Last week, a vegan named Kuntal Joisher successfully reached the summit of Mt Everest and came home to post photos to his Instagram account. Chances are, you didn’t hear much, if anything, about him. No doubt, though, you heard about another vegan climber, one who died while attempting to climb the tallest mountain in the world.
Of the nearly 1,000 internet articles generated by this story, some overtly questioned the safety of a vegan diet for climbers. By noting that she was a vegan in the headlines, every single one of the articles implied that this was somehow a relevant fact related to Dr. Maria Strydom’s death.
Dr. Strydom wasn’t some irresponsible dilettante when it came to big mountains. She was an experienced climber who had already summited Denali, Mount Ararat, and Kilimanjaro, among other peaks. It’s hard to imagine that she headed into this adventure poorly prepared and without making sure that her health was in good shape. That hasn’t stopped journalists and doctors and dietitians from questioning her diet.
A spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association told the BBC that consequences of a poor vegan diet would be increased fatigue due to lower iron levels, weaker muscles because of lower amino acid intake, and the risk of fractures from poor calcium intake.
Yes, those all could be consequences of a poor vegan diet. And guess what? They would be consequences of a poor omnivore diet as well. It’s not like iron deficiency anemia and osteoporosis are rarities among the general population. And are we really supposed to believe that someone who made it to Everest Base Camp and had already climbed Kilimanjaro had weak muscles?
If Dr. Strydom knew the basics of vegan nutrition and sports nutrition, there is no reason to think that she was any less prepared to climb Mt Everest than anyone else. A lot of people die in the extreme climates on these mountains, and most of them are smart athletes in excellent shape. It is unfair to single out one vegan climber and try to second guess why she died and to assume that her diet had something to do with it.
The truth is that a vegan diet is safe. Climbing Mt. Everest is dangerous.
As always we can (eventually) put an end to these click-bait stories by assuring health professionals and the media that vegans know how to eat healthfully. That means embracing the science that allows us to do that even when recommendations aren’t especially popular. Yes, vegans need to take supplements (or eat fortified foods.) Yes, vegans need to pay attention to protein. As long as we embrace evidence-based nutrition, share it, and practice it, it will get harder and harder for detractors to say that our dietary choices are unsafe.
Great article, thanks for putting the dangers of climbing Everest into perspective.
“The truth is that a vegan diet is safe. Climbing Mt. Everest is dangerous.”
And let’s not forget that the other 200+ people who have died whist trying to climb Mt Everest were NOT vegan yet diet was never mentioned as a potential issue in their deaths.
Hmm. A bit of spin on your part? From the article that I read, the doctor was climbing mountains to prove she could as a vegan.
Why would you not expect the media to point out she was vegan when she and her vegan husband both became sick? She’s the one who made an issue of being vegan. The media just followed her lead when she, sadly, died.
Frankly, most people don’t care what mountain climbers eat or don’t. It’s the vegans’ insistence of being recognized as something “special” that often brings bad press to veganism…..in my opinion.
The issue is that the media are indirectly stating that her vegan diet was the cause of her death, rather than the dangerous conditions which have claimed many lives.
Vegans do not require to be recognised as ‘special’ – instead it’s that vegans recognise that other animals are special and do not exist to be exploited, abused, killed and consumed, with the vegan lifestyle reflecting this. Therefore, vegans are vociferous about their choices due to the gravity of the issues which drive the vegan lifestyle. This can result in other people feeling uncomfortable, guilty, defensive, insecure (and so forth) and their response is to negate or lash out at vegans or the vegan movement.
Thank you for this, because my omni family is driving me insane with all the articles about her.
My answer to them was that A LOT of people die when climbing Mt Everest, so singling out a vegan for it is unfair. Even though she did do it to “prove” that vegans can do stuff. Her death is unfortunate, very unfortunate but the plantbased diet is really not to blame.
It is great to see inspirational climbers who are vegan. Another inspirational pro climber is Steph Davis, but it would love to know more inspirational climbers/mountaineers.
I did an article about getting into bouldering, with a woven vegan theme to try and help vegans to be aware of certain vegan friendly climbing products.
[…] Yes, Vegans Can Climb Mt. Everest […]