Mormon Vegetarianism

April 11, 2010
By

Brett Wilcox lives in Sitka, Alaska, with his wife and their four children.  As a Licensed Professional Counselor, Brett works with Alaskan adolescents in an experiential based wilderness program. Brett suffers from the delusion that his forthcoming fantasy novel will propel him into fame, fortune, movie deals, and the White House. Contact Brett at: brett@vpp.com or befriend him on Facebook. The edited essay below can be viewed as it was originally published at vegsource.com.

Sacrament meeting is definitely NOT the best place to come out of the closet. But by the time I made the announcement, I no longer had any misgivings about my identity or how I was going to live my life. I had even come to believe that God had led me to this point and was pleased with my choices. I knew there would be repercussions for going public at church — that if I didn’t have sense enough to be filled with shame, others would take it upon themselves to heap some, along with a generous portion of righteous indignation, upon my head.

The bishop had asked me to speak on the Word of Wisdom. I sometimes struggle with assigned topics, but this one felt like pure inspiration. Feeling passionate about the subject, I easily put together a talk made up of scripture, quotations from the Brethren, anecdotes, research, and statistics. All of that set the stage for my rather shocking disclosure. “Brothers and sisters, I’d like you to know that these things are true. I’ve tested these principles in my own life, and have been blessed by doing so. That’s why I can stand at the pulpit today and use the ‘V’ word in front of you and your children. You may have heard the rumors. I’m here to confirm that I’ve become…a vegetarian.”

Feeling as if I was armed with a carrot in one hand, a banana in the other, and suited with dark, leafy greens, I had thrown down the gauntlet and challenged the nation’s and the Church’s culture of unchecked carnivorism. My challenge went unanswered during Sunday school, but I sensed a tension that hung in the air. Before priesthood meeting officially started, a devout brother announced that according to the apostle Paul, the church had been warned against celibates and vegetarians. I was an apostate. The bishop rose to my defense. Another brother, siding with the first, made his statement by storming out of the chapel.

Since that fateful day in 2003, I’ve often considered what it means to be a Mormon vegetarian. Who are we? What motivates us? Why are we sometimes viewed suspiciously from within the church? And on the flip side, why is it that, in spite of the Word of Wisdom and the benefit of numerous supporting scientific studies, the vast majority of our church family continues to eat as much or more meat than our non-member neighbors? What prevents us from seeing the disastrous consequences that often result?

What exactly is a vegetarian? There may be as many varieties as there are flavors of Mormons. The most common are: Ovo (don’t eat meat but do eat eggs), lacto (no meat but do eat dairy), lacto-ovo (both dairy and eggs are OK), pescatarian (will eat fish), raw foodist, vegan (no animal based food or other products), flexitarian (will occasionally eat some meat), or some combination of the above.

Of course, food choices are merely part of the larger belief systems for most vegetarians. Here are some subjective generalizations I’ve observed in LDS vegetarians I know. We tend to see the Word of Wisdom as a spiritual law and our living it fully as a spiritual expression of our love and appreciation to God, and gratitude that He packaged the best nutrients in a dazzling assortment of tastes, smells, shapes, colors, and textures found within the plant kingdom. And many of us prefer food in its most natural state–whole, fresh, raw, organic, locally grown, and straight from the garden whenever possible. We view our bodies as our primary stewardships — as physical and spiritual temples. Our daily food choices honor our temples. We view life as sacred but not only human life–also the lives of animals, plants, and the Earth herself. We try to treat all creatures respectfully. Some show that respect by abstaining from the taking of animal life all together. Others eat meat (and thus kill) only rarely. Most see a whole foods plant-based diet as consistent with the diet of The Garden of Eden and the one that will prevail in the Millennium. Our food choices therefore reflect our willingness to live a higher law and to prepare for a brighter future.

Although I was raised on plenty of garden fresh fruits, beans, and vegetables, my favorite meal was pressure-cooked roast beef, whipped potatoes, and gravy. As a child, I didn’t understand the central role food and drink plays in the human culture. As an adult, I have learned that my own culture is largely invisible to me until it bumps up against other cultures. For example, I discovered that in much of the world, everything grinds to a stop in the absence of a coffee grinder and percolating pot. Neither did I realize for many years how rich and fat the American (and, by extension, the Mormon) diet is compared to that of the rest of the world and how much it contributes to our collective waistlines. When I first married my wife, I told her I would still love her even after she grew fat. She was far from flattered. But from observing my church and community culture, I didn’t think there was an option. Her mother was overweight as was mine, and so were many of the women around me. I associated fat with pregnancy and motherhood.

Shortly after we married, we moved to Japan and gradually adopted the food culture of the world’s longest-living people. I learned that obesity is more a result of our food and lifestyle choices, and not so much a result of genetics or motherhood. That fact would have been much more difficult to grasp had we not lived in Japan and partaken of their culture.

Occasionally, a few of our more outspoken Japanese friends commented on the obese state of Americans. Initially, I was amused but a bit offended. However, after living among the Japanese for a few years, my wife and I returned home and upon our arrival at the Los Angeles airport, we were both shocked at the sight — enormous people virtually everywhere, some being carted about the terminals in wheelchairs and golf carts. Our friends were right. Many Americans ARE fat. At my parents’ home, I loaded a plate with my mother’s delectable roast beef, potatoes, and gravy, but my stomach rejected (in no uncertain terms) my favorite childhood meal. Now it was my mother’s turn to be anything but flattered. Our bodies had grown accustomed to our Japanese diet. We hadn’t given up meat, but it had come to play a much smaller role on our plates. One of our most memorable culinary experiences in Japan was at a mountain restaurant operated by Buddhist priests. In a serene and unrushed setting, we enjoyed their vegan offerings. I remember that meal as an almost spiritual experience. And why not? Food is God’s offering to His children. The attitude with which we partake is our offering to God.

After living in Japan for over five years, we returned to the Wasatch Front with an adopted food culture, and we followed my father’s good example by planting a garden. Many meals consisted of nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables, and we felt good for doing so. When we connected to the Internet, I discovered the book “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins who had renounced his family inheritance, running the Baskin Robbins ice cream empire, and had done so for spiritual reasons. He wrote of a stewardship and partnership with the Earth, animals, and his fellow humans. I sensed truth in his writings. Later, when I came upon an online essay entitled The Word of Wisdom: The Forgotten Verses, I was surprised, pleased, and ready to hear that many prominent church leaders had voiced opinions similar to Robbins’. Their statements provided church approval for my further shift away from meat, and I made the conscious decision to no longer partake of factory-farmed meat.

Through additional research, I become convinced that milk, the drink touted as “The Perfect Food” in my seventh grade health class, was indeed the perfect food for calves, but was far from perfect when consumed by humans. I gave it up and found myself freed from intestinal problems that had plagued me since my days at the Missionary Training Center, where I had dealt with stress by gorging myself three times a day on the standard American diet.

Giving up meat and milk set me apart both from the majority of my American associates and from the majority of my LDS brothers and sisters. But that was okay; I felt cleaner, leaner, faster, happier, and younger as a result. When I began to experience personally the benefits I’d heard so extensively reported by others, I felt compelled to share my knowledge and experience with family and friends. Surely, I thought with missionary zeal, they would want to enjoy the same benefits I had. I had limited success in my proselytizing efforts but usually only with those facing severe illness or even imminent death. Those who abandoned the lifelong food choices that had caused their health crises experienced almost miraculous improvements in as little as a month. Amazingly, their health care providers didn’t seem interested in learning about the simple dietary changes that produced such profound results. Some were incredulous. Could inexpensive garden vegetables be more effective than their pricey pills, potions, and procedures?  I’m convinced that the culture of the American medical system has blinded many of us to the healing power of plants.

Certainly, many of the benefits my friends are experiencing would qualify as the promised “hidden treasures” of The Word of Wisdom. Here’s a list of a few of the treasures I’ve discovered since adopting a more plant-based diet.

1. Our personal and collective food choices impact each other. The Earth has limited water, soil, air, trees, animals, etc. Meat production consumes, pollutes, and destroys huge amounts of the Earth’s resources. A plant-based diet is good for my fellow creations, for the Earth, and for me.

