When it comes to the vegetarian celebrity club, Heather Mills is perhaps one of the most controversial members. In the past few years, Mills has found herself in a media thunderstorm surrounding both her personal and professional life. Ecorazzi was fortunate enough to sit down with the passionate herbivore and discuss veganism, environmentalism and staying positive throughout it all.
Ecorazzi: So nice to chat with you, Heather! Let’s just jump right in. You’ve earned a lot of respect for your work with animal-rights and veganism. Why is veganism so important to you and how did you begin the journey?
Heather Mills: Well in 1993 I lost my leg in a motorcycle accident, which is quite ironic because I had been working on the frontline for a number of years in the former Yugoslavia and should have probably lost it via the landmine — which a lot of people think is the reason why I lost it. Anyway it wouldn’t heal — the infection just kept going further and further up the leg and they kept amputating more and more, and I didn’t want to lose it above the knee.
So my girlfriend came in, and said she had healed herself on this raw vegan diet. At that time I was a meat, fish, lobster-eating girl. I was 25 years old and had no idea about real health with the understanding I have now, but wanted to heal my leg. So she said, “Come out with me.” So I went to Hippocrates in West Palm Beach and they put me on a raw vegan diet and wheatgrass juice and organic juice — mainly vegetable-based — and my whole leg just closed and healed within a matter of weeks.
So then I wrote a booklet on it to help other people who were writing to me about their infection and their limbs. I met people who had lost their limbs to cancer and they tried the diet and it just seemed to heal so well. But after a year and a half of just raw vegan and doing it for my health, I was perfectly back to normal. Then I thought, “ Well I’ll just be veggie,” and I stayed veggie for a long time.
Then about four and half years ago I was backstage at a Live Aid concert talking to a friend of the young African lady who was the baby 25 years ago that they used as the symbol of hunger in Ethiopia. And I said, “How do you feel that all these people have come here to support and do this concert?” And she said, “ Oh if only they stopped drinking lattes.” And I was like, “What!” Of course I went for my latte every morning like so many people. And she said, “Two miles from where we have starving children there are fields and fields of grain that go back to Europe to feed your cattle for the dairy industry,” and I was horrified.
So I looked into it and found it to be true and went vegan the following day. Then of course once I went vegan everybody started sending me books and I met up with the guy who wrote The China Study, professor Colin Campbell, and did what I could to help promote his book. Then I met up with Dr. Joel Furhman who was fantastic. And learned more and more about the animal issues and was horrified — that’s how I stayed vegan. I find it easy, really.
I wanted to convert as many carnivores – at least once or twice a week – as much as I could. But I knew the only way to do that was to replace like for like. So I started looking into stuff that was labeled as vegan, but actually wasn’t. It was actually vegetarian because it had whey protein in it or casein. And I started developing some meatless meats and that’s when I got involved with all of that. I wanted to feed kids the best I could. People are becoming more environmentally aware and caring more for animals and really wanting to improve their health. I’m not trying to force people to go vegan overnight cause it’s really an educational program, but I want to try and create something that makes it as simple as possible for people to have access to it. Cause when they taste it, they just absolutely can’t believe it tastes so good.
E: I know you’re going to be cooking this weekend for the citizens of Hunts Point in the South Bronx. How did you get involved with this group and what’s your plan for this weekend?
HM: Well I donated some food to the Farm Sanctuary for their Gala event and they asked me to host it last year. And while I was there I met a guy called James Costa and he said, “Can you believe these kids are on such a bad diet and they’re so close to New York City?” So I looked into it and I was horrified that they lived in the food distribution capital and yet they had the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma…everything. So I made some visits and then decided to donate a lot of vegan food — a large percentage being fruits and vegetables, and the other percentage being meatless meats.
They were just amazing. We did a cook-a-thon and about 1500 people turned up. They were just queuing down the street and they were so poor that they were asking for the ends of the tomatoes – you know the little rough bits with the green on the end. They were just putting them in their pockets and they were just SO lovely. And so on Saturday I’m cooking for 100 families and teaching them how to use meatless meats in a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and basically replicating what they normally eat, but showing that they don’t have to have the high saturated fats that come from meat. So that’s what I’m doing with them and I’m really excited about it.
E: Now that we’re talking about meatless meats, in the past you’ve mentioned creating your own line of vegan frozen food entrees. What the status of that project?
HM: Yeah! We’ll talk about it more once we launch it – we’re just finalizing things at the moment. I mean my dream is to ultimately build a manufacturer in the Hunts Point area because they’re looking for more green businesses there. I’ve got lots of plans and they’re all nearly there. So we haven’t launched yet, but as soon as we do I’ll let you know.
E: We’d love to hear about it! You mentioned earlier about working with landmine charities and I know you even posed naked for a landmine group in the late nineties. Would you ever consider posing for PETA’s Fur-Free campaign and what are your thoughts in general on the work PETA does?
