The Vegan Beat
News anchor Mike McRoberts talks to Adrian Hatwell about the joys and perils of adopting a vegan lifestyle when you’re one of the country’s most recognisable faces.
After so many years in front of the camera as one of the nation’s most respected journalists, Mike McRoberts is a familiar presence to the New Zealand public. From the calm baritone and friendly pout that is beamed into our living rooms daily, through to the oiled-up physique that left reality TV-watchers stunned, our relationship with the affable newsman feels positively intimate.
But there are, of course, some things that aren’t common knowledge for the general viewing public. For instance, one piece of trivia that you may not have been aware of: Mike McRoberts is a vegan.
For two-and-half years now, the 56-year-old has been living a vegan lifestyle. Mike took up endurance sports in his mid-40s — marathons and Ironman Triathlons kept him active and healthy, until a serious knee injury threatened to derail his athletic avocation. It was veganism to the rescue.
In a video interview from his home in the verdant hills of Waitākere, the news anchor explains how no amount of treatment options seemed to help the ailment, to the point where he had to compete in the Dancing with the Stars TV show in practically one-legged fashion. It wasn’t until he travelled to Japan to cover the 2019 Rugby World Cup that things started to change.
“About two weeks into that trip, I was walking to the train station one day and I realised that I didn’t have any pain in my leg,” he recalls. Filtering through the possible reasons for the improvement, Mike deduced that the low dairy content in Japanese cuisine might be the answer — back home he was essentially on a pescaterian diet [vegetarian with the addition of seafood] but consumed a lot of dairy.
A quick bit of research led to him deciding to give veganism a try upon returning home.
“The results were almost immediate. I still had a bit of knee pain, but I was back to being active, running every day.”
A boon not only for his physical fitness, but his mental health as well, as the busy journalist relies on exercise to help him unwind and relax after hectic days in the newsroom. After ditching the dairy, Aotearoa’s top news anchor was back in fighting form.
“It’s been quite a journey, I’ve loved it. I really enjoy cooking and for me it has been like starting all over again, learning what to cook. It has been very good for me.”
A challenging change?
Once renowned among friends for his meat cooking skills and occasional MC at the national meat and dairy award events, Mike acknowledges that veganism is quite a departure from his “past life”. But with a partner and 19-year-old daughter who are both vegetarian, and having already largely cut red meat out of his diet, the transition has not been as difficult as might be expected.
And the increasing prevalence of vegan products on the market hasn’t hurt either.
“Generally speaking, it has been pretty easy,” he says of the dietary switch. “There are so many alternatives out there now. I’ve spoken with people who have been vegan for 10, 20 years and heard about how much harder it was back then.”
In the two-and-a-half years he has been vegan, Mike has witnessed firsthand the rising acceptance of veganism. Often sought as an after dinner speaker for various events, he says the vegan options on offer have improved rapidly over a short period of time: where it was once a matter of whatever vegetables the rest of the guests were getting along with an extra scoop of rice, he’s now treated to thoughtfully prepared plant-based meals.
“There seems to be quite a groundswell, it’s becoming a lot more common.”
Acceptance may be on the rise, but there are plenty of people who still harbour antipathy towards vegans. Mike has been lucky to only encounter one situation that he found “really horrible”, when a stranger decided to confront him in the supermarket check-out line for having a trolley full of plant-based foods.
“He accused me of being a traitor to New Zealand,” Mike says with an amused chuckle. “I said, ‘No, I’m just supporting our incredible produce farmers, obviously’. That argument always confuses me, because we make the best produce in the world, I think. We should be really proud of that.”
Asked if he finds it difficult to balance the persistent conception that veganism is somehow “extreme” with the impartiality required of his profession, Mike has just the sort of thoughtful, even-handed response you would expect from someone known as one of the nicest guys in the business:
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about veganism. And like any misconception, whether it be around race or language or whatever, it’s always founded on ignorance or people being fearful because they don’t understand something… The best thing you can be is fair. That should work for everyone — at least hear what I have to say, don’t dismiss it out of hand.”
Since going vegan, it’s not just the injured knee that has improved. He now finds his body recovers much more quickly from whatever stresses he puts it through and this year Mike, along with his partner Heidi,has embarked on a training schedule he previously thought impossible; running every day.
“I thought there was just no way, that my body would fall apart in a heap after two weeks because you need a rest day here and there — but it just hasn’t happened. We’re going strong… We might see if we can do it for a year.”