2. Life is sacred. When I consider the Great Creator, it is easy for me hear the words, “And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (Joseph Smith Translation, Gen. 9:9-11.)

3. Human beings are by nature and design plant eaters. Our bodies resemble the bodies of plant-eating animals, not meat-eating animals. Eating meat is a learned behavior. Our children grow accustomed to the practice before they even know that the meat on their plates comes from dead animals.

4. According to the Word of Wisdom, God is pleased when we abstain from meat. I want to please God.

I think back to that day in sacrament meeting. The brother who accused me of being an apostate now suffers from a debilitating chronic disease — a disease that strikes less often among vegetarians and which can often be held in check by eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet. The brother who stormed out of the chapel continued to suffer from the standard diseases of affluence until he died of a heart attack. One of his close friends, an enormous man, spoke at the funeral and reminisced about the times they shared watching TV and “stacking crackers.” I sat mortified in the congregation as this man unknowingly celebrated the cause of his friend’s death.

As the years have passed, my coming out at church has become a non-issue. Ward members are accustomed to our family’s diet. I did get scolded once for teaching primary children the Word of Wisdom “too well,” but overall, we fit in just fine. And we’re not alone anymore. Some members of our current bishop’s family are vegetarian as well. Vegetarian and meat dishes are served side-by-side at church socials. Occasionally, someone will ask how we stay so thin or what exactly we eat at home, but overall our food choices don’t seem to stir any pots. In fact, coming out proved less dramatic than I’d feared.  But I wonder what will happen when I speak in sacrament meeting and announce the gift I’m offering at the next ward potluck will be offered in the raw — raw food, that is.

Tags: , , , , , ,

80 Responses to Mormon Vegetarianism

  1. Ann
    April 11, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Fascinating.

  2. Dblock
    April 11, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Your post confuses me in two levels

    1) At a glance your post seems to talk about the benefits of being a vegetarian. To which I say, Yes, there are many benefits from eating a plant based diet. That being said, I also think if eating meat were truly that bad for us God would have made it so that we would automatically be repulsed by the idea of its’ compulsion. He would have made it impossible for us to digest. Indeed, WoW, does not tell us that we should not eat meat. In fact, in D&C89 VRS 12 it distinctly says,’Yea, Flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksiving, nevertheless they are to be used sparingly. So, in fact, there is fallacy in your argument. Indeed many leading dieticians, including my own, do not recommend the elimination of any one particular food group. Why, because our bodies need just the right form of amino acids, carbs, etc. to make our bodies run efficiently.

    The second point you seem to be writing about and I happen to believe this is what you are really trying to address is the obesity epidemic in the states. This is a complicated issue. It really has nothing to do with weather or not one is a vegetarian. Nor, how much one eats or doesn’t eat. For example in my weight didn’t become an issue for me until I developed a bleeding disorder. And I want to be clear, my bleeding disorder has nothing to do with diet, or what foods I ate, or didn’t eat. The treatment that I received was a course of steriods, which I was taking eight times a day, in addition to IVIG, and chemotherapy all of which make people gain weight. Medications, can in fact cause major weight gain in people.

    The other caveat to this argument has to do with money. Poor people do not have the access, nor the money to be high quality foods. This is a fact of life for those who are strugling to get by and who have mouths to feeds.

    The important part of my argument with you is this, Don’t judge me by my weight, what I eat, or don’t eat and I won’t judge you for what you eat. There seems to be a national uproar with people these days who seem to think they can impose their will on others, in this case, the will is to make everyone to be thin. And Being thin is not everything that its cracked up to be.

  3. DBlock
    April 11, 2010 at 8:44 am

    I also want to add how The Thin generation is trying to say that to be fat is unacceptable, particularly for women, which is another underlying part of your argument even though you don’t come out and say so directly. You said it indirectly , when you stated that you associated fat woman with pregancy . Another case in point, The current Surgeon General is a plus size woman who is an Ivy school grad. Every was saying how she should not be the Surgeon General because of it because it sends the wrong message. Well, the previous SG Evertte Koupe( I hope I have is name right) was also over weight. And no one ever questioned weather or not he could do his job

  4. bbell
    April 11, 2010 at 8:49 am

    I consider this a gospel hobby. Esp since you preached it from the pulpit

    Similar to those who advocate against white bread or chocolate as part of the WOW.

  5. DBlock
    April 11, 2010 at 9:14 am

    @4

    Just because someone preaches something from the gospel, doesn’t make it true, That’s why when someone say’s something you need to read and investigate on your own to make sure what they are saying is correct and accurate.

  6. E
    April 11, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I also have mixed feelings about this post. There is a lot of evidence that people who eat mostly plants are healthier, but there really isn’t much evidence that eating a vegetarian diet is the healthiest way to eat. Obesity is indeed a major problem, but the evidence does not suggest that it is primarily caused by eating meat. The healthiest populations on earth, with the longest life spans, tend to eat more plants but they are generally not vegetarians. Scientists, nutritionists, epidemiologists, and other people who are truly expert in these areas do not conclude that milk should be excluded from a healthy diet. Humans are omnivores. So from an evidence standpoint, I think your enthusiasm for your diet leads you to overstate quite a few things.

    The other issue I have is that while it is true that the WoW promotes eating mostly plants, it does not prescribe vegetarianism. There is no scriptural support for avoiding dairy products. I get the feeling that you are an enthusiastic convert to vegetarianism and maybe your sacrament meeting proselytism may have gone beyond just what the WoW teaches into your personal opinions and preferences and judgements about what others do or should be doing. Your comments about the health problems and death of those who were offended by your talk come across as self-righteous.

  7. April 11, 2010 at 11:48 am

    re 2:

    Dblock, I’m not saying I’m on the vegetarian bandwagon, but your first post seems easily countered. When we think of many sins, are we “repulsed” by them? Are they “impossible to digest.” In general, not really. Rather, sin is enticing and alluring. That’s why we have to *overcome* temptation.

    That being said, I would probably agree with you (and E) that a reading of the D+C verses suggests at best a limitation, not outright elimination, of meat. And that meat isn’t the end-all be-all of problems. (E.g., a sedentary lifestyle…why not emphasize that?)

  8. DBlock
    April 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    @7

    That depends on what your interpretation of the word sin. Eating meat is not one of them. Therefore, as I said in my response to you, you have no right to judge what others eat. . I think you have a underlying problem with people who are overweight and its’ showing in your writing and your responses. Maybe the problem lies with you

  9. Serena Potter
    April 11, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I really appreciated your post. I have had a chronic illness for eight years as a result of the human parvo B19 virus. During that time I was convinced that at some point I would find the specialist who could give me a cure. I did ask every time I saw a doctor – is there some way I should be changing my diet? The answer was always, eat healthy, but they never told me what that meant. Finally after eight years of being in bed all but two or three hours a day, I went to a nutritionist who put me on a raw vegan diet. At this point I was willing to try anything. Within a week I was awake during the day, alseep at night, pain was diminished, thought process improved. After six weeks I felt better than I had ever felt. I started reading everything I could on vegan diets and raw. I determined that it was working so would stick with it. I focused on lots of leafy greens, fruit, veg, whole grains, quinoa, soy milk and use stevia for sweetener when wanting something sweet. It has been 18 months. I have gone back to school and am earning an MFA. I am driving, thinking, moving, am a better mother, wife and friend. I feel I have been given a second chance at life. If merely chaning the way I eat can do all of that why would we not all do it? I too gave a talk on the Word of Wisdom and I too pointed out the verses the stress what we should be eating – what should be in time of famine. How often is an american really in famine? I too have had primary teachers tell my daughter that her mother is breaking the word of wisdom for not eating meat. However, I have had several friends and family members learn from my experience and join me in making the change. An excellent book to read Is Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fhurman. Oh yes, and of course weight loss has accompanied my change – an added bonus. I am not all raw now, I do cook legumes and grains, though would say at least 75 to 80 precent of my diet is raw. Thank you for your post. You are on the right track! Funny how people respond by feeling under attack by your making changes. NO one likes to drink alone…

  10. CatherineWO
    April 11, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Brett…I want to thank you for your post. I have been reading Mormon blogs every day for several years and have never run across this topic. I guess by your definition I could be called an ovo-flexitarian. Because my husband will not eat vegetarian, I do eat some meat (albeit only fresh fish and organic chicken and bison). Virtually all of the food eaten in our household is organically grown.
    You are a brave soul. I have found it almost impossible to talk to others about my diet without coming across as judgemental, so I don’t talk about it unless asked, and even then, reluctantly. Food is an emotional subject for all of us, and diet changes don’t work if we try to make them too quickly. I came to my current diet in little steps and probably would never have reached this point had it not been for major health problems that did not respond to standard medical treatment. I wish everyone knew the freedom and well-being that comes with eating a healthy plant-based diet, but I understand the great difficulty of making such major changes. Most people see my diet as restrictive, but it is really just the opposite. There are so many combinations of good foods available, and without the cravings that come with unhealthy eating, food does not control my life.
    As for cost…my son and his wife (both of whom suffer from eating disorders) have made some drastic changes in their diet in the past two months, under the direction of competent medical care. Much to their surprise, they are spending about half the amount of money on food as they used to. Turns out, the good stuff is cheaper. And maybe this summer we’ll get them to join in our family community garden, really the best food of all.

