Emma Smith is thought of as the catalyst that brought about the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom when she questioned whether or not the tobacco mess she had to scrub from the floor of the room which housed the School of the Prophets was a by-product of a worthy habit. When we talk about understanding the context in which the WofW was given, she is a pretty decent witness. So...what if she were to take a look at the things in your refrigerator, your cupboards and your pantry? Would she recognize any of it as food?
“Pasteurized and homogenized?” I can hear her read off of your milk carton. Pasteurization of milk came to America almost a hundred years after the WofW was given, although homogenization began slightly sooner. Though convenient for both producer and consumer, these processes turned whole, nutritious milk into a less nutritious, often problematic one.
Our store-bought eggs might look just fine to our Nauvoo sister, but if she were to crack one open what would she see? Instead of a fresh and perky, bright yellow yolk sitting up on its taut white, she’d see the standard anemic pale, relaxed blob of a yolk that’s less than fresh. And if we told her that the hens who laid those eggs were fed soy, she would tell you that she had never even heard of soy, as it wouldn’t have been grown anywhere in the States until the 1860s. Let's not tell her what kinds of lives these chickens live, literally cooped up in a cement building, out of the fresh air and sunlight and away from their preferred food sources.
I bet her eyes would grow big with amazement at the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that you were lucky enough to have in January...until she tasted them. She’d go rummaging through your pantry looking for crocks of pickled vegetable and preserves with no success. Where are the barrels of apples? The braids of onions? The crates of carrots and potatoes, packed in sand or damp sawdust? Where is your root cellar? How do you survive without one? She might think.
And then she spies your loaf of pre-sliced, cellophane-wrapped bread sitting there on the counter. She figures out how to undo the twistie tie and takes a bite and it tastes overwhelmingly of... chemicals. The label on the package looks like it’s written in another language. Out of a list of 25 ingredients, she would only recognize: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. What if we were to tell her that there are, currently, bread-making demonstrations at the Church historic site of Nauvoo where folks could go to appreciate what life was like for them? And what if we were to tell her that the recipe for the bread being made there as representative of their bread included powdered milk and potato flakes and instant, mass-produced yeast? I would actually love to see her face if we were to tell her that.
It would be interesting to watch her scan the rows of boxed and packaged convenience foods both in and out of the fridge.
How can we, today, understand a revelation intended to instruct a generation with a whole separate knowledge and skill base, when it comes to food? If you want a revelation of your own, read the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Written to describe a period a few decades after the Nauvoo era, the series contains a wealth of information about how food was grown, stored, prepared and eaten.
After examining our pantries, would Emma admire the convenience we enjoy and think us blessed to live in such an age, or would she view us as impoverished in both our foodways and food supply? I WONDER. This New Year, I invite you to re-examine what's in your pantry and ask yourself if folks even a hundred years ago would recognize it and want to eat it. I invite you to get real with your food so that we can at least lay a groundwork for beginning to understand the Word of Wisdom.
What say ye?