From Vegetarian Times; October 2007

Our favorite Pretender is bringing some much-needed vegetarian flavor to her Ohio hometown BY TRACEY PEPPER

At 56, Chrissie Hynde — the legendary leader of The Pretenders — is still every inch the rock and roll rebel. Fiery and tough, she is fiercely devoted to vegetarianism and animal rights, and has spoken out for years, both onstage and off, as a passionate activist for the causes. Always one to put her money where her mouth is, Hynde has partnered with an Ohio restaurateur to open VegiTerranean, a vegetarian restaurant with an Italian flair, in her hometown of Akron, Ohio, to encourage the locals to go veg. “There are a lot of things we can’t change about the world,” she says, “but the one thing every man, woman, and child can change immediately is their diet.”

VT: You’ve been a vegetarian for 38 years, is that correct?
Since 1969. Back then, I still ate fish. Now I’m mainly vegan, though I might have a piece of cake or something. I’ve certainly been on the warpath since 1969.

What inspired you to change your eating habits?
I heard this woman say she never ate meat. Growing up in Northeastern Ohio, I’d never heard someone say that. I don’t think it was for moral reasons, she just never ate it, and I thought, ‘That’s for me.’ I always very, very connected to animals. I was one of those nature kids. I can still remember seeing a bird get hit by a car when I was 12, or going into Woolworth’s and seeing a hundred little turtles piled up on top of each other in the pet shop, and how much it hurt to see that. I always noticed anything having to do with animals.

You’ve protested animal abuse and torture around the world and have even been arrested for going up against The Gap [for their use of leather] and KFC. Where do you feel you’ve had the most impact?
Well, my main concern is vegetarianism. Ever since I’ve been in the band I’ve been banging on about it. When people change their habits, it’s like flipping a switch. It can very easily be turned on. I don’t think you have to present a big argument to convince someone. People are either going there or they’re not. Just a little nudge is all it takes for someone who is so inclined. Everyone says it’s about education, but I think it’s more a question of consciousness. It’s very easy to understand vegetarianism and the philosophy behind not killing something unnecessarily.

What are your thoughts on people who eat meat, but who try to avoid factory-farmed meat or try to stick to humanely raised meat?
I don’t have any thoughts about it. That’s their business. They’re meat eaters and that’s the way they see the world. They have their own philosophy and it’s different from mine.

Let’s talk about your new restaurant, VegiTerranean. You live in England. Why open a place in Akron?
Well, I have nowhere to go when I’m there, so it was out of necessity. There are no vegetarian restaurants in Akron, which, to me, is an embarrassment. I’m ashamed to be from a place where there’s not one vegetarian restaurant in the whole town. But Akron has no downtown; it was razed in 1970. Now there’s a drive to bring back a city center, so I thought, ‘I have to have a restaurant there.’ My partner, Dan Duplain, has an Italian restaurant in Canton, Ohio, which I’ve been to and it had a good atmosphere. I thought we could do the same thing. The menu is going to be vegetarian-Italian because any vegetarian knows you can usually get something to eat in an Italian restaurant. I’m just surprised that it took 30 years to open a vegetarian restaurant in Akron and that I had to do it, you know? [Laughs] I live 5,000 miles away, but I had to come back and do it.

Why make the restaurant vegetarian rather than vegan?
Because they don’t understand what vegan is in Akron, Ohio. It’s too radical. I hope we can get organic stuff when possible, and translate everything on the menu into a vegan version, but people who hear vegan…they don’t know what it is. Even vegetarians — that’s too radical for a lot of them.

Residents posting comments on the Akron Beacon Journal’s website sound very excited about it.
Yeah, it’s amazing; people really want this. Because when you take the heart out of a city, when you get rid of the downtown, people become very isolated. They drive everywhere and there’s no community. The only ongoing dialogue is reading USAToday. That’s what I see in American cities, and Akron, Ohio, is the best place to see it because they’re desperately trying to make neighborhoods where you can walk to a corner store, like it used to be. That’s what people want now in this country. And to not be 70 pounds overweight. People want a simple life again.

What’s your vision for VegiTerranean in a year’s time?
Well, I’d like to see people eating there. Then if it’s a success, perhaps we could open a subsidiary restaurant that is a little more right-on, a little more vegan. I have no problem with dairy products as long as the cows are really well looked after, but we know they’re not when they’re hooked up to machines and tortured. But I have to take it easy because I don’t want to be too radical and shoot myself in the foot.

Do you have any favorite restaurants you like to frequent when you’re on tour?
Oh yeah, there are some fantastic restaurants in the States. I was just at The Chicago Diner, one of my favorites in Chicago. In New York, there’s Blossom, as well as The Candle Café and Zen Palate. But you know what I’d really like to see? A vegetarian fast-food restaurant. Why isn’t there a vegetarian version of McDonald’s? I’ve been talking about this for 25 years. I talked to Linda McCartney about it. I personally can’t do it because I don’t have the funds or a business bone in my body, but It’s so obvious that it should exist by now and the fact that it doesn’t makes me think.

It means no one thinks they can make money off of it yet. No one who’s passionate enough about vegetarianism has the cash to do it.
I guess it’s all about money. Well, if my restaurant is a big success and some billionaire out there wants to do something else, count me in. I mean, I don’t know why they don’t have vegetarian hot-dog stands. Why don’t they sell veggie burgers at rock concerts? It drives me crazy. But I keep plugging along. I’ll never stop. This is my life. This is why I’m in a band. This is why I have a voice. This is why I get onstage, because I’m trying to encourage vegetarianism. That’s my raison d’etre.