  11. Dblock
    April 11, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    @#7) Sorry , I got distracted by a sick dog and couldn’t really complete my post.. I didn’t emphasize sedentary life style because that’s so cliche. BTW even when I was receiving treatment I went to the class, hit the treadmill, and did yoga, and the rowing machine, yet I still gained weight. Chemotherapy, steroid, Antidepressant medications can and do make people gain weight, and I will not retract my position on that.

    Too often people don’t look past their noses before placing judgment on someone, weather its’ for what they are wearing, where they came from, or in the case of this post, what they eat.

    T agree with E who stated that the original post position that he reached far beyond teaching the WOW and ran smack dab into personal opinion. The danger with that is that people who don’t read or who are investigating the church won’t really know what the true WOW is, not what he thinks it should be.

  12. April 11, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    re 8:

    Dblock, well certainly. I for one don’t view eating meat as a sin, but what I was saying is, the argumentation that if meat eating were undesirable, it would be physically unappealing doesn’t really work.

    Also, I think you’re confusing me with someone else. I have only commented once on this thread (number 7) and you have only responded once to me (comment number 8).

    I guess this is going to open the floodgates…but I think the reason there is such a backlash against obesity (not as much with being overweight) is because it is demonstrably linked to a slew of undesirable conditions, when it could be prevented and avoided. You seem particularly defensive on this issue, and in general, I really don’t care what people do with their lives (so I do not have an “underlying problem” with people who are overweight), but I mean, when the number 1 killing disease is heart disease, and its underlying causes can be reduced by lifestyle changes, I can see why there would be a backlash against obesity since people generally like to fight diseases.

  13. N.
    April 11, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    At some level, I wish I lived the word of wisdom more literally. That would of course include drinking wine or beer (*the* grain based “mild drink”) with my wintertime grilled bratwurst.

  14. Dblock
    April 11, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Again, I say to just because one is thin does not mean one is healthy. I have a number of friends who are thin and have heart disease, high blood pressure, etc, nothing ever gets said to them. Why, because they are thin.

    Meanwhile, I’m considered overweight and my last bloodwork which was done just this past week all came back normal. As my doctor told me, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, just continue to do what your doing and I”ll see you at the end of the summer.

  15. April 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    re 14:

    And I didn’t say that being thin meant one is healthy. But if we are addressing unhealthiness and we know particular risk factors, why not go for them? If there are multiple risk factors, then there are multiple things to go after.

  16. Peter
    April 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    I’m not sure the good stuff is cheaper. It’s really not cheaper. The canned stuff, the fattier stuff, the mass-produced overly caloric stuff is the cheapest. That is one big reason why many of us eat the way that we do. You don’t find thin in the poor and working classes of America. They can’t afford thin.

    That being said, I think the best approach to food is an ovo-lacto-flexitarian. My wife and I enjoy going meatless on occasion and we would like to expand it if we had good, affordable recipes.

  17. Anna
    April 11, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    My husband and I are also Mormon Vegetarians. It’s nice to read this blog and know that we are not alone. I have become a vegetarian and am transitioning to a vegan due to the horrors of the factory farming industry. I like to believe that most people are just uninformed and if they just simply became aware of the horrible practices in the factory farming industry they’d be disturbed and hopefully moved to change their eating habits, however, I’m finding that’s not always the case. Sometimes people just don’t care even if they are disturbed. I find that people get really hostile when they feel judge about what they eat, so though I have my personal beliefs about the morality of eating meat, I don’t let what other people do get me down. I can’t control people and I’m not going to push my beliefs on to someone. I just have to live my life according to the dictates of my own conscience. ; ) I just wish more people were educated about how intelligent farm animals are and that they have sophisticated social hierarchy and emotions. They are not just blobs for our eating pleasure, they feel pain and fear.

  18. rachel
    April 11, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak for many of us, I suppose. During my freshman year at BYU I converted to vegetarianism, and a few years later went vegan for awhile. I stayed ovo-lacto until I got pregnant at 30 and started eating some meat at that time. Now, 11 years later, we eat meat about 3 nights a week. I have a child who loves meat, and another who would be content to completely veg, and husband who is mostly happy I can cook.
    To Peter (16), the trick is finding recipes you already like, and start with a switch, for example from ground beef to ground turkey. Then, start cutting back the amount of flesh in the recipe, and adding, for example, an extra amount of beans, bulgar, etc. There are several vegetarian/LDS blogs out there, if you search. (I don’t know if it’s good etiquette to list them here.)

  19. April 11, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    My wife and I are transitioning to a sort of vegetarian diet (we still drink milk and eat eggs at this point). The reactions of a couple of posters right here explain why I am hesitant to tell many people about my dietary choices. Just by expressing one’s conviction of what they feel is the most healthful way to live amounts to a judgment on others – in their minds. But I am becoming more and more convinced that I feel better when I eat little or no meat, and that vegetarian is also cheaper. I thought that fatty, processed foods were cheaper, but you have to look beyond the price tag on the store shelf. When you consider the fact that most of those synthetic items are not filling, and they produce less energy as a result of how they are made, buying natural products end up being more economical.

  20. April 11, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    What a great post! And of course the lead-in had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Thanks for providing additional inspiration. Especially when considering the state of the American food industry in the Food Inc Video.

  21. April 11, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Very interesting that there is such a heated response to this topic. I think that while interpretation of the specifics of the Word of Wisdom should be left to the individual, and that no one should dictate to others how they should eat, the invocation of the Word of Wisdom is appropriate here because we do, after all, bill it as a “health code.” It is certainly appropriate to mention D&C 89 when speaking of health and diet. I am sorry that anyone would be afraid to bring up their vegetarianism in Church because of possible censure by other members. While a teenager, my daughter was rebuked by her Seminary Teacher several times for “disobeying” the WoW by following a vegetarian regime. What a shame that those who are trying to follow healthier diets, conserve resources, or live at greater peace with the planet should be rebuked. Just as important, we shouldn’t judge others’ body shapes or poor health as there are sometimes other reasons than diet causing these conditions.

  22. April 11, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Like BiV, I’m a little surprised at the heated responses. I did not feel like the OP was judging me, even though I do eat meat a few times a week. Nor did I read that an admission of eating a vegetarian diet during a talk was the same as advocating a vegetarian. The talk included quotations from the Brethren, etc.

    It just seems amazing to me that we’d discuss a choice to eat a vegetarian diet as if it were an alterative lifestyle. And it seems equally amazing that those who choose not to eat a vegetarian diet would feel threatened by someone who does.

    DBlock, do you really mean to suggest that the public health crisis associated with obesity in the United States should be ignored?

  23. Mike S
    April 11, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    A few comments:

    - I switched to essentially all organics a while ago, and have never felt better. I still eat some meat, but am slowly phasing it out of my diet. At some point, I will be close to a vegetarian I am sure, but will likely eat meat on social occasions as not to offend.

