Tagveganism and health

Koffee with Kuntal – In dialogue with a Vegan mountaineer

I first met Kuntal two years back, when he visited our new venture Imagine cafe – Mumbai’s first vegan restaurant. And after that first ever conversation with him itself, I had developed an immense respect for him as a human being.

Fast forward to 2 years later, I started writing about veganism with an intent to educate people about the horrors of the livestock industry and benefits of a vegan diet. I asked him if he could give me a quote for one of my articles, he said he was always happy to collaborate and will write back to me with his answers. But I was completely shocked, when, 24 hours later, he wrote back to me in great detail and told me I could use the answers however I saw fit. I could sense his emotions and passion through the mail. That is when I decided that the story in this email conversation has to be out there for people to read, a quote is just not enough!

For those who don’t know him –

Kuntal Joisher, 40, from Mumbai is the man who became the first vegan to climb the Mt. Everest from north and south sides against all odds. He not only did it on a vegan diet but used only vegan gear including a one-piece synthetic suit made completely from animal-free material made by ‘Save the duck’, as well as mittens and gloves constructed devoid of down or leather . Amazing isn’t it?

So here it is!

At what point in your life did you decide to go vegan?What/who was your inspiration?


As a part of my upbringing I was taught and always believed that, ‘Animals are sentient and emotional beings with individual characters, and have as much right to live freely and happily as much as we do’. And so consequently I grew up a vegetarian. Then I moved to the United States in Aug 2001 to pursue my Masters degree. And then sometime in late 2002, my room-mate at the university exposed me to the horrors of the eggs, dairy, and leather industry. After that conversation, I connected the dots that a piece of meat, a cake made with eggs, a glass of milk, a block of cheese, or a leather belt, or the Down jacket I was wearing – are all the same and come from abused animals. 

That is the first time I actually thought about where the milk we consume comes from? Cows are impregnated over and over, their babies stolen from them and slaughtered for meat just so that you can have their milk! Or think about eggs – male chicks are worthless to the egg industry, and so every year, millions of them are suffocated or thrown into high-speed grinders while they are still alive. The birds are crammed so closely together that they are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. Disease runs rampant in the filthy, cramped sheds, and many birds die! What about that leather belt or feather jacket? These are made from the skins of cattle, horses, sheep, lambs, goats, pigs, elephants, snakes, and feathers of chickens, geese etc who are all slaughtered so that you can look good.

Every animal wants to live, just as much as we do. Every animal loves, just as we do and every animal feels the same amount of pain as we do. I learnt the true meaning of words empathy and compassion the day I decided to turn Vegan, some 17 years ago. It was the start of a new journey – like a rebirth. And it was the best decision that I have taken in my entire life.

This was not the end. I learnt more shocking facts. Animals raised for meat, eggs and milk – the livestock industry – generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, uses up about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. After knowing all this, I lost my sleep and peace of mind. I could not reconcile with the fact that as a Vegetarian I continued contributing to immense amounts of animal abuse, cruelty and slaughter, as well as destruction of the planet, and so I had to take a stand. That is the moment when I turned Vegan.

How did people in the mountaineering industry react when they came to know that you are planning to climb the Everest as a vegan?


Sometime in 2009, I realized that climbing Mt. Everest is the biggest dream of my life. I told myself that I am going to climb Everest as a Vegan, or not climb it at all. Most people in the high altitude mountaineering world thought I was crazy, as the recommended diet for extreme climbing expeditions includes salami, spam, cheese, processed meats, eggs, and dairy. I can’t eat any of these high-fat high-protein animal products. However, my diet has never been an issue. I’ve now been part of over 25 serious Himalayan climbing expeditions, and I’ve never had any problems being a vegan, even on this last climb to the top of Mt. Everest from the China side in May 2019! 

What is your diet like while training?


