My Days as a Mormon Vegetarian

Fourteen days. That's how long I was a vegetarian. It was part of a longer thirty-day cleanse. But I'll admit that the writings of individuals like Dr. Joel Fuhrman had convinced me that maybe it would be best to leave off the animal products permanently. There were also those undeniable words in D&C 89 "And it is pleasing unto me that they [animal flesh] should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine." The words of so many interpretations of this passage redounded in my ears, forcing me to question whether or not I was being a truly faithful Latter-day Saint.

I experienced some unintended consequences of my short-term vegetarianism. Maybe not so unpredictably, during those two weeks, I was hungry all the time. The only thing I could think about was food. I lost weight and my skin had gone from Telestial to Terrestrial in its glow, but I was cold all the time and it was the middle of summer. However, the greatest unanticipated change was in my attitude. Forget that only a week before I had probably chomped down on a bacon cheeseburger...I was certain during this short stint that I was superior to my flesh-eating fellows. I was so much more holy and undeceived. I had finally achieved what so many were insisting the Word of Wisdom meant. But were they right? I Wonder.

There is a story about Joseph Smith that occurred in Nauvoo at about the time the Temperance movement met the Mormon Word of Wisdom audience. It was becoming very "scientific" and socially upstanding in the nation at large to condemn the use of alcoholic spirits. But the Saints were still in transition. The Word of Wisdom had been issued by invitation, and it had the effect of making the bulk of them more moderate and prudent in their use of fermented or distilled beverages. That is when, at a meeting of the Saints, someone got up to give a talk advocating "temperance in the extreme." The Prophet's reaction has been described this way:

Joseph sought to avoid needless dissension among the Saints by urging moderation and charity. It would appear that some Mormons had been influenced by the fanaticism that characterized sermons of some of the radical temperance reformers, and tended to be intolerant of those with professed Word of Wisdom weaknesses. The Prophet, recognizing that the revelation must be seen in perspective with the other matters and doctrines...urged them to be slow to judge or condemn others... [He reproved] the speaker as Pharisaical and hypocritical.
— Paul H. Peterson, "A Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom", BYU Masters Thesis, 1972

The Pharisees were infamous for latching onto the letter of the law and turning it into a false god with an impetus all its own and that would evolve and sprawl so preeminently that the spirit of the law inevitably got smothered. I am afraid that I was on my way to becoming a Word of Wisdom Pharisee. 

There are things I wish I had known at that point in my life:    1) That at the time the WoW was given, the people, especially on the frontier, were eating a LOT of meat because crops took time to grow and conditions made their fruition unpredictable. Fowl and game were easy to obtain and plentiful. The Saints had been driven from place to place, not always having the opportunity to enjoy their ripened grain, vegetables or fruit. I have heard it estimated that folks on the frontier ate up to 7 pounds of meat per person per day. And, like Lehi's family in the wilderness who were provided raw meat to eat along the hardest parts of their journey, frontier carnivorosity may have been a product of necessity. But when we talk about eating flesh "sparingly" it helps to keep the historical context in mind to provide perspective.     2) I wish I had know that the word "sparingly" means "with care, conservation, diligence, industry, thrift and avoidance of waste." We sometimes seem to adopt only a fraction of that full meaning - the "conservation" part. Or perhaps instead of "avoidance of waste" we see it as a call for avoidance, period.     3) Lastly, I wish someone had pointed out to me the companion revelation in D&C 59:20 that talks about not only the use of animals but of all the earth's resources:

And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.

Extortion = being "wrenched out by force, intimidation or undue power;" it shares the same root meaning as the word "torture"

When we consider the food we eat, I wonder if we can better keep the spirit of the law by being mindful of whether plant or animal was raised responsibly and with wisdom - and not with the object being to extort in order to solely get gain. If someone other than ourselves had a hand in producing our food, does that diminish our personal responsibility for the effects of it's production? I wonder. Humanely raised meat has shown to be far superior in nutrition to the poor tortured flesh that is so cheaply abundant in the supermarket. And crops that are raised on bio-diverse, non-depleted, non-chemically doused soil seems, to me, to be more in harmony with man's stewardship to care for the earth rather than the wrenching out of it the vast mono-crops that deplete the earth and only thrive by the grace of petrochemical fertilization and weed-killer. 

No plant can contain elements that were not in the soil upon which it was grown. And no human body can receive natural minerals unless they are in the foods eaten...The health of humans depends upon the farmers who grow the foods and the cooks who prepare it - not on the doctors who try to cure the many diseases which are caused by faulty nutrition.
— John A. and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, pg. 123

These are some of the things I have learned so far. My "note to self" is to try and follow Joseph Smith's example before I succumb to the temptation to become Pharisaical and hypocritical in my pronouncements on the Word of Wisdom. Like Elder Bruce R. McConkie put it: "The Word of Wisdom is not the gospel and the gospel is not the Word of Wisdom." It isn't that which goeth into the mouth that defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth that defileth him (Matthew 15:11).

What say ye?