    - I am more and more convinced that the current “practice” of the WofW has little to do with what JS really revealed, but what the latest interpretation of it is. If we truly followed the WofW as originally given, we would still drink beer (“barley drink”) and wine (as did JS and Christ themselves), and would truly “eat meat sparingly…in times of famine”. I don’t know too many members of the Church in my area who are in “times of famine”. And if we look at medical studies, eating very little meat is, on average, much healthier for us. Too much alcohol is obviously accepted as bad throughout the entire world, but there are also MANY studies that show a glass of wine each day is actually very healthy. To me, this points to the inspiration behind JS’s original revelation, but the ignorance of our current interpretation of it.

    - While people complain about being “picked on” for obesity, it truly affects everyone. Many states enforce motorcycle helmet laws because “society pays the cost”. A few facts: Obesity has increased tremendously in the US over the past 30 years. We have the same genetics. It is lifestyle. The annual cost of obesity in the US is nearly $150 BILLION/year, or more than the $100 BILLION/year costs of the new healthcare plan just passed. It costs 40% more each year in medical costs for someone who is overweight or obese than someone who is not. If you live to be 80 years old, your chance of needing a knee replacement if you are normal weight is less than 20%. If you are overweight, it is more than 80%.

    So, those are all facts. People can choose to ignore them and complain about them, but the fact is that we are literally eating our way into medical bankruptcy as a country.

  24. Mike S
    April 11, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Interesting chart on: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html

    Look down on the page to the US chart that steps forward over a 25 year span (well within my lifetime). Click ‘Play’ if needed. Same genetics.

  25. Glenn Smith
    April 11, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Certainly eating lots of fruit and vegetables makes for a healthy lifestyle. Yet, meat is also important. And I would appreciate your comments how you reconcile D&C 49:18,19

    18 And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;
    19 For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.

  26. April 11, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Mike S.

    The phrase “if you live” is the tricky one.

    Because the bulk of the medical costs (about 80% if I remember off the top of my head) come in the last 6 months of life, there are conflicting estimates about how much obese people cost us more in medical costs, since we tend to forget that they stop costing anything because they died years ago. Not just medical programs, but retirement, and all sorts of other government services.

    So maybe it’s you healthy, fecund Mormons who are going to bankrupt the country. :D

  27. larry
    April 11, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Here is a good video on meat: http://meat.org

  28. peter
    April 11, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    interesting stuff here, and strange that it comes up less in mormon blogs. the scriptural passages pointed to on both sides of this seems to make it an issue where attempts at actual moral thought would be extremely helpful, as opposed to the usual prooftexting, which seems to be a productive place for blogthought, typically. i can’t say that there is only one way to think about this morally, but the tremendous pain and violence connected to eating meat is a fairly compelling starting point (as can be seen in the steady stream of documentaries that depict such issues).

    with specific regard to such use of scriptures, i’d just point out that reading d&c 49 as a blanket statement against vegetarianism would seem a historical and theological wresting, to me. these verses are talking about an institution/group (the shakers) that advocated vegetarianism as de facto law (at least among their own). at best, this is a critique of their theological position.

    but i think it’s also fair to read d&c 89 as superseding 49, or at least clarifying some of its ambiguity (namely: how should latter-day saints then deal with meat-eating), just as we view later sections on priesthood (107 vs. 20) or temple ordinances/degrees of glory (137 vs. 76). in that case, we learn from 49 that the institutional proscription of eating meat is wrong, but that saints should in fact refrain from meat eating except in the two instances outlined in 89 (famine, winter).

  29. Rigel Hawthorne
    April 11, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    I’ve always found that part of the WOW about it being pleasing if they are not used only during times of famine or thanksgiving a little confusing. Does that mean that a) the Lord is pleased if we limit their use only to famine or thanksgiving or b) the Lord is pleased if we use them not only for famine or thanksgiving, but other times as well?

    I learned many things living in Japan on my mission about diet so the author’s experience has resonance. I love tofu. I still make dishes with tofu that I learned to cook on the mission. Now my kids love tofu. I can just cut it in cubes, fry it in soy sauce and they are happy. I am pleased that they learn some diversity of food choices in youth that I didn’t learn until my mission. (Now if they could just love sushi). The “mediterranean diet” seems to be the popular thing to advise medically (where meat is served with meals “as a condiment”).

    I am disgusted at what the kids are offered in their school lunches. I think if we, as a nation, are really going to start health care reform, we need to start with increasing the budget to provide healthier school lunches.

    Also, I read a medical studying once comparing health of LDS to health of Adventists (who are typically closer to vegetarianism to LDS) and the study showed that the Adventists had even better health by the measures of the study.

    I find it frustrating as a physician when people, especially young people in their twenties, come back 10 to 20 lbs heavier EVERY visit despite being counselled to limit portions, decrease fat, eliminate sugary beverages and exercise. If I looked at the scale and saw that I had gained 40 pounds in a year, I would be horrified. They are more concerned about problems like their toenail fungus.

    I do want to add that I have seen several people have digestion problems improve when they gave up wheat, so gluten-free bread may have to be the staff of life for them. I also wondered how brown rice is healthier than white rice–when the long-living Japanese won’t touch brown rice.

  30. Mike S
    April 11, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    #25: Glenn

    I agree with D&C 49. I don’t think there is doctrinal basis for making being a vegetarian mandatory Church-wide, which is what this scripture says to me. D&C 89 was given 2 years later, and therefore would supersede it. But even using D&C 89 as a scriptural basis for mandatory vegetarianism would also be wrong. It specifically states that we CAN eat meat, but that we SHOULD only eat it in winter or times of famine.

    The interesting thing to me is how Church members wrest D&C 89 to mean that they want. In general, we completely ignore the fairly black & white admonition to only eat meat in winter or times of famine, yet somehow interpret “hot drinks” to mean “coffee and black tea” to somehow mean “Coke”. We also completely wrest the sacrament prayers, which used wine for thousands of years, to become tee-totalers.

  31. April 12, 2010 at 12:11 am

    loved your post. i recently watched two documentaries, “food inc.” and “king corn”-both give so much fascinating information about how the meat in this country is produced and how it is creating disease and killing us. i dont think i would ever be a total vegetarian, but i am breaking with both my mid-western and mormon meat eating cultural influences and phasing much of it out-being mindful to eat it “sparingly” as the wow states. i have already noticed a positive impact on my overall health.
    i hope all the mormon vegetarians will “come out of the closet”. thanks for your insight.

  32. C
    April 12, 2010 at 12:16 am

    It seems to me that the scriptures support a vegetarian lifestyle, unless someone needs meat to survive and that is why we are told not to forbid it. I’ve been a non-preachy vegetarian for a few years, including during my mission. It always surprises me when other LDS people get upset about it, when it seems like something that should be supported. I think it is because so many LDS, or at least my immediate family, equates it with hippies and democrats and therefore, evil.

  33. C
    April 12, 2010 at 12:21 am

    In case this doesn’t come through, I don’t think hippies or democrats are evil, or that all who oppose a vegetarian lifestyle think that.

  34. Mike S
    April 12, 2010 at 7:24 am

    Does anyone else find it ironic that you can still go to the temple if you completely ignore the meat only in winter or times of famine part of the WofW, yet you will be kept out for drinking the same glass of wine that Christ or Joseph Smith drank, and that for the first 50+ years, they actually drank IN the temple?

  35. Dblock
    April 12, 2010 at 9:30 am

    22

    I’m not suggesting that the obesity issue should be ignored, what I am saying is that it is a much more complicated issue than just eating.

    What I’m saying is this, What I get from reading this post is this: that if you eat a vegetarian diet, your automatically more healthy, to which I say no, you are not.

    And if you want to quote statistics about people needing knee surgery, I know alot of people who are not overweight who have had knee surgery simply because of over use, not because of weight. Particularly those who run, or play certain position on sports teams like catcher, where it places great strain on your knees. So again, how much one weighs really doesn’t have any place in that kind of an argument.

    What I find offensive, for lack of a better word is this, that this post has many overextended facts and of personal opinion disguised as fact as a reason for being a vegetarian. With the emphasis being your wrong and not in keeping with church standards. So, if you were to give this talk in my branch, I would have been offended, not defensive, just because of the tone.

    If someone wants to be a vegetarian, I’m all for it, I don’t actually find it strange. It becomes a problem when you(vegetarians) start judging those of us who choose not to be.