He is far from the first person to underestimate the benefits of training on a plant-based diet. When Mike first announced to his personal trainer of five years that he was going vegan, his trainer’s reaction was an exasperated “oh no” (ahead of blaming fitness documentary The Game Changers for turning another client to the dark side).
“He said, ‘You’re never going to get enough protein and at your age you’ve got to keep building and using those muscles or you’ll lose them’ — which is true — but the funny thing was, within the first month I’d smashed every single PB [personal best] that I’d had with him over the previous five years.
“I just found my recovery was so much quicker, and when you’re in your 50s that means everything.”
He has also found the change to veganism has improved his mental alertness, which is a big benefit when under the demands of a particularly frantic news cycle. “We’ve had to do some long days in the past two years with Covid specials and goodness knows what else, but you cope with those things a lot better.”
While the initial impetus for trying veganism was health-related, the underlying social and environmental issues around food choice are not lost on the newsman. Having travelled both the country and globe, often visiting some of the most conflicted regions of the world, Mike is well aware of life’s harsh realities. He values the way in which veganism feeds into improving both the environment and the plight of animals.
“It’s not keto, it’s not Atkins, or anything like that. Yes, it’s centred around food, but it’s so much more than that… I’ve always had concerns around animal welfare and exploitation, and while that wasn’t the push that got me into it, it is certainly something that I have thought about deeply since going vegan. And I just can’t even imagine going back to not being plant-based.”
Feed by example
Passionate as Mike clearly is about veganism, he is not the type of person to take a heavy-handed approach to promoting the cause. As he puts it: “I’m never going to force tofu down anyone’s throat.”
His strategy is to aim for the stomach; feed the people good vegan food and the converts are sure to follow. To hear Mike talk about the meals he enjoys preparing, it’s clear he derives immense satisfaction from cooking and feeding others, and that’s the kind of affection that can’t help but be contagious.
“I don’t go out much, but I enjoy hosting and having friends around for dinner,” he explains. “When I first went vegan and I would have people around, I would still cook meat for them. I did that for a while, but now it’s just, no, you can have what I’m having — because it’s actually really bloody delicious. And they love it.”
He has picked up loads of new culinary skills now that he’s preparing vegan food. Lentils, grains, and pulses now feature prominently as key ingredients of comfort food, and he’s more cognizant of not creating waste.
No more discarding broccoli stems, for example; they get frozen to later be grated into a stew. He’s even managed to make friends with that most controversial (among non-vegans) of plant-based staples:
“I would never have gone out of my way to buy, let alone eat tofu — I think I had a pack sitting in my freezer for a year or so in that previous life.”
Now it’s the cornerstone of one of Mike’s signature dishes: Tex Mex Scrambled Tofu. Mash some firm tofu, add some turmeric for colour and anti-inflammatory properties, mix in red chillies, spinach, mushrooms, and tomato, and you’ve got a dish that he promises will “knock your socks off”.
“I’ve given that to my meat-eating brothers who think, ‘Wow, this is a huge meal!’ Then when I tell them it has twice as much protein as scrambled eggs, they’re all in.”Mike has also been seducing the newsroom with his vegan ways, sharing a French lentil, potato, and carrot casserole that never fails to wow the non believers. “If you’ve got plenty of leftovers you can get some vegan pastry and put a lid on it, chuck it in the oven and you’ve got a vegan pie the next day,” he advises. “It’s very versatile.”He already has one fellow veggie traveller at work in his Newshub co-host, Samantha Hayes, who is a long time vegetarian now also giving veganism a whirl.
“She’s just trying it out for a bit and really loving it. We have some really good chats, I give her some recipes, tips on snacks, it’s great.”<
Although he’s a big fan of the home-cooked meal, Mike does appreciate just how spoiled for choice the vegans of Tāmaki Makaurau are when it comes to dedicated plant-based spots for dining out. He lists Gorilla Kitchen, The Butcher’s Son, and Khu Khu as some of his favourite central city restaurants, though he is a bit disappointed in the dearth of options closer to his West Auckland home.
“In fact, it has inspired me to think about what I might do when I finally leave reading the news — maybe I’ll open a vegan restaurant out west, with my Tex Mex special,” he says with a laugh.
We may just hold you to that, Mike.
For now, he seems very content to continue being a trusted news source for the nation, a provider of delicious food for friends and family, and a rather impressive example of what life at 56 can look like. Just the sort of role model to dispel the thankfully-declining view of veganism as the purview of zealots and bores.
“It’s not a diet, it’s not something I’m sacrificing anything for; it’s the way of life I have chosen. To me, it’s the way of the future, I’m sure it’s something more and more people will find their way to.”
The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.
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