‘Whole foods plant based diet’.  Low fat, High carbohydrates. I love eating fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, dates, nuts / seeds and this diet has done wonders for me. I recover much quicker even when I do some of the most excruciating workouts (example – a 20 hour steep hike in the local mountains). On the other hand, every-time I eat unhealthy food such as deep fried stuff / white refined flour, I’ve realized that my recovery becomes slower. One’s body tells it what it likes. And my body likes a whole foods vegan diet. Some of my favorite foods are fruits such as Banana, Mango, Grapes, and power-packed dried Dates/Raisins/Figs, and I can not forget — the Oatmeal made with either water or soy milk (my favorite breakfast of all!).

Isn’t it hard trying to find vegan food while on an expedition?


My diet while on climbing expeditions is very different. At higher altitude the calorie requirements of a human body are dramatically different compared to while at sea-level. At Base camp, which is at 18,000 feet a climbers calorie requirements could easily be around 4000 calories a day, and this number would easily go upto 8-9000 calories at 25,000 feet, and a climber burns through about 15,000 calories on a typical Everest 20 hour round trip to the summit. While on an expedition, for me as long as the food is Vegan, I don’t care whether it’s healthy. I’ll eat it as I need the calories. For example a small bottle of 250 ml coke = 100 calories (99% simple carbs). A single oreo cookie = 45 calories, and so about 20 of them would be around 900 calories! These are all calories – Vegan calories, and they taste great, and at 23,000 feet where most people can’t eat anything, I would rather eat these and get my calories requirements met.

Regarding my diet while I’m climbing – a lot depends on where I’m climbing. If it’s the Himalaya, then most of the local food tends to be Vegetarian, and easy to Veganize. The food spread typically consists of Vegetable stews / curries, fruits, lentils, beans, soups, wheat bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles etc. So on my climbs in the Himalaya, I stick to eating the local cuisine. At the same time I do carry comfort food from home which tends to be trail mix of dried fruits and nuts, nutrition bars made out of dates and nuts, and a few local snacks even if they are unhealthy (after all on the mountain – calories are calories – you need them!).  Veganizing the climbing expedition food menu isn’t that difficult. I’ve successfully worked with kitchen staff of expedition operators in the high Himalaya in India & Nepal, and even a remote region such as Northern Ice-cap in Chilean Patagonia.

For the Everest/Lhotse climb, at the Base camp (18,000 feet) / Camp two (21,500 feet) – I ate pretty much everything fresh right from beaten rice, to semolina / oat porridge, deep fried Indian bread and curry, Tibetan bread, pancakes, Lentils and rice, pasta, french fries, burgers, and several Indian food items – all Vegan of course. Our awesome cooks Ngima Tamang and Anup Rai even baked us a Vegan cake!  Beyond Camp two, I survived on mainly few things: Electrolyte & Energy powders, Freeze dried meals, Instant Soymilk oatmeal, Oreo cookies, Dried dates/figs, Dried fruit such as Kiwi, Pineapple, Papaya, Nuts – almonds & cashews, and some Indian comfort foods.

Do you think you had an advantage over other climbers or that you were compromising and taking a bigger risk by trying to climb on a vegan diet?


For me, when I shifted to eating a healthy vegan diet, I instantly had performance benefits during my training at sea-level. My recovery time improved, and I could train harder and harder for the big mountain climbs!

Another advantage I have over other climbers and that I have now been noticing for the past few expeditions is that I never catch a stomach infection. Most mountaineers at some point or the other during their expeditions catch a stomach bug that causes intense stomach pain, loose motions and these climbers tend to go weak and some of them never recover and go home. In my opinion most of these stomach issues are caused due to either lactose intolerance, or on the other hand infected meat. As a Vegan, I don’t eat any living beings or drink their by-products, which means that chances of catching infections is almost nonexistent. I have also recommended to my co-climbers to go Vegan when they catch infection and it has worked wonders with most of them!