  36. Dave P.
    April 12, 2010 at 9:43 am

    @Mike S

    That’s just one of the many hypocrisies that exists in the church about the Word of Wisdom. I’m still looking for the written revelation wherein the church membership accepted downgrading the Word of Wisdom from a principle with promise to a tenet of the Law of Moses. (The supposed time where Brigham Young announced that the WofW is now a commandment is a myth- he put the people in that meeting under covenant to live it, but it did not apply to the entire church). Also, please note that Heber J. Grant was the one to include the Word of Wisdom in the temple recommend interview. This is the same man who heavily campaigned for passage of the 18th Amendment when he was an Apostle and, after becoming President of the Church, proclaimed that the church was not allowed to sing “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet” for one year after the 18th Amendment’s repeal and Utah was the swing state. Did the Lord have any say in those decisions?

  37. Mike S
    April 12, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I’m not a vegetarian. I don’t care if anyone else is. I also agree that you can be in good or bad shape whether you eat meat or not.

    Regarding the “overextended facts”, however, they are all true. I am a knee surgeon. I also agree that a lot of people who are NOT overweight have had knee surgery. I have operated on thousands of them. Active people tear things – their meniscus, their ACL, many other things. It is a fact of life, just like you said.

    At the same time, the need for knee REPLACEMENT in the US is going up 750% in the next 10 years (which is great for me – good business). And it’s absolutely because of obesity, as proven in multiple studies. The force on the cartilage in a knee is up to 8x body weight with a bent knee. We take hundreds of thousands of steps each year. We are just wearing them out with weight.

    And that’s only knees. The incidence of diabetes is going up significantly in this country because of obesity. The incidence of heart problems and cholesterol and high blood pressure and many other things is absolutely related to weight. There are hundreds of studies showing the association. And the actual cost of these things related to obesity (above and beyond the “normal” baseline incidence of these things in the general population) is nearly $150 BILLION per year in the US.

    So, it makes me frustrated when someone talks about the Lord’s “law of health” to say someone is being unhealthy and not treating their body as a “temple” if they have a glass of wine, when the same person is obese and ignoring the same revelation about meat and other things.

  38. Dblock
    April 12, 2010 at 10:12 am

    As you state, The incidence of heart problems cholesterol and high blood pressure are on the rise, I don’t believe the only correlation is just due to obesity. If that were the case then thin people wouldn’t be plagued by these diseases.

    My last BP was 108/70 and my cholesterol, was normal. All I’m saying is don’t be so quick to judge someone by what they eat because of there size.

    I have a problem with thin people who eat whatever the heck they want to eat, vegetarian or not, and no one seems to care, nor or they put to same scrutiny as some one who is large and doesn’t have any of the problems listed, but gets the full wrath when they attempt to eat something that’s the least bit unhealthy.

  39. Thomas
    April 12, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Mike S — “Same genetics” today vs. 30 years ago? The Hispanic population (disproportionately affected by obesity) has gotten much larger.

    “Designed to be plant eaters?” I note that cows don’t have my incisors, and I don’t have a cow’s multi-chambered stomach.

  40. Mike S
    April 12, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Dblock:

    I don’t know if you’re overweight or not. I don’t know your diet. My arguments say nothing about you as an individual. Medicine involves statistics. There is always going to be someone overweight who has a normal heart, normal labs, no surgeries, etc. There is always going to be a Jim Fixx who is “skinny”, runs, etc. and keels over of a heart attack. Specific individuals do not prove any point.

    In general, however, I will still maintain that obesity is a “growing” problem (sorry, couldn’t resist).
    - Arthritis: already pointed out above

    - Diabetes: 85% of diabetics are type 2 (meaning their body DOES produce insulin, just not enough) and of these 90% are obese. Note: not everyone with diabetes is obese, and not everyone obese has diabetes, but there is a very strong correlation. Diabetes then leads to many, many other problems. In Utah, Larry Miller basically died from complications of diabetes brought on my obesity.

    - High blood pressure: There is a linear relationship between obesity and high blood pressure. In US men, 75% of the cases of high blood pressure are directly attributable to obesity. Again, not all obese people have high blood pressure, and not everyone with high blood pressure is obese, but there is a correlation there as well.

    - Heart disease: From the American Heart Association: “Obesity is now recognized as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attack.” Once again, not everyone who has a heart attack is obese (ie. Jim Fixx), but there is a very strong correlation.

    There are cancers, strokes, etc. all directly related to obesity.

    Now, granted, there are some people and some cultures who are genetically “bigger”. At the same time, our obesity rates in the US have skyrocketed over the past 30-40 years, and it is NOT due to a different gene pool. We have the same genetics as our parents and our grandparents. It is due to diet and lifestyle changes.

    Getting back to the Word of Wisdom – it’s really a code of obedience or a way to distinguish Mormons once polygamy was gone. All the early leaders of the Church (and members) drank wine and beer – although they avoided the “strong drink” prohibited which in 19th century context was liquor. Christ drank wine. The sacrament was instituted with wine. The Nephites drank wine.

    If the WofW was primarily a code of health, we couldn’t hear talks about “not a drop” as a glass of wine each day is actually healthy. We would actually hear talks about the elephant in the room that no one like to talk about out of fear for offending someone – obesity. If we treated the WofW as primarily a “health code” we would do what it actually says, and which is backed up by modern medicine: avoid liquor, avoid tobacco, wine and beer in moderation are ok, eat very little meat and only when needed, have a primarily (but not exclusively) fruit and vegetable diet, etc. We would be a healthier people. We would be following the WofW as revealed to Joseph Smith.

  41. Thomas
    April 12, 2010 at 11:21 am

    “Getting back to the Word of Wisdom – it’s really a code of obedience or a way to distinguish Mormons once polygamy was gone.”

    Yes. Mormon kosher.

    I would add that if the WofW was primarily a code of health, a more timely piece of advice to the early Saints would have been 1 Timothy 5:23 — “DON’T DRINK THE WATER!!!” The great majority of pioneers who died on the plains didn’t perish dramatically in Martin’s Cove-style blizzards, but rather died ingloriously from cholera, diarrhea and dystentery.

    Ironically, the Chinese building the first transcontinental railroad didn’t have that problem. Because they drank…tea. For which you have to boil your water.

  42. Mike S
    April 12, 2010 at 11:24 am

    #39: Thomas

    I agree that there are certain subpopulations that tend to be more obese, but studies also show that this is largely nutritional and lifestyle. Immigrants from Hispanic or Asian populations tend to maintain the same body habitus that they had in their native country. The second and third generations, however, tend to mirror the US population (again, with the same genetics as THEIR parents) and are at a much higher risk of being obese.

    Examples:
    “Asian-American and Hispanic adolescents born in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to be obese as are first generation residents of the 50 states.” – Journal of Nutrition, funded by National Institute of Health

    “A prospective study of greater than 12,000 Japanese men 45-69 y old and living in Japan, Hawaii, and California was initiated. Among the factors measured were height, weight, skinfold thicknesses, and 24- h dietary recall. The mean body mass index (BMI) was substantially lower for Japanese men in Japan than for Japanese men in California or Hawaii for each 5-y age group. Mean BMIs in Hawaii and California were similar. Values for subscapular skinfold thickness were also lower in Japan than in Hawaii or California in all age groups. Although total caloric intake was not greatly different between Japan and Hawaii, the percent caloric intake as fat was two times greater in Hawaii. Thus, these largely first- and second-generation immigrants exhibit increases in body weight that could be expected to significantly affect cardiovascular risk factor levels and endpoints. ”

    “…Conclusions. Generational status is associated with increased BMI and obesity among Latinos and Asian Americans” – American Journal of Public Health

  43. Dblock
    April 12, 2010 at 11:27 am

    I don’t think anyone is offended by talking about obesity. I think its’ all about the tone of the conversation.

    When the tone starts to covey messages of disgust, yes people will get offended. All that I have been saying is that people shouldn’t judge someone based on what they eat, or how they look

    I’m overweight because of a condition called ITP, I was left on steroids, for months which destroyed the function of my thyroid, My weight gain would have occurred weather I was a vegetarian, or not.

    if you want to tell me that your a vegetarian because you don’t believe in the destruction of animals, I can respect that. I even find it admirable.

