On October 15th, 1995, the world watched on as two bastions of pop culture came together when former Beatles man Paul McCartney and his wife, Linda, made a joyous appearance on America’s favourite yellow family show, The Simpsons. Although it may seem like a jovial thing for the couple to do, the episode titled ‘Lisa The Vegetarian’ is all about the theme of vegetarianism which provided Paul and Linda with a platform to discuss the subject in a self-deprecating, humourous fashion to a brand new audience. It spread their message with a smile.
The episode follows Lisa on her path to becoming a vegetarian after she decided she could no longer eat meat after bonding with a lamb at a petting zoo. Her schoolmates and family members ridicule her for her beliefs but, with the help of Apu as well as Paul and Linda McCartney, she commits to vegetarianism. It was a conversation that even in 1995, was barely being given any room to breathe. On The Simpsons, it was the McCartneys who found a platform.
‘Lisa The Vegetarian’ would go down as a stone-cold Simpsons classic episode that featured the hilarious ‘You Don’t Win Friends With Salad’ song and Homer’s disbelief that ham, bacon and pork came from the same ‘magical animal’, on top of the McCartney cameo. It would go on to become the deserved recipient of two awards, an Environmental Media Award and a Genesis Award, for highlighting environmental and animal issues, respectively.
At the time the episode was being written, Paul McCartney was the only living member of The Beatles who had never appeared on The Simpsons. John Lennon died before the show was created, but Ringo Starr and George Harrison had guest-starred in 1991 and 1993, respectively with aplomb.
The staff wanted to bring McCartney onto the show and David Mirkin thought ‘Lisa the Vegetarian’ would be an attractive story since McCartney is a vegetarian himself. Macca agreed to appear but requested that Lisa remain a vegetarian for the rest of the series, rather than revert to meat-eating in the next episode.
The staff promised that she would remain a vegetarian, resulting in one of the few permanent character changes made in the show and McCartney has been a stickler to make sure that they stuck to their promise. Mirkin revealed earlier this year in an interview with the Radio Times that every time he bumps into McCartney, “he always checks. And he’s always surrounded by nine or ten lawyers so it’s quite frightening.”
“We were a bit worried that she would be a vegetarian for a week, then Homer would persuade her to eat a hot dog,” McCartney has since told GQ magazine. “The producers of the programme assured us that she would remain that way, and they kept their word,” Macca added.
McCartney’s wife Linda was also asked to appear in the episode and it was an offer she simply couldn’t refuse. She told Entertainment Weekly that the episode was a chance for her and her husband “to spread the vegetarian word to a wider audience”. Following Linda’s tragic death in 1998, The Simpsons dedicated an episode in her memory which executive producer Mike Scully said it “just seemed like the right thing to do. Everyone here was surprised and saddened by her death.”
The fact that the McCartney’s weren’t willing to turn themselves yellow unless it was could spread a message that they truly believed in and devoted large parts of their lives to, speaks highly of their characters. The couple were among the most famous names on the planet at this point and didn’t need the publicity that appearing on The Simpsons provided them with.
This was a compromise which literally had no negative consequences and is still as heartwarming to watch 25 years later.