But one of the biggest benefits and something that is not very obvious or tangible, is the amount of mental peace and focus that I derived after making this lifestyle change. Knowing that no animal or a sentient being died for me to go pursue my dreams gives me full peace of mind to go focus and achieve my dreams. If you are not already sold on the health benefits of this lifestyle, then I say go Vegan for the mental edge that this lifestyle gives you! And having climbed Everest and Lhotse, I know that in the end it’s all about your mental fitness and readiness.

And now, a question that every vegan is always asked- ‘But what about protein?


Protein is an essential nutrient, absolutely critical not just in building and repairing muscle tissue, but in the maintenance of a wide array of important bodily functions. Your body contains thousands of different proteins that serve different functions, all made from amino acids. It’s the arrangement of these amino acids that determines the type and function of a protein. There are 20 different amino acids that combine to form proteins, and although your body requires all of them, you only have the ability to make 11 of them. These are termed non-essential amino acids. The other nine—those you can’t make—are termed essential amino acids, and must be obtained from the diet. But these nine essential amino acids are hardly the exclusive domain of the animal kingdom. In fact, they’re originally synthesized by plants and are found in meat and dairy products only because these animals have eaten plants. Basically all animal protein is essentially recycled plant protein at the end of the day.

While certain foods—like soy, buckwheat etc — contain all nine essential amino acids in roughly equal amounts, other plant proteins have a lower amount of at least one essential amino acid. But that’s not a problem because your body does the work of making complete proteins for you. Your body creates a “pool” of amino acids from the food you eat throughout the day. So, if you eat oats in the morning, a salad at lunch, and legumes for dinner, your body will pool together all the essential amino acids from these foods and use them as needed to make proteins. This means you don’t have to worry about getting all the essential amino acids at any given meal. As long as you are eating an assortment of plant foods over the course of a day, your body will take care of the rest.

A plant based diet is devoid of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3? How to deal with that?


Now let’s see how a non Vegan gets these. The animals that are raised for dairy and meat are injected with high doses of Vitamin B12. These animals are then consumed by humans, who thus get Vitamin B12. To me this seems like a highly inefficient and a far more unnatural process. Wouldn’t it be smart to just inject yourself with Vitamin B12 or eat a tablet? Save the animal life, and make the entire process more sustainable? And similarly with Vitamin D3. So no I don’t think Veganism is unnatural or unbalanced, on the contrary it’s the most natural and balanced diet that a human can consume – a mix of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Good for our health, the animals and the planet. Win win for everyone involved.

Would you like to give some pointer/tips for folks wanting to switch to a vegan lifestyle?


Start out by replacing your dairy and meat by Vegan  alternatives. For example, you can easily replace your milk with a plant based version such as Soy milk, Almond milk, Oat milk which these days is readily available in most grocery stores across India. Several companies such as Sofit, So Good, Soyfit, Good Mylk, Raw Pressery, Urban Platter etc provide plant based milk options. Then you can easily replace your meat with a plant based alternative. There’s Good Dot / Vezlay Vegan meat which is today available across India, or the Nutrella soya chunks that are available at almost every grocery store across India. Several companies offer Vegan versions of cheese, dahi, butter, ghee, sweets. These would be great stop gap arrangements as you transition to a diet filled with more vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains combined with occasional servings of vegan dairy and meat alternatives.

  • Another idea would be to gradually cut down one thing after another. For example, you can take a 21 day challenge of completely cutting out lets say “eating chicken”. Research shows it takes about 21 days to form a habit, and so you can slowly take on these challenges and start cutting out animal products from your life.
  • Also during the journey there is a good chance that you will face cravings to eat animal products. Try and begin by eating vegan alternatives – in today’s world everything from Vegan butter to cheese to ice cream to Shrikhand etc is available. However, if you can’t find it and you go ahead and eat some non vegan stuff, don’t beat up yourself over it. It’s not the end of the world. The key here is to focus and stay committed to the path of transitioning to a Vegan. There’s not many people in the world who have found success without failing. So go easy on yourself.
  • Find other Vegans in your area, in your city, meet with them, attend the potlucks, learn Vegan recipes, discover Vegan and Vegan friendly restaurants, goto Vegan movie screenings, participate in a Vegan outreaches, follow and join various social media groups on Facebook and instagram to learn more about Veganism. Many people try to make the transition into the world of veganism alone, but if you have a group, community, or friends who are vegan, the transition is smoother and easier.
  • Be prepared to read food labels. If you’re serious about being vegan, checking food labels and verifying ingredients is a must. Just because a food product is not glaringly non-vegan doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for a vegan diet. Casein and whey, which come from milk, and honey are present in many cereal bars, breads, and granolas; while gelatin and tallow are derived from meat. Read the labels carefully before consuming.

