Does the Word of Wisdom Require Vegetarianism?

Early on in this journey I promised that I would discuss the LDS Word of Wisdom in the context of vegetarianism.  Many people know that Latter-day Saints (Mormons) don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol, or use tobacco. These prohibitions come from what is known as the Word of Wisdom, which can be found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 89.  What many people don’t know is that the Word of Wisdom contains a lot more than abstinence from coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco.

Verses 12 and 13 of Section 89 hint that vegetarianism is preferred by God, and can even be read to require abstinence from meat:

12. Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man, nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

13.  And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter or or cold, or of famine.

Taking Verse 13 literally, one might conclude that the Lord is NOT pleased if meat is eaten frequently (not “sparingly”) or at times other than winter, cold or famine. How many of us, the reasoning goes, are subject to famine or really suffer from the cold? Therefore, it seems that the Word of Wisdom prohibits meat consumption except in these rare circumstances.

Such was the thesis used by a teacher in church once a few years ago. He is a former stake and mission president and has medical training. He is also a dedicated vegetarian. He used these verses and scientific research that shows that meat consumption is linked to nine of the top ten causes of death in the United States. These include heart disease, some cancers, high cholesterol and others (the other of the top 10 causes is accidental death, which can’t be blamed on meat). While he didn’t come right out and say it, his point was clear: You’re not keeping the Word of Wisdom if you eat meat.

I disagree. First, saying the Lord is “pleased” if you do something is not the same as a prohibition against the opposite. God knows how to give commandments, as in “Thou shalt not …..” It doesn’t even mean the Lord is displeased if we don’t do something. I’m pleased when Nancy makes my favorite dinner. That doesn’t mean I’m displeased with everything else she cooks.

Secondly, other verses in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 49, verses 18 and 19, seem to clear up the issue:

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 an abundance.

It seems to me that while the Word of Wisdom counsels eating meat sparingly, a practice that medical science is now promoting, it does not require one to become a vegetarian. So all you carnivores, go ahead and indulge without fear of spiritual retribution.

By the way, if you’re interested in the historical context of the Word of Wisdom, you can find it here.

Meatless August

Broccoli crepes

Our youngest daughter, Leah, is always on the lookout for ways to eat healthier. A couple of days ago she issued a challenge to the rest of the family to join her in going meatless for the month of August. I’ve been aware of the health risks associated with eating too much meat, especially red meat, and have half-heartedly tried on several occasions to cut down or eliminate meat. Each time I’ve given in after a few days because….. Well because I just love a juicy steak or burger, fried chicken, and bacon. Especially bacon, the divine swine.

But I keep hearing anecdotal evidence that vegetarianism is not only healthier but makes you feel better, too. So with Leah’s challenge as motivation I’ve decided to give it a try. I’ve also decided to put this out here for all seven of my followers to see, hoping that the fear of public failure will kick my butt into following through.

First, some definitions. There are lots of ways of describing what a vegetarian is. For my purposes, it means no meat of any kind, including fish, but it allows eggs and dairy products. This is sometimes called ovo-lacto vegetarianism. One who avoids eggs and dairy is sometimes called a vegan. Vegans avoid any animal product, such as eggs, milk, butter and even honey. Purists may disagree with my definitions but that’s what I’m calling it.

I’m not doing this as any kind of protest against the meat industry. I’m not a religious nut (in a later post I’ll talk about the LDS Word of Wisdom as it applies to meat). I’m not a zealot about the global warming effects of meat consumption. I am interested in ways to improve my health so that I live longer. However I don’t want to take all the pleasure out of life and, as I noted, I love meat! I’m just conducting an experiment.

Veggie sandwich: tomato, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, cilantro, mayo, mustard

So for August I’ll post daily, I hope, about what I ate, how I feel and share some recipes that I found especially good. For today, here are a few website about the health risks associated with meat consumption.

W.H.O reports meat linked to increased cancer risk

CNN says that each daily serving of meat can increase risk of dying

National Institutes for Health refer to studies showing that red meat consumption increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

I should note that none of these advocate complete abstinence from meat. I’m just trying to go cold turkey (pun intended).