nature and animals, far from the suffocating fame of her parents. On the bucolic Kintyre peninsula in western Scotland, Linda taught her daughter to love vegetarian food and photography. “We grew up on a farm with lambs all around. And we used to eat a lot of meat. But then one day, our parents saw these cute little lambs walking through the field, and something just clicked. They said to us, ‘We’re not going to eat meat anymore.’ And that was it. Slowly but surely, we turned into vegetarians and eventually vegans,” said McCartney in a video call from her London home.
When she became an independent adult, Mary asked herself, “Am I going to still be a vegetarian or not?” She decided to maintain her vegetarian diet. “I realized that I really enjoy not eating meat. I like the taste of it, but I don’t think of animals as food.” Her new book, Feeding Creativity (Taschen, 2023), blends her passions for food and photography to present 60 of her favorite recipes she made for friends, family, musicians, actors and artists. The plant-based dishes include cream of tomato soup for Cate Blanchett, sheet pan pancakes for Cameron Diaz, a vegetable polenta for Stanley Tucci, leek and sweet potato soup for artist Cindy Sherman, and a chickpea and vegetable tuna sandwich for Elvis Costello.
Each recipe in Feeding Creativity is accompanied by a McCartney photo of the person she made it for. One of the most striking pictures is of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr enjoying a green pasta dish prepared by Mary. “Ringo doesn’t live in London, so it was great to see him with my father. They’re like brothers and always talk a lot, laugh and crack jokes when they get together,” said Mary. “But Ringo doesn’t eat much. He’s allergic to garlic and onion, so I make sure to ask him what he can eat.”
An impressive gallery of celebrities populates the book. The chef cooks a spinach, onion and pear pie for David Hockney, a cake for Jeff Koons, and smoothies for her sister Stella and supermodels Gigi and Bella Hadid. “I always feel a little nervous — butterflies in the stomach — when I’m going to do a portrait of someone famous. I’m not nervous about the people, but about doing a good job,” said McCartney, who has been photographing celebrities since the 1990s: Kate Moss, Vivienne Westwood, Rihanna, Harry Styles and even the Queen of England. “That was the most pressure,” she said. “Buckingham Palace invited me to photograph the queen because they liked my style. They didn’t want a portrait with a lot of pomp and circumstance, but one of a working woman. I was terrified — it was a huge responsibility because I only had one chance to do it right. Fortunately, Her Majesty was funny, kind and very nice to me.”
The seven-year process of creating Feeding Creativity didn’t always go smoothly. “I burned the first batch of pancakes I made for Cameron Diaz. We got to talking and I forgot to set the timer. So I had to make it all over again — it was quite stressful.” That recipe is a tribute to her mother, who died in 1998 from breast cancer. “I think about her every day. I became a photographer and cook because of her. We spent a lot of time together, and I would call her all the time with questions about photography and cooking. I remember things she said every day — an anecdote or a recipe like the pancakes. I would go to her house in the morning to make pancakes, and then we’d eat them in bed.”
Linda McCartney’s spirit seemed to hover around the making of Feeding Creativity. Mary went to photograph Elvis Costello while he was recording an album at Jimi Hendrix’s legendary Electric Lady Studios in New York. “I knew that my mother had done portraits of Jimi several times. While I was taking pictures of Elvis, a sound engineer told me that Jimi adored my mother. He liked having her in the studio because she was such a calm and creative person.” McCartney also went to Abbey Road studios in London, where The Beatles recorded almost their entire discography. She made a salad there for musician Nile Rodgers.
Feeding Creativity is a cookbook, but it’s also a family album and a tour of the homes and studios of some of the major artists of our time. McCartney traveled to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in California and to Sir Peter Blake’s London studio (the painter and creator of the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is Mary’s godfather). “I like to cook for people, I like to photograph people, and I like to go to people’s houses. So I had a great time making this book,” she said. No one seems to resist McCartney’s invitations to pose for photos and have a meal, though she says there are still many people she admires and wants to meet and photograph. People like Dolly Parton, Marina Abramović and Michelle Obama.
The book also encourages readers to explore veganism, a cause the McCartneys have passionately supported for decades. In 2009, Paul, Mary, and Stella McCartney launched “Meat Free Monday,” an awareness campaign focusing on the environmental impact of animal farming and industrial fishing. “The meat and food industry is a big problem,” said McCartney, who encourages people to fight climate change, protect natural resources and improve their health by eating plant-based dishes once a week. “You don’t have to go vegan overnight. My advice is, don’t complicate things and start with simple recipes that don’t take more than 20 minutes.”
Mary McCartney says she likes the simple things in life. “I enjoy walking around London, going to a park, visiting a museum, having a coffee and people-watching. It keeps me grounded… And then I can go to Buckingham to photograph the queen. Those contrasts make my life exciting.”
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