HM: Well I mean I actually focused on the fur campaign by spending time in changing the law in 27 countries to stop the use and import of dog and cat fur. We just got one of the first unanimous votes and it’s now illegal in 27 countries to import that kind of fur from China. So I tend to focus mainly behind the scenes unless a particular charity asks me to come to the forefront if they really need some awareness-raising.
I feel like 80 percent of my time is behind the scenes, lobbying and trying to change laws. That’s what we’ve been doing with the European Parliament and I’ve mainly been doing that with the Humane Society. I’ve worked with them for a number of years and done a number of campaigns with PETA also. I helped them get JCrew to go fur-free, and a number of other campaigns. So any charities that are trying to help wipe out fur and do good for the animals has my support.
E: Did you happen to hear Karl Lagerfeld’s quote that fur comes from hunters who just “make a living having learnt nothing else than hunting, killing those beasts who would kill us if they could.” How do you feel about that quote and how out of touch he is with the realities of the modern “fur-farm?”
HM: I hadn’t heard anything about it, but I think it would be good if somebody could get him a DVD with exactly how these animals are treated and how irresponsible it is to wear fur for fashion. It’s not a byproduct of anything. There are NO excuses and I just find it awful. You know — as you do too. That’s why I’ve fought for so long to try and stop the inhumane treatment of animals. We’ve won the dog and cat fur campaign. The majority of people are anti-fur, it’s just the people who feel they need to be part of this fashion society who say it’s OK. But they have to justify that they’re funding people to kill.
E: So what about fashion? Are there any specific sustainable, animal-friendly designers that you like right now?
HM: Well I’ve been funding a lot of vegan companies that have been struggling through this financially difficult time. Companies that are really doing some great work but are finding it hard — as most companies are — but very ethical companies seem to be hit very hard. So I’ve been working on some designs for recycled clothing because I believe in minimizing landfill.
I feel like we just keep creating cloths and fabrics when there is so much waste…it just seems a bit crazy. So we’ve been working on some great lines. I’d say that one of my favorite designers right now is Junky. They’re totally animal-friendly. And also Marc Bauer. I like the fact that he sort of took a stance and doesn’t use fur even though he’s in the height of fashion. So any designers who don’t use fur are fantastic to me.
E: Now I think it’s safe to say that you’re a highly controversial figure in the media. You’ve certainly developed your fair share of critics in the past few years. If you had the chance now to speak out and set the record straight on a few things what would you want people to know about yourself and your agenda?
HM: You know they say no press is bad press, but obviously it’s been a very difficult and painful time for me. I try to use it as a positive, so that anytime I do something like this interview or something else, it helps draw attention to the causes that so many people work so hard for but can’t get the media attention they need to raise the awareness. I try to focus on that and I’ve gotten a huge amount of support from the public and from like-minded people. I think everyone in life has their critics – I just have it on a mass scale from a lot of people who don’t know who I am. I just have to take it and roll with the punches and stay focused and concentrate on my beautiful daughter who is vegan. She’s been a vegan for most of her life. She was veggie for the first year and vegan for four years now. And just try my best do work for the causes. I’ve done them for 20 years and it would be a shame to give up now just because of a few critics.
E: We have a lot of vegetarians and vegans out there who read the blog from all walks of life. What advice would you give to those who are just beginning the process of vegetarianism or who might be curious about it?
HM: I think to just do as much research as they can, and literally just look at replacements for exactly what they loved when they weren’t a vegetarian. Because people are always shocked when they come to my house and I have a BLT or a chicken Caesar salad, but it’s all vegan.
Initially I would just replace like for like. I wouldn’t do anything extreme because it takes a real certain kind of person to do that — unless you’re very ill like I was or it’s life threatening. Then you need to go extreme and get really, really pure. I would just replace like for like and then before you know it the months have gone by and your natural cravings become healthier ones.
When you start denying yourself something it’s a natural human response to want it. So if you say, “I can’t have a bar of chocolate,” well yeah you can! There’s some great vegan chocolate out there. But because you’re not having this high, high sugar load, you’re not gonna crave it as much next time. So I would take it gradually, I wouldn’t just jump right in, unless they’re suffering from some kind of illness.
E: Now I always end with the same question for all the famous vegetarians I interview. If you had the chance to meet one person who you’ve found specifically instrumental in the vegetarian community – dead or alive, past or present – who would it be and why?
HM: Oh, good one! I’m trying to think. You see I wasn’t inspired by anyone who was vegetarian; it was really my girlfriend who brought that inspiration. I think maybe Ann Wigmore who I learned quite a bit about in Hippocrates. She seemed like quite an incredible person and was quite an innovator. Do you know her?
E: I don’t actually.
HM: Well look her up. She was a huge inspiration for all of this. Just look up Ann Wigmore.
E: I will. Well listen, thanks again for taking the time to chat. I know you’re a busy woman and we really appreciate you sitting down for a moment. We look forward to seeing what you have in store next!
photo credit: Henny Garfunkel
[Editor note: The coat pictured was designed by Heather and is made from all recycled materials]