    Its’ offensive to me when people try to make others feel less than because they don’t want to follow the same path (i.e) vegetarian and then try to say they are not following church standards. That’s simply not true.

    let me relate another similar standard with in the WOW. I know many people particularly sisters who do alot of baking will not use extracts of any kind because they contain alcohol. This to me is in the extreme and does follow the woW standards at all. This is why I find some parts of this post offensive, because it is trying to say that if you don’t believe and practice the WoW to the same extreme that I do, your not a worthy member

  44. Chris
    April 12, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Although I respect your desire to be a vegetarian, I also think there is medical benefit in eating small amounts of fish, children, and even red meat occasionally. Even the resurrected Savior ate fish when he returned to earth and met with his disciples. The omega oils in fish are very healing and helpful. I’m not so sure that eating meat is a problem–that that eating too much meat can be harmful.

    One advantage to reducing our meat consumption is ecological. Since cows and sheep consume huge amounts of grain, if the people throughout the world restricted their meat eating, we would have enough grain to feed all the starving people in the world.

  45. Rigel Hawthorne
    April 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I see where you get the benefits of eating fish and red meat. But I’ve never heard of a benefit to eating children.

  46. Mike S
    April 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    #44 chris

    I agree with you completely. And it in fact goes along with what JS said when he counseled us to eat meat sparingly.

  47. E
    April 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    There is nothing about eating children in the WoW.

  48. el oso
    April 12, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Dblock (and others): One thing that the OP and several others are implying but have not yet explicitly stated is in the WoW but earlier than any mention of food, etc. The WoW is given “In consequence of evils and DESIGNS that can and WILL exist…”
    Some things mentioned in the WoW are good/evil, but some are merely good design/poor design. The lack of TR enforcement of sparing consumption of meat and junk food leads me to believe this is more on the poor design(or practice) and not in any way evil. Eating for example, fast food is not evil, but doing so all the time is clearly a poor health practice, because these foods are not designed to be healthy.

    As for the “will exist” there is an implication that the utility of the WoW would change with time. Thus, in pioneer times, drinking tea or coffee would be more healthy than the bad water that was available. In our day clean water is available to most members and the addicting drugs are a bigger concern. The same is true for alcoholic beverages. Mild intoxication was less dangerous to society in the horse and buggy days, now it is a grave concern with the cars and other power equipment most people operate. Pres. Grant’s prophetic updating of the application of the WoW was for our time.

  49. Brett Wilcox
    April 13, 2010 at 7:04 am

    As the author of this essay, I initially had no intention of making further comments, primarily because I have little stomach for what can often turn into heated emotional response. As a thin man, I realize full well that even mentioning food choices and obesity is a sensitive subject. Some people feel judged in the process. It would be disingenuous to suggest I am not judging. We as a people are fairly good at judging. Our religion constantly emphasizes good verses evil, good, better, best, telestial, terrestrial, celestial, choose the right, republican, democrat, socialist, communist, moral, immoral, etc. Our missionaries proselyte because we believe we possess truth—clearly a judgment. So when it comes to food choices, yes, I judge. Every time I select something to eat, I make a judgment. Over the course of the day, I make several judgments. Those days add up to tens of thousands of judgments. Most of us make judgments when we see someone smoking. Most of us teach our children that smoking is bad. I would guess that when yet another smoker dies of lung cancer, most of us mourn because we are fairly certain the loss was a result of one poor choice repeated a million times. Perhaps I misjudge in individual cases. Perhaps one of those smokers might have contracted lung cancer anyway. And perhaps I misjudge in individual cases when it comes to obesity. But my research on this topic makes it abundantly clear that food choices are directly related to our health, and yes, all else being equal, thin is healthier than obesity.

    Rigel Hawthorne (comment # 29) wrote, “Also, I read a medical studying once comparing health of LDS to health of Adventists (who are typically closer to vegetarianism to LDS) and the study showed that the Adventists had even better health by the measures of the study.”

    I remember reading that same study with great frustration. How is it, I wondered, how we can possess the Word of Wisdom, yet have its meaning veiled from our minds? How is it that with the tons of epidemiological research available to us, we continue to justify our unhealthy choices? Why is it that so many of us opt for invasive medical solutions when changing our diets would produce the desired outcome without all the nasty side effects? But I am not by nature one to persuade, debate, or argue. In fact when people ask me why I’m vegetarian, I usually respond with, “Because I feel healthier,” and leave it at that.

    I have to chuckle a bit when people mock me for the huge salad on my plate. They should thank me. My food choices result in lower medical bills. And in this society that means they pay less for my choices and I pay more for their choices.

    Inasmuch as I am touting a vegetarian diet, I feel I best be totally transparent here. Strictly speaking, I am an ovo-pescatarian. Although my diet is largely whole food plant based, I do eat a few eggs and I catch and eat wild Alaskan seafood–mostly salmon. Two or three times a year, I eat wild game when I’m a guest in other people’s homes. I’m not really sure whether I “should” eat the eggs, the seafood, and wild game, but I do. They probably make up 2 to 5% of my diet.

    Now a few comments on the comments:

    Bbell wrote (4): “I consider this a gospel hobby.”

    Agreed. Apparently it’s a hobby that God is into as well, so I’m in good company.

    Dblock wrote (5): “Just because someone preaches something from the gospel, doesn’t make it true, That’s why when someone say’s something you need to read and investigate on your own to make sure what they are saying is correct and accurate.”

    Agreed.

    E wrote (6): “The healthiest populations on earth, with the longest life spans, tend to eat more plants but they are generally not vegetarians.”

    Agreed. Wouldn’t it be great if Mormons were included in the studies of the world’s healthiest populations?

    Serena Potter wrote (9): “I did ask every time I saw a doctor – is there some way I should be changing my diet? The answer was always, eat healthy, but they never told me what that meant. Finally after eight years of being in bed all but two or three hours a day, I went to a nutritionist who put me on a raw vegan diet.”

    My mother nearly died before getting heart surgery. After the surgery, she asked the doc if her diet had anything to do with her blocked arteries. He said, “Nope. It’s genetic. Nothing you could have done.” I was furious. Doctors are gods in our society. He could have used his status as an expert to change the behavior that produced the blocked passages, rather than cut open my mother.

    CatherineWO wrote (10): “You are a brave soul.”

    Thanks but I see myself as anything but brave.

    “I have found it almost impossible to talk to others about my diet without coming across as judgmental, so I don’t talk about it unless asked, and even then, reluctantly. Food is an emotional subject for all of us. . .”

    VERY EMOTIONAL!

    Anna wrote (17): “I have become a vegetarian and am transitioning to a vegan due to the horrors of the factory farming industry.”

    Our religion is so closely tied to the Adam/Eve/Garden of Eden stewardship concept, I’m baffled why we are not known for our advocacy for the earth, environment, and animal health. Good job!!

    Greg wrote (20): “What a great post! And of course the lead-in had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Thanks for providing additional inspiration. Especially when considering the state of the American food industry in the Food Inc Video”

    Thanks! And thanks for the tip on the Food Inc. video. I’ve got it on hold at the local library. Can’t wait to watch it.

    Bored in Vernal wrote (21): “While a teenager, my daughter was rebuked by her Seminary Teacher several times for “disobeying” the WoW by following a vegetarian regime.”

    Unfortunately, not an isolated experience.

    “Just as important, we shouldn’t judge others’ body shapes or poor health as there are sometimes other reasons than diet causing these conditions.”

    Agreed. But neither should we be unwilling to learn from other’s mistakes or we’ll be more likely to repeat them. I am committed to keeping myself off the operating table.

    My sincere thanks to Mike S for your eloquent and rational responses. I really wish I had the M.D. after my name. But from what you’re saying, people don’t listen to you any more than they listen to me. You’re a doc and I’m a substance abuse counselor. We’d both have far less work if the WoW were followed more closely.

    Glenn Smith wrote (25): “And I would appreciate your comments how you reconcile D&C 49:18,19

    18 And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;
    19 For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.”

    My choices are not based on one scripture alone. If they were, I might have to slay my kids for taking part in school activities on the Sabbath. The scripture you quote is confusing at best. When I read verse 18 closely it says, “For those of you who say you can’t abstain from meats, you’re not ordained of God.”