If you have anymore questions for him, he is a gem of a person who is always happy to help. He reads and responds to every single message in his Facebook / Instagram message box. So, do not hesitate in reaching out to him.

As a Vegan, I have never told anyone of them to become a Vegan, instead my idea is to do spectacular things and inspire them to ask me a question — ‘What do you eat that you can pull off such feats?’.

Kuntal Joisher

You can read more about him and his Everest journey on his website.

Veganism and health

Today, we are in the middle of a global crisis caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. All over the world millions of people have been infected and are dying everyday. But indirectly, each and every person has been affected as all the economies have shut down in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Most businesses are having a hard time surviving and millions of people have lost their jobs and are unable to meet their basic needs of paying rents or EMI’s and providing for their families. The whole world is crippled and come to a halt.

But what is the root cause for all this?

Raising and killing animals for human consumption breeds disease and is the root cause behind this global pandemic. Despite the obvious need to close live-animal markets and slaughterhouses, these places are still open for business. And this is not the only health crisis caused by consumption of animals and animal products. Let me start with clarifying that,

Meat and dairy are not good for your body.

Shocked?

I know there are thousands of questions popping in your head and I will try to answer all of them, one by one.

What’s wrong with milk?

You can read more about – How an advertisement campaign got us duped into believing milk is necessary for healthy bones here.

What’s wrong with meat?

What’s wrong with fish?

So what is the solution you might ask?

Ditch animal products.

We are anatomically herbivorous and during most of our evolutionary history, we were largely vegetarian. Our body is not designed to eat meat, unlike carnivores.

  • Humans have short, soft fingernails and small “canine” teeth. In contrast, carnivores all have sharp claws and large canine teeth that are capable of tearing flesh.
  • Carnivorous animals swallow their food whole, relying on extremely acidic stomach juices to break down flesh and kill the dangerous bacteria in it, which would otherwise sicken or kill them. Our stomach acids are much weaker in comparison, because strong acids aren’t needed to digest prechewed fruits and vegetables.
  • Animals who hunt have short intestinal tracts and colons that allow meat to pass through their bodies relatively quickly, before it can rot and cause illness. Humans’ intestinal tracts are much longer than those of carnivores of comparable size. Longer intestines allow the body more time to break down fiber and absorb the nutrients from plant-based foods, but they make it dangerous for humans to eat meat. The bacteria in meat have extra time to multiply during the long trip through the digestive system, increasing the risk of food poisoning. Meat actually begins to rot while it makes its way through human intestines, which increases the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Carnivores’ jaws move only up and down, requiring them to tear chunks of flesh from their prey and swallow them whole. Humans and other herbivores can move their jaws up and down and from side to side, allowing them to grind up fruit and vegetables with their back teeth. Like other herbivores’ teeth, humans’ back molars are flat for grinding fibrous plant foods.

A 100% plant based diet also known as a vegan diet is what is best for our personal health as well as for our environment.

I am sure the next big question that would have come in your minds would be – ‘But is an only plant based diet healthy?

A plant based diet or vegan diet is not only healthy, it is healthier compared to a non vegetarian diet.

A whole food plant based diet is the only diet that has been proved successful in reversing lifestyle diseases.

But what about our calcium and protein?

Only 18% of global calorie and 37% of global protein comes from animals.

