From Vegetarian to Vegan to Everest

From Vegetarian to Vegan to Everest

April 7, 2014

My name is Kuntal. I’m 34 years old, and I live in the city of dreams, Mumbai, India. And, in just a few short months, I hope to become the first known vegan to summit Mt. Everest. Even though I spend my days poring over code programming software – I have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from Mumbai University, and a Masters in Computer Science from The University of Southern California – I love mountaineering and trekking. Like any rigorous physical training, a special diet is necessary, especially for a process as demanding as climbing Everest. But, in my case, nutrition is even more important as a vegan.


Like many Indians, I was born into a vegetarian family and, consequently, raised a vegetarian. However, my dietary restrictions were dictated by religion, rather than by choice. In fact, I never really gave much thought to my vegetarianism. I didn’t really eat eggs, but would happily consume a chocolate dessert that used eggs as an ingredient. I think this was a combination of convenience, taste and, above all, apathy and ignorance towards the animal rights cause.


And while it’s true that India is the largest vegetarian country in the world, the number of vegans I know in the city of Mumbai (one of the largest cities on the planet with 20 million people) is small. Of course, religion has a big role to play in that regard. However, it saddens me that most vegetarians are unable to make the connection between dairy/leather and cruelty.


I come from a Kutchi-Gujarati family. We are known for our business acumen. Most Gujaratis have this inherent sense of entrepreneurship in them, but not me. I have zero sense of business and, at the same time, I’m passionate about things such as veganism, outdoors, wilderness, mountaineering etc. – things that most Gujarati’s don’t typically practice.


It was not until I moved to Los Angeles in 2001 to pursue further studies that I was exposed to veganism. For the first time I was able to connect the dots that milk is essentially meat and, to a certain extent, far worse as far as animal cruelty. I cold-tofu’d, and went vegan.


For the next few months, my life was a bit of a struggle; however, compared to the cruelty and killing of billions of animals every year, my suffering was not even so – it was merely an adjustment phase. This was the first time in my life when I took a strong stand on a major issue, which opened floodgates of change within myself.
It’s been close to 11 years now since I made the transition, and it has been an awesome journey. Standing on top of the world with a vegan flag in hand would be a great way to give back to this cause that changed my entire life.


To prepare for Everest, my nutrition plan is very simple – whole foods and plant based. I love eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, and this diet has done wonders for me. I’ve started recovering much quicker, even when I do some of the most excruciating workouts. Your body tells you what it likes, and my body likes a whole foods vegan diet.


But, to be honest, eating is going to be the least of my worries on Mt. Everest. I’ve heard from numerous climbers who’ve already summited Everest that beyond camp three most people hardly eat anything. The oxygen supply at that height is so limited that your body actually cuts off oxygen to the digestive system. At that point it’s important to keep the heart and brain healthy more than anything else.


And, as I make my ascent, I will be thinking about just that – staying healthy and proving that it can be done on a vegan diet. Veganism changed my life and I encourage any vegetarians, especially within the Indian-American community, to learn more about animal rights and explore a vegan lifestyle.


Follow my Mt. Everest 2014 climb at my sponsor, CallFire’s, FUEL Facebook page: or at the website I’ll be sending updates from the mountain throughout my journey. Wish me luck!