    Rigel Hawthorne wrote (29): “I am disgusted at what the kids are offered in their school lunches. I think if we, as a nation, are really going to start health care reform, we need to start with increasing the budget to provide healthier school lunches.”

    Home lunches for our kids.

    “I find it frustrating as a physician when people, especially young people in their twenties, come back 10 to 20 lbs heavier EVERY visit despite being counseled to limit portions, decrease fat, eliminate sugary beverages and exercise. If I looked at the scale and saw that I had gained 40 pounds in a year, I would be horrified. They are more concerned about problems like their toenail fungus.”

    Frustrating indeed!!

    El Oso (48) wrote: “Mild intoxication was less dangerous to society in the horse and buggy days, now it is a grave concern with the cars and other power equipment most people operate.”

    Fascinating! I’ve never considered that.

    In conclusion, I’ll cite the final verses of the Word of Wisdom.

    “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.”

    I understand that there are exceptions to the rule. Some people will suffer health problems regardless of their food choices. But overall, I believe the promise holds true. Healthy choices yield healthy results. That’s why I live the way I do. I run. I walk. I bike. I hike. I play racquetball. And I try to eat well. I am truly sorry if I come across as smug or self righteous or judgmental. I enjoy being healthy and nothing makes me happier than seeing others’ health increase as they make better choices.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments! I appreciate all the discussion!

  50. Mike S
    April 13, 2010 at 8:16 am

    #44 Chris

    As mentioned, I agree that eating meat sparingly likely has some benefit, and even the author of the OP mentioned that he will also occasionally eat meat. An interesting thing to me is how we rationalize away the “eat meat sparingly” part of the WofW to a large degree in the Church, yet get so crazy about something like wine or beer with the “not a drop” talks we hear.

    Rewriting your post #44:

    “Although I respect your desire to be a teetotaler, I also think there is medical benefit in drinking small amounts of wine and beer occasionally. Even the Savior drank wine when he was on the earth and met with his disciples. The resveratrol and alcohol in wine are very healing and helpful. I’m not so sure that drinking wine is a problem–that that drinking too much wine can be harmful.”

    I wonder how this would go over in a temple recommend interview. It uses the exact same logic that the Church as a whole generally uses to ignore the meat part of the WofW.

  51. April Shirley
    April 13, 2010 at 8:36 am

    A year and a half ago my husband and I read Dr. Fuhrman’s books on Eat To Live and Fasting For Life. We changed our diet to a plant based diet. Then we read The China Study by Campbell and another book on Plant based diets by McDougall. All of these books said the same basic thing, Plant based diets make you healthy and extend your life, animal based diets cause disease. Since we began our plant based diets neither of us has been sick with the common cold or flu or anything else for a year and a half. I have not had one migraine for the entire time. I have been plagued with weekly migraines for 40 years, no more migraines. such a simple change that none of my Doctors ever suggested. Weight loss is a added bonus. I want to be healthy and live a high quality of life until I die. We reviewed the Word of Wisdom and I believe that it truly states it pleases God if we do not eat meat, except in time of famine or cold. I think it is very clear. But for most people change is very hard and we are very stubborn human beings we like the status quo. Don’t ask us to change it is too hard. What would the Saints do if the Prophet said no more coke? For myself and my husband we have put it to the test and have found a plant based diet makes you feel good and keeps you healthy.

  52. James
    April 14, 2010 at 2:33 am

    Sorry if this has been mentioned.

    But the church has one of the largest cattle holdings in the states.

    It would put them in an awkward position to start pushing these unforgotten verses- they would look hypocritical!!!!

  53. James
    April 14, 2010 at 2:54 am

    The LDS hurch owns 928,000 acres in North America, is the largest ranch land owner in Wyoming, is the 2nd largest land owner in Nebraska (Ted Turner #1), has the largest cattle ranch in 48 states (Adjacent to Disneyworld in Florida), and is rumored to be the largest single producer of commercial beef in the USA .

    Sorry should have posted this earlier

  54. bbell
    April 14, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Brad,

    I think this data point should be very enlightening

    http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=10378579

    I really doubt that many of these people were veg’s at all.

    I do really think you have a gospel hobby and lots of times they end badly.

  55. Mike S
    April 14, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I read that yesterday, but I think we need to be careful about all of the qualifiers that he put in it. To quote from the article:

    “Professors James Enstrom and Lester Breslow found that members who don’t smoke, attend church weekly, have 12 years of education and are married had the lowest total death rates and the longest life expectancies ever documented.”

    Note that they did NOT say ALL Church members were included, but Church members who didn’t smoke, are well-educated, are married, etc. They then compared it to the national average, all comers included. There are numerous other studies that show not smoking extends your lifetime. There are studies that correlate health with being highly educated. There are studies that show the healthy benefits of being in a marriage, particularly for men. There are also studies that correlate regular church attendance with an increased lifespan (and not just LDS folks in the majority of studies, but ANY church).

    It would be interesting to actually make the study mean something and control for these. Instead of comparing to the general US average, they should select out a group of non-LDS people who don’t smoke, who attend church weekly, who have 12 years of education and who are married. If they showed a difference there, then I would think there was something to talk about.

    Granted, the majority of people in this particular study were likely NOT vegetarian, but you’re comparing apples and oranges. It doesn’t really mean much in the context of this post. I could quote you studies that show vegetarians have similar increases in lifespan.

  56. Brett Wilcox
    April 14, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    In Sardinia, Italy, one team of demographers found a hot spot of longevity in mountain villages where men reach age 100 at an amazing rate. On the islands of Okinawa, Japan, another team examined a group that is among the longest lived on Earth. And in Loma Linda, California, researchers studied a group of Seventh-day Adventists who rank among America’s longevity all-stars. Residents of these three places produce a high rate of centenarians, suffer a fraction of the diseases that commonly kill people in other parts of the developed world, and enjoy more healthy years of life. In sum, they offer three sets of “best practices” to emulate. Dietary trends in these populations are predominantly plant-based, (National Geographic, November 2005)

    Fellow hobbyists:

    Brigham Young: “It is an unusual circumstance to see a man a hundred years old, or a woman ninety. The people have laid the foundation of short life through their diet.”

    Gordon B. Hinckley: “I regret that we as a people do not live [the Word of Wisdom] more fully.”

    David O. McKay: “Too many members move along the lines of least resistance and yield to a craving appetite developed by disobedience to the Word of Wisdom of God, thus depriving themselves of spiritual as well as physical strength … Neither the Church nor the world at large can hear too much about the Word of Wisdom.”

    John A Widstoe: “It was shown in the history of plant science that plants contain all the necessary food substances: proteins, fats, starches and the carbohydrates, minerals …water [and] vitamins. The Great builder of the earth provided well for the physical needs of His children. Countless varieties of edible plants, vegetables, cereals, fruits and nuts are yielded by Mother Nature for man’s daily food. If one uses meat it must be used sparingly and in winter or famine only…. They who wish to be well and gain the promised reward stated in the Word of Wisdom must obey all of the law, not just part of it as suits their whim or their appetite, or their notion of its meaning.”

    Ezra Taft Benson: “To a significant degree, we are an overfed and undernourished nation digging an early grave with our teeth, and lacking the energy that could be ours … We need a generation of young people who, as Daniel, eat in a more healthy manner than to fare on the ‘kings meat’ and whose countenances show it.”

  57. Dblock
    April 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    I just got out of the hospital because of a flare of with my bleeding disorder that I mentioned earlier. I have to have more gamma goblin and 60 mg of prednisone for the next few months to get my counts back up to where they need to be. I complained because of the weight gain, especially since I’ve just recently lost 40 pounds. My hematologist told me that I have two choices, I can be over weight and be healthy and alive or I can bleed to death. I think I win the argument!

  58. Brett Wilcox
    April 24, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Dblock,
    I hope you get feeling better!

  59. Mike S
    April 24, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    That’s a bummer. Best of luck with your treatment.

  60. Tiffany
    April 27, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Great article and the discussion is fabulous. My husband and I became flexitarians this past fall after really looking into how animals are treated. Then I found an article about the WoW and was sold (after studying for myself). We just came to a point where we realized that HF loved all his creations and we didn’t want to take part in cruelty that most animals that are mass farmed and produced are faced with. We do eat meat when we are at friend’s houses (we live in Texas and meat is the main and sometimes only course), but don’t cook it at home.