This shows that we are anyways getting majority of our nutrients from plants. In fact, all the nutrients we get from animals, including proteins, is originally synthesized by plants and are found in meat and dairy products only because these animals have eaten plants. Basically, all animal protein is essentially recycled plant protein at the end of the day. But when you eat it through animals, they come with lot of other burden like high levels of cholesterol, animal hormones, etc.

So why not eat it directly through plants, like its meant to be?

You can get all essential nutrients like protiens, calcium, minerals and vitamins through plants itself. Lets compare few of the basic nutrients we get from certain animal and plant foods. Also, while studying this table it is important to keep in mind that it is not only about the numbers but also how the human body reacts to these nutrients.

I know, you will find it difficult to believe everything I said. So, I interviewed a Mumbai based doctor, Dr. Rashmi Menon to clarify our doubts.

Dr. Rashmi Menon, is a Holistic Medical Doctor and psychotherapist who specializes in reversing lifestyle diseases and homeopathy. She has been helping patients become medicine free and lead a healthy life since two decades.

VD – Is it true that milk actually depletes calcium from bones?

RM – The bone-thinning condition called osteoporosis can lead to small and not-so-small fractures. Although many people think of calcium from milk in the diet as good protection for their bones, this is not at all the whole story. In fact, in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. Similarly, a 1994 study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption.

Yes, milk has calcium as seen in the lab studies, but only 30 percent of this is actually absorbed in the bones. To protect your bones you do need calcium in your diet, but you also need to keep calcium in your bones.  This can be easily covered by a whole food plant based diet with inclusion of greens, sesame seeds, legumes, etc, along with exercises which help the bones to absorb calcium as well as vitamin D either directly from the sun or supplementation.

VD – What are the benefits of having a plant based diet? What all diseases can it reduce the risk for and by how much? Is a vegan diet actually helpful in reversing lifestyle diseases?

RM – Since food is a major part of our lifestyle, it is also a major cause when it comes to lifestyle diseases. The animal products in our diet increase acidity, have low fiber, are high in fat and cholesterol, antibiotics, steroids and hormones, all of which hinder the normal functioning of the body.  Over time this malfunctioning manifests in the form of lifestyle diseases. A plant based diet along with a moderate exercise routine can reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases and cancer by about 40%. A few lifestyle diseases that have scope of reversal are heart disease, diabetes type 2, PCOD, PCOS, asthma, obesity, fatty liver, renal disease, migraines, IBS, acidity. Refined, processed food and foods filled with chemicals in the form of pesticides, fertilizers, preservatives and colorants can also have a similar effect on the body, which is why vegans who eat an unhealthy diet can also suffer from lifestyle diseases.

VD – Can you share some real life stories of your patients and how a vegan diet has helped people reverse lifestyle diseases.

RM – A vegan diet can definitely help people feel lighter and more healthier. Eating wholesome real food meant for the human body otherwise called a whole food plant based diet with high raw, has helped hundreds of my patients reverse their disease. It eliminates everything that physically triggers the body to dysfunction.  Sharing just a few here:

A 60-year-old lady with 10 plus years of diabetes was able to get off her medicines in a month by following the wfpb plan, stress reduction methods as well as a moderate exercise plan.

A 40-year old lady, diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and was able to see re-absorption of some of her breast lumps as well as calcification of the rest in a one year time period.  This was possible partially due to the inculcation of a strict high raw wfpb regimen.

A 45 year old professional suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes for 8 years saw a reduction in his blood sugar and blood pressure readings within a month of starting the plan, and was gradually able to get off medicines within the span of 6 months.  Here too, the wfpb diet played a majpr role.

A 30-year-old saw the PCOD cysts disappear in two months follow up sonography.  She was able to follow vegan diet 100% and the wholesome part around 50%. 

VD – If this is true, then why do many dietitians and doctors still suggest milk, eggs and meat to be included in a healthy diet?

RM – Over time we have formed the habit of disintegrating food and depending on lab tests to find out how much of the identifiable nutrients are there in the food and to segregate them and apply them in our diet.  This does not take into consideration the fact that the human body as well as the food found in nature have so many components and nutrients in them which we are still in the process of identifying. Since we believe only what the lab says, if we were to take a drop of milk to the lab and test, it will show a certain amount of calcium, protein, etc.  What it will not show is, how much of the same is absorbed into the body and what are the other effects of the same on the body.

The dairy, poultry and meat industry has grown into a big organisation providing employment to many people. Since it is important to keep the demand on, most studies on the merits of these products are also funded by the same industry. But the best study is the one which we experience ourselves.  One of the best things to do is to just drop these animal products from our diet for just one month, and keep notes on the changes observed in the body—physically and mentally.  This is the only study which cannot be manipulated.

VD – What about vitamin D and B12? Is taking supplements for these vitamins safe?

RM – Whether vegan or not If we live in an urban setting chances are we will need to take B12 and Vitamin D supplements.  Vitamin D is a hormone created under the skin on exposure to sunrays and then stored in the liver.  Due to the pollution particles in the air in the cities the the sunrays that reach the skin are low quality.  Add to it our indoor lifestyle and use of sunscreens, the city dwellers then to suffer from Vitamin D deficiency.  

Vitamin B12 is created by the bacteria present in the mud.  In the urban space our exposure to mud is extremely limited.  This mud also is high in pollutants and chemicals, which in turn kill the bacteria. If one is eating meat or dairy, the animals are fed these supplement and it is the second hand supplement that our body gets. Still, 90% of non-vegans from cities have severe B12 and D deficiencies. It goes undetected because unless you tell the doctor you are a vegan, you are not asked to get a B12 or Vitamin D test done. If one were to  live in a village and live a life without modern trappings, living close to nature and natural mud one may not need first hand or second hand  B12 supplements, whether vegan or not.

Yes, in an ideal world, supplements should be avoided.  Alas, we do not live in an ideal world.  So we can do the second best.  That would be to take check for these deficiencies via blood tests and supplement accordingly.  Over supplementation can be as harmful as a deficiency.

VD – Anything else you would like to share 

RM – People have been living a healthy life for years without having any animal products in their diet.  That itself proves that it is possible for a human to live without animal products.  Then to add to the exploitation and abuse of these innocent animals becomes a choice.  A choice which we can all choose to avoid without ANY harm to ourselves. Like every other diet or lifestyle, a balance in eating and making wise choices are important. 

If you have more questions about a whole food plant based diet and wish to consult with her, please drop a comment below or email me on vidhi228@gmail.com and I will share her contact details with you.

Sports is going vegan

Slowly, as people are becoming more and more aware and finally accepting the science that meat and dairy are bad for ones health, more and more athletes are turning vegan. Traditionally, athletes believed that the only way to meet their daily protein requirement was via meat consumption, but with increased awareness around nutrition, this has changed. They have realized that many plant-based foods are actually richer in protein than meat. Plant based diet gives endurance athletes an edge as a vegan diet can enhance athletic performance due to enhanced cardiovascular health, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol and weight loss.Also, plant based diets are more conducive to recovery.

Meat-free athletes from tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams and Novak Djokavic to Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton to NFL’s Derrick Morgan and Davod Carter to the current Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli have all adopted vegan lifestyles and proved the performance-boosting power of a plant-based diet.

I interviewed Kuntal Joisher, who is a vegan mountaineer and the first but not last vegan to climb the Mt. Everest. Many climbers have started following his example now.

Kuntal Joisher, 40, from Mumbai, the man who became the first vegan to Climb the Mt. Everest from north and south sides against all odds.

I have been a Vegan for the last 18 years, but I have never had issues building lean muscle mass on a vegan diet. When I shifted to eating a healthy vegan diet, I instantly had performance benefits during my training at sea-level. My recovery time improved, and I could train harder and harder for the big mountain climbs! Another advantage I have over other climbers and that I have now been noticing for the past few expeditions is that I never catch a stomach infection. Most mountaineers at some point or the other during their expeditions catch a stomach bug that causes intense stomach pain, loose motions and these climbers tend to go weak and some of them never recover and go home. In my opinion most of these stomach issues are caused due to either lactose intolerance, or on the other hand infected meat. As a vegan, I don’t eat any living beings or drink their by-products, which means that chances of catching infections is almost nonexistent. I have also recommended to my co-climbers to go Vegan when they catch infection and it has worked wonders with most of them!

But one of the biggest benefits and something that is not very obvious or tangible, is the amount of mental peace and focus that I derived after making this lifestyle change. Knowing that no animal or a sentient being died for me to go pursue my dreams gives me full peace of mind to go focus and achieve my dreams. If you are not already sold on the health benefits of this lifestyle, then I say go vegan for the mental edge that this lifestyle gives you! And having climbed Everest and Lhotse, I know that in the end it’s all about your mental fitness and readiness.

To me Veganism is about animal liberation and saving animal lives. That’s the first and foremost. Animals are here sharing the planet with us, they are not here to be used by us. Hence, I not only climbed Everest on a vegan diet but all of my mountaineering gear was also vegan, made completely from animal-free material. I used a one-piece synthetic suit, as well as mittens and gloves constructed devoid of down or leather.

Kuntal Joisher

Beauty of veganism – Substitute not sacrifice

The beauty of vegan food is that you do not have to give up on the taste of your favorite animal based foods like meat or dairy as there are amazing substitutes available for all animal products from milk for your tea, to curd, ice creams, cheese and even meats and sausages!

Dairy milk can be replaced using plant based milks like cashew milk, soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, pistachio milk, coconut milk, hemp milk etc. There is so much choice available and the best part is that you can decide your preference based on the texture and flavor you like and also other factors like cost, local availability etc. Also, these milks can be very easily made at home ensuring they are pure and preservative free.

Cheese, mayonnaise, curd and ice-creams are also possible from these plant based milks. There are many retail products available in USA and Europe for the same. In India, we have small vegan businesses catering to all these needs who are slowly expanding to reach bigger markets. You can check out few of them here.

Meat can be replaced by mock meat options made from soy, peas, seitan etc. Recently, around the world the products of mock meat brands like the Impossible burger and Beyond meat have taken everyone by surprise as they replicate the taste, look and texture of meat perfectly. Innovative companies like GardeinNew Wave FoodsOcean Hugger FoodsGood Catch, and others are creating fool-your-friends vegan versions of fish filletscrab cakescoconut shrimptunascallops, and even caviar. Even in India there are mock meat brands like Gooddot, Vezlay and Nutrela.

Also, more and more vegan restaurants are cropping up all over the world. You can check out a list of Indian vegan restaurants here. For people in Mumbai – Imagine Cafe, is Mumbai’s first vegan restaurant. You can read more about them here or visit their Instagram page.

Is veganism expensive?

Like any other diet and lifestyle, veganism can be as cheap or expensive as you make it.

Veganism is expensive, is a myth. In fact, vegans survive mainly on beans, rice, grains, fruits, and vegetables which are way cheaper than meat and fish. Replacing meat burgers with a veggie burger patty will be the cheapest option ever but if you opt for processed specialty mock meat patties it might sometimes be more expensive, especially since most of them are still imported to India. However, it should be remembered that these meat-alternative products are not the only way to follow a vegan diet. Cheaper foodstuffs like tofu, mushrooms, aubergine, chickpeas and jack fruits can be used at home to make delicious meals mimicking meat products.

When it comes to milk and milk products, it is important to know that globally all the governments heavily subsidize milk. And in spite of that making most of the plant milks at home turns out to be much cheaper. And what could be better than making your own milk, fresh at home whenever you need it, ensuring what your are drinking is of the best quality and preservative free? Retail prices of plant milks are still high comparatively as they are not subsidized by the government and the demand is comparatively quite low. Once the demand starts increasing, the prices of even these store bought milks will go down.

We as consumers have the power to change the world. What we demand is going to be produced. If we demand more animal free products that’s the direction the business world will take.

Kuntal Joisher, vegan mountaineer
Cost comparison of animal milk vs various plant milks
Cost comparison of animal milk products vs plant milk products

And that day is not far. Already in the US, the dairy milk consumption is declining and demand for plant milks is rising.

Source: USDA

Also, in the grand scheme of things, the vegan diet is the most inexpensive diet on this planet as once animal products have been eliminated from the menu, chances of getting diseases has been comparatively reduced by a lot. Our health is priceless. Add the cost of health care and insurance, prescription medicines, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, doctor visits and hospital stays, and you can easily see how meat, dairy and egg-eating is the most expensive lifestyle around!

Downside of the health movement

Health is a complex issue and has two parts to it – physical health and mental health. It is also a privilege. Those with economic privilege have better access to high quality healthcare and are much more able to engage in health-promoting behaviors, such as regular exercise, access to better quality food and time and resources to have proper home cooked meals. By positioning health at the level of the individual, it sometimes neglects the socio-economic and genetic determinants of health. Nobody has complete control over their health, regardless of the lifestyle that they lead. We can try and do our best, but there is no guarantee. Another major problem is that today, more than being strong and disease free, weight is conflated with healthiness, and being thin is assumed to be symptomatic of being healthy. Conversely, fatness is assumed to indicate a lack of healthiness. The weight stigma experienced by people in larger bodies, even from healthcare professionals and their own families, does not help improve their lives or lead to health but affects their mental health even more. The emotional costs are incalculable.  Hence, it is important to ensure that we don’t overemphasize physical health and overlook mental health.

For me, Veganism is not about health, it is about ethics, and health is just an ancillary benefit.

What you eat and how it affects your body is a personal choice as long as it only affects you. So you might chose to indulge in unhealthy foods like oil, sugar and processed junk foods even after knowing it is not that good for your body just like you might indulge in alcohol or smoking. Its an informed decision, that you are making.

But, it stops being a personal choice the moment what you are eating affects millions of other lives.

I would like to conclude by saying that, meat and dairy are not only bad for the environment and our personal health but over and above an extremely unethical and cruel food choice made to selfishly satisfy human taste buds by exploiting, torturing and killing millions of lives every single day.

I will speak more in detail in my next article about the most important reason and the essence behind adopting a vegan lifestyle – Compassion.

References:

Milk is unhealthy

https://www.veganfirst.com/article/milk-is-unhealthy-here-is-why

https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/health-concerns-about-dairy/calcium-and-strong-bones

https://www.pcrm.org/news/blog/more-milk-more-problems

https://www.pcrm.org/news/news-releases/doctors-group-tells-dietary-guidelines-advisory-committee-ditch-dairy

https://www.peta.org/living/food/reasons-stop-drinking-milk/

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/milk-hormones-cancer-pregnant-cows-estrogen/

Meat is unhealthy

https://www.evolvingwellness.com/post/15-reasons-why-you-may-want-to-reconsider-eating-meat

https://www.bustle.com/articles/137865-8-reasons-meat-is-bad-for-you-yes-even-chicken

https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer.html

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-reduce-your-risk-of-diabetes-cut-back-on-meat/

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/health/drug-companies-antibiotics-resistance.html

Fish is unhealthy

https://www.peta.org/living/food/is-fish-good-for-you-heres-why-not/

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/cannibalistic-feed-biomagnification/

Other references:

https://nutritionfacts.org/

https://www.knowyourmoney.co.uk/personal-finance/cost-of-going-vegan/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bethkaiserman/2019/01/31/dairy-industry-plant-based-milks/#d2754e51c9ed

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/milk-sales-drop-by-more-than-1-billion-as-plant-based-alternatives-take-off/

https://medium.com/tenderlymag/healthism-in-veganism-its-time-to-call-it-out-174903d477da