Neil Robertson on life as a vegan and his plant-based diet
The 35-year-old Australian – one of snooker's best pros – discusses the rise of veganism, dairy-free Ben & Jerry's and Netflix films like What the Health.
This conversation, which took place at the 2017 Betway UK Championship, has been edited and condensed.
I feel happier since I stopped eating meat and dairy. Did you find that?
For sure. When I decided to give being vegan a go, I said I'd try it for a month. Straight away, I got a huge kick of energy that I didn't really have before.
Then I researched into it more and learned more about the ethical side of things and what the process is of how meat or eggs or milk ends up in your glass or on your plate...
That was the shocking thing for me.
Yeah, that's when I made a decision that I don't want to go back to living that lifestyle. It was a very straightforward decision, because I felt so good.
And when was that?
I did it probably two weeks prior to coming here in 2014, I think. So this is three years, basically.
It feels like veganism has really broken through to the "mainstream" now. It’s a big thing.
What do you put that down to?
I think that through social media and documentaries on Netflix – What the Health, Food Choices, Forks Over Knives – people can have a braver opinion, because all the science and facts are out there.
The book that blew my mind was How Not to Die.
By Dr Greger? He's absolutely amazing. He set up a website, nutritionfacts.org, which I go on nearly daily to get as much information into my head as possible.
I try and tell people about it, but they think I’m talking bollocks.
Yeah, they won’t believe you.
Do you find yourself trying to convince people of the merits of veganism? I can’t help but get drawn into it.
The unfortunate thing is that it comes across as if you're preaching. I probably fell into that trap as well when I first went vegan.
You can find yourself in arguments with people you could never possibly argue with. But over the past year or so I've pretty much kept to myself, unless I'm actually asked.
It's tough, because if you talk to people who are parents about the benefits of taking meat and dairy out of your diet, then all of a sudden they can feel like you're calling them bad parents, or accusing their parents of being bad parents.
The reality is they just didn't know.
My mum was onto it pretty early, with being vegetarian for a very long time. My dad not so much. He used to love McDonald’s and KFC.
My parents were divorced when I was really young and every weekend would be a junk-food weekend with my dad. He was like Super Dad [laughs].
But he just didn't really know, because the money that these companies have is just incredible and they control pretty much everything that goes through the media.
Obviously, your job involves travelling a lot. Which are the best countries for eating vegan food?
Places around Europe, actually. Romania, Hungary… Hungary's amazing. You go onto the Happy Cow app and there's vegan places everywhere.
One of the hardest places is China. If you’re in one of the main cities, I think it'd be quite easy. But some of the more remote places we go to are pretty tough.
That's why I bring a suitcase full of goodies, my own soya milks and porridge.
What are your go-to brands or products?
For travelling away, a really good snack to have is Clif bars. I load up on them. They're high-protein, really filling. At home, I really love the Linda McCartney products.
Even Ben & Jerry's. I tried a tub to see what it was like and, obviously, it was incredible. It tasted exactly the same as what it does with milk.
When you see Pizza Hut selling vegan pizzas, or McDonald's selling vegan burgers, are they only doing it because there's money in it? Or does that not matter?
I spoke to someone who owns a lot of the franchises and I asked them: 'So, if McDonald's sell far more vegan burgers than anything else, would they be a vegan restaurant?' He said yes.
So, when you see these companies bringing out vegan products, if you are really hungry and feel like pulling in, do it. If you're helping to increase the sales of the vegan products, it’s a better thing to support.
If no-one buys them, they'll just take them straight off the menu.
So it's not something to feel guilty about?
No, I don't think so. Some people, morally, will have a real problem with that. Obviously, I don't like how these companies treat animals, but if you don't buy them, no-one will.
These aren't foods you should be living off, by any means, because you can be a really unhealthy vegan as well. It shouldn't be part of your everyday diet, for sure.
Have you seen the Simon Amstell mockumentary, Carnage?
I haven’t, no.
It's set in the future where no-one eats meat anymore…
That will happen. Piers Morgan had this guy who'd been vegan for a few years who came on, I don't know what show it was, and talked about how future generations will look back and think: 'My god, how could they have possibly done this to animals?'
Unfortunately, he was wearing a watch that he bought for, like, £30 in a market that had a leather strap on it, and Piers Morgan pulled him up on it. The guy tried to continue, but Piers Morgan started having a go at him.
That's the thing that you've got to be mindful of – there’s always the vegan police out there to pull you out there on anything.
What’s your opinion on that?
I wouldn't criticise anyone who's gone vegan who's still wearing products that they've already bought.
Gary Yourofsky, who's doing a huge amount of talks, and James Aspey, who’s someone you should really look at, both say the damage is already done.
If you bought a pair of leather shoes, then don't feel obligated to throw them away and spend money that perhaps you don't have on a new pair. Just let that progression happen naturally.
That's what I've done. Obviously, I'm in a position where I can afford it, but I've pretty much got rid of everything. Ridiculous jackets that I've spent thousands of pounds on, I've just given to friends who are quite happy at the generosity [laughs].
I think it's about if everybody does a little bit.
Yeah, do the best you can. I said that to [fellow snooker player and vegan] Anthony McGill, when he told me how he sometime really struggles when travelling away.
I had this naive view that cows naturally produce milk every day, just because that's what they did.
No, I know. They need to be kept pregnant.
And when I realised that, I was like: 'Oh, my god.'
That's the thing that people don't understand.
They think: 'Oh, these dairy farmers, they just bring a bucket and that's how the milk is made.'
And that's also how it’s sold. That it's just this very natural thing.
The vegan Ben & Jerry's doesn't have a picture of cows on it, but the normal one has a picture of these cows that are smiling and happy, and it's just the absolute opposite of what's going on.
These companies are all about trying to squeeze as much out of these places to get as much profit as possible. But it's changing at a rapid rate, and it’s quite incredible to see.