    We live in a pretty liberal city and there are a few other couples in our ward that are vegetarian or flexitarian, but we still get weird comments from others some times. We love the change it has made in our lives (i.e. health, environmental, spiritual, etc.). So thanks so much for talking about this subject, I love to hear everyone else’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

  61. April 27, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Thanks for your article. I linked it for others to enjoy. I am always surprised that I am such an oddity for being a flexitarian; but I am so happy to watch others see good examples, read and learn for themselves, desire to improve, and begin to change. For me, that is what it is all about. I love how I feel when I better follow the Word of Wisdom, but know I can’t make anyone else want to. I always remind myself you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar and that is my approach.

  62. April 28, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    My husband and I have been vegan for 10 weeks – we are following the Eat to Live book. We have done this purely for health reasons (and in the process we have lost 75 lbs and dropped our cholesterol dramatically) but I am starting to do this for moral reasons now. I am much more aware of the cruelty to animals and the blessings of the WoW now that I am living the WoW. I never want to go back.

    Brett – I completely agree with your post. Most of my church friends know what I am doing because I blog about it, and they are supportive, but I have a SIL who lectured me on the perils of feeding my children this way. I have yet to mention it at church, but I might have to follow your example and do so.

  63. April 28, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I am 67 years old and have been on the nutrient rich “Eat to Live” vegan diet for 4 weeks for health reasons. In this 4 week period my LDL cholesterol dropped from 188 to 164, & HDL increased from 34 to 47! I have lost 18#.
    For the last 4 years I have been on serious pain meds round the clock for failed back surgery and for painful osteo arthritis in all my joints, especially fingers and knees, but now I have NO MORE PAIN! I haven’t needed so much as a tylenol for the past 3 weeks. Amazing.

    As for those with concerns about getting adequate protein w/out meats & dairy, there is MORE protein in 100 calories of spinach than in 100 calories of steak.
    And, I am saving $ not only by eliminating animal products, but by eliminating all junk foods.

    Good article, Brett, and interesting comments by readers. We love our food, and are quick to defend our choices, aren’t we.

  64. May 3, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Oh I am so thrilled to have found this post to read. I am currently a Lacto-Ovo vegeterian (working my way to the Vegan realm). My hubby? Meat & Meat & Potatoes
    When I tell people I don’t eat meat they try telling me how silly I am for such a ridiculous choice. When it’s LDS people who try to disuade me from my choice it sounds a bit foolish to me. After all we stand up for as members of the church, do they really think my mental muscles aren’t strong enough to stand up to them for my food choices? Oh silly Mormons:)

  65. May 4, 2010 at 1:00 am

    :-),

  66. May 6, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I relate to your story. I have spent some years vegan, vegetarian, and as a carnivore. At different times of my life, I’ve needed different food compositions. Reading and educating ourselves on sustainable, healthy eating is not about telling others what to do, but about making choices from awareness. The word of wisdom, to me, is about bringing our bodies into healthiest alignment and treating them as the amazing structures that they are. When we live in health, we are better able to live spiritually. We are told in the temple that we are to care for the earth. One cannot care for the earth or have “righteous dominion” over it and eat a diet heavy in meat.

    People often will feel attacked whenever someone questions their traditions or ingrained lifestyle. It’s sad to me that we can’t open our minds up enough to entertain thoughts from every side. Sadly, even healthy eating becomes politicized and people suffer because of it.

  67. Doug T
    May 6, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Food is the last vice church members can still have. Sex, drugs, gambling are no nos so what else is there to stop the pain? Besides, when I die I get a perfect body so who cares what I do to my body in this life…perfection is on the way and the sooner I kill myself through thoughtless eating, the better.

  68. Mormomnivore
    May 9, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Though I am not a vegetarian and do not agree with the idea of preaching from the pulpit that vegetarianism is the Lord’s ideal (on which, more below), I do believe we as a people would fare far healthier on a flexatarian, mostly plant-based diet. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition: either the standard American diet or pure vegetarianism. Rather, we can and should eat meat in small amounts, when it is appropriate and healthy to do so as outlined in D&C 89:12-13.

    Several mentions have been made of D&C 49, and indeed it is often brought up in *lively* Church discussions about whether vegetarianism is supported by modern revelation. The header for this section explains a little about the history surrounding it–that a former Shaker had joined the Church but continued to cling to many Shaker doctrines, including complete abstention from meat. Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord, and received the revelation that such abstention–and specifically preaching to others that such abstention was necessary–was not ordained of God. (Verse 21 sends a very clear message of condemnation upon those who needlessly waste the flesh of animals; personally, I’d say it’s equally wasteful whether one is hunting purely for sport, or whether one has allowed a forgotten pack of chicken to rot in the bottom of one’s fridge.)

    As an individual member of the Church who seeks to live the Word of Wisdom more fully in everyday life, you are certainly free to embrace a plant-based diet, especially if you find that it improves your health and well-being. The purpose of Section 89 is to teach us as individuals to care for our physical bodies, to respect them as gifts from God and as physical temples to house our spirits. However, the moment any individual member begins preaching over the pulpit to other members that his or her personal choice was precisely what God intended and that they should do likewise, in my opinion a line has been crossed.

  69. November 7, 2011 at 7:05 am

    This article really makes me happy. I’m an LDS Vegan and it’s so hard to find other people who are on the same page. Your line of reasoning is pretty much identical to mine, and I think you were extremely brave for sharing your beliefs with your ward like that.

    • Kaylene Peters
      July 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm

      Maybe we should start sn Lds vegan group

  70. November 22, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Love this…as the only raw vegan Mormon in the area that I know of it is quite the fun and exciting journey. :) Thanks for sharing your story!

  71. January 27, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    I really appreciate this well thought-out article and your point of view. Recently, I have finally had ears to hear the truth of factory farming and just how un-Christian the meat industry is toward animals…and the emotional and intelligent state of animals who have to endure such practices. I have loved learning more about the Word of Wisdom and felt “called” to become a vegetarian. As I’ve read more, I am astounded by how many Mormons actually feel, like the men you describe, that being vegetarian is against the gospel basically. I find it hypocritical that people can try and use the Word of Wisdom to defend this wrong belief, while in the same breathe they are disobeying the W of W by NOT eating meat sparingly…in times of winter, cold or famine. Being so new to these realizations, I find myself having to temper my strong feelings and passion so as not to freak people out, but am overwhelmed with gratitude that Heavenly Father has led me to finally be who He knew I could be.

    • Kaylene Peters
      July 29, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      Anyone know a recipe for living foods vegsn sacrament bread. How could Paul be right when God told Jesus to share getting back on tract with a clean balanced produce diet?

  72. Alanna
    March 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Thank you for writing this! I’ve been searching for a well written discussion on being a Mormon plant eater. :)

  73. Kaylene Peters
    July 29, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Hi I’m vegan and a new Mormon, and troubleshooting how to help my brethren.

    • gigi
      February 15, 2014 at 11:24 am

      As a long time vegan and an active Mormon member all my life, a big lesson I have learned is to ‘keep this to myself’. I am 43 years old and one of the healthiest women I know. I compete in figure and body competitions with other vegans and it is in this I have found my support group. I have been shunned b/c of this among many Mormon women, but realize it is my journey not theirs. The book ‘The China Study’ pretty much sums it up if you ever feel the need to share this beyond yourself.
      Continue on your spiritual journey. The path in the church is good, and can be filled with wonderful experiences. Keep this one to yourself though. Just my 2 cents!

      • Kaylene Peters
        February 15, 2014 at 6:47 pm

        Thanks, I hope to rejoin a place like Planet Fitness, but I think I’m too shy to compete.

  74. Reed
    January 4, 2014 at 7:20 am

    Thanks for the article and your testimony. My family has become “borderline vegan” for many of the same reasons that you share. When extended family, friends, and ward members discover this it is usually met with mockery or even hostility. It seems that LDS tradition and culture has become far more important to many church members than sound doctrine or following the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Here is a link to an article that my wife and I wrote to help our family and friends accept our eating habits. http://ldsvegan.webs.com/ I hope it helps others in the same boat.

    • Kaylene Peters
      February 15, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Thanks I’ll check that out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *