Martin Young
Martin Young

The vegans and Mount Everest

Sad news came over the weekend, as it was announced that South African born research scientist Dr Maria Strydom had died on the slopes of Mount Everest, just another in the more than 250 who have given their lives to achieve a dream.

What caught my attention more than the all-too-often repeated sadness of yet another Everest death was the ascribed reason she was climbing in the first place.

Dr Strydom was a vegan. Her husband, Robert Gropel, with her on the expedition, is also a vegan, and both were by their own accounts climbing in an attempt to prove that veganism is a healthy lifestyle and not associated with poor health of any sort, let alone “chronic malnourishment”.

It appears that Dr Strydom was unable to reach the summit of Everest, but died at the final camp four, due to high altitude sickness, or exhaustion, or both. She had, according to reports, told fellow climbers of her extreme weakness. Her husband is believed to have suffered high altitude sickness as well.

So where does this leave veganism per se as a healthy lifestyle? Had she achieved her goal, vegans undoubtedly all over the world would have used her success as a rallying cry in support of their choice not to eat animal protein. But she failed. Will vegans now admit to following a lifestyle that contributed to her death on the slopes of Everest? Of course they won’t.



Nor need they. I applaud vegans for their moral choice. I prefer not to think of animals dying for my culinary delights, but I like my steak and bacon too much to give them up for a far more challenging diet.

The problem with a sad scenario like this is that too many people would have, or will, make too much of an anecdotal success or failure to support or discredit a cause.

Few of those who have died on Everest were trying to prove anything other than their own determination to reach the summit.

It would take a double blind randomised controlled trial pitting vegans against carnivores racing to the top of Everest to see who does it better to come to any conclusion about veganism being “safe” as a lifestyle without limitations for mountaineers. This will never happen, and especially now.

Anecdotal stories to make points like this one do not work. Those who believe they do are naive. Anecdotes say nothing about the wide variations in human ability and determination under the most extreme of circumstances. Anecdotes prove nothing.

It would be far better simply to applaud the human spirit that takes some to the highest mountains and the deepest ocean floors, knowing that these things are extremely dangerous, without tacking on to these startling accomplishments proof of any kind except that we humans are remarkable.

Tags: , , , ,

  • Manu

    If you set out to prove that as a vegan you can climb Everest and in the process you die, then you have to also accept that the story will become an anecdote.

    It’s not funny at the moment because the lady died a few days ago. But you can be sure that in a few years while standing around the braai many will be having a chuckle.

    What I find stupid about this whole business is the quest itself. When you sell a diet to others the whole point should be that the diet helps support a healthy life style while at the same time extending your life.
    Dying prematurely because you want to prove to others that your diet is healthy is counter intuitive. The fact that they didn’t take this simple fact into account is what may make this a classic anecdote.

  • Samantha Smith

    “but I like my steak and bacon too much to give them up for a far more challenging diet”

    Rational human beings generally require more than sensory pleasure as a justification for imposing harm on others.

    Veganism isn’t a diet either. It’s a moral imperative, and with the abundance of available plant-based alternatives, it isn’t the least bit “challenging”.

    Finally, you refer to people who consume meat as “carnivores”. Do any people you know use their sharp teeth, claws, speed and agility to rip apart the flesh of a live animal and consume the entire animal raw like an actual carnivore? Didn’t think so.

  • michael

    To climb Everest to prove a point is a silly thing to do.

  • Donn Edwards

    “It would take a double blind randomised controlled trial”
    I am picturing a whole bunch of blindfolded climbers struggling to find the summit.

    Sorry, I know that’s ridiculous, but I can’t get the image out of my mind 😉

  • stewart lands

    The problem with veganism is that it insists on a mantra that is counter-productive to its stated goal of reduced animal harm. For example, it prohibits all meat consumption, despite the fact that wild fish and game may be consumed with far less animal and environmental impact than any fruit or vegetable may be grown by agricultural means. Deer or elk may provide hundreds of servings of protein with far less animal loss than would result from the destruction of the habitat (and wild animals that depend upon such habitat) required to grow a similar amount.

    Let’s save claims of “moral imperative” for the sort of solutions that truly abide the priorities veganism purports to espouse.

    That said, my sincere condolences to those who loved Dr. Strydom.

  • RSA.MommaCyndi

    It is sad that Everest has become a political tool. Next we will have sponsored climes to prove the health benefits of every lifestyle choice. Can you imagine the amount the smokers could get from the cigarette industry? The gluten free lot would have every hipster contributing. The boereworse and biltong team would have the entire rugby community rooting for them. We could get Mozambique to sponsor their wonderful prawns as a reason for success. Heck, we could even get the Rooibos tea trending globally.

    I am happy being an omnivore. I hereby promise to never mock someone for eating all the rabbit’s food, if they promise to keep their noses out of my bacon, egg and goats milk cheese sandwich habit.

  • Duncan Arthur

    A vegan can do anything anyone else can. Except maybe laugh at themselves

  • Paul S

    * YAWN * You should see me have a go at a plate of live Knysna wild oysters. And beware the sharp teeth and claws should you try to pinch one.