I recently became a vegetarian. This decision came for a variety of reasons, mostly due to the unethical practices of the meat industry and environmental concerns. Mainly, once the idea of being a vegetarian got in my head, I could not get it out. So now that is what I do.
A lot of people are confused by or outright hostile towards vegetarians. Look online, and you can find countless anti-vegetarian websites and articles by people who feel angry because people choose to eat differently than them.
I am not going to try to convince you to become a vegetarian. Sure, I would prefer if people would make the choice, but what you choose to eat is exactly 0% of my business.
Rather, I want to tell you how vegetarianism fits with the Word of Wisdom in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints because, out of all religions, it seems like Mormons would be most supportive of a vegetarian life style. However, I have heard people ask why I am a vegetarian, since in the Word of Wisdom it says that animals are made for man to use. I will be trying to clear up some misconceptions in an attempt to help people be more accepting of a vegetarian life style and see where it fits in Mormon theology.
As a disclaimer, I will not be trying to say that all the omnivores out there are evil because they do not obey the Word of Wisdom. These are just my personal reasons and thoughts behind what God has told us about the use of animals. This article is also not about general problems with meat industry, rather a theological discussion. As always, you are free to do what you want, but if this peaks your interest, please consider researching and adopting a vegetarian lifestyle.
The Word of Wisdom is the name for the revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1833. It has become canonized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph Smith received the revelation in response to questions he had about the health and conduct of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles. In response, he was given a set of dietary restrictions that the saints should live by. Initially, the Word of Wisdom was seen as a principle, and was not a requirement for temple worthiness. This seems have given the church members a buffer to ween themselves of the habits outlawed in the Word of Wisdom. In modern times, Word of Wisdom compliance is essentially to being a church member in good standing.
In hindsight, we can see why the Word of Wisdom was given. Modern medical research has shown the harmful effects of tobacco, cigarettes, black and green teas, alcohol and illegal narcotics. The Word of Wisdom keeps Latter Day Saints away from harmful and addictive substances.
But there is another part of the Word of Wisdom. After God tells us what we should not consume, he tells us what we should consume. And that is where meat comes into play.
Meat is mentioned twice in the Word of Wisdom, both times with the injunction to eat it sparingly.
Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth; And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger. (D & C 89:12-15)
Now I can already hear you saying: But doesn’t it say that meat is ordained for the use of man? Yes, but ignoring the italicized portions above takes the nuance out of the scripture. This is a conditional statement. The Lord is telling us that we can eat meat, but only in certain times. These times are winter, famine or excess hunger.
In the context of the 1830s, this makes sense. Fruits, grains and vegetables were not year round products. Unlike modern times, the Latter Day Saints did not have access to refrigeration technology or other technologies that would allow food to stay fresh throughout the year. During winter times when those sorts of foods might become scarce, it would be appropriate to kill an animal to stave off starvation. But, these verses tell us that when other foods are available we should consume them first.
The official Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual has this to say about meat consumption:
Before fruits and vegetables could be preserved, people often did not have enough other food to eat in winter. Spoiled meat can be fatal if eaten, and in former times meat spoiled more readily in summer than winter. Modern methods of refrigeration now make it possible to preserve meat in any season. The key word with respect to the use of meat is sparingly.
Since we no longer have to deal with that problem, the necessity of meat is questionable. We are never faced with starvation if meat is not consumed. Fresh vegetables, fruits and grains are available year round. Thus, none of the conditions that would necessitate meat consumption are met for most Latter Day Saints. Now, if a person has to eat meat to survive, let them do that, but if not, we should check whether we should be eating meat.
Many religious people will question the validity of a vegetarian diet based off of a verse found in the Book of Genesis. During the creation, God says:
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. ( Genesis 1:26)
This verse tells us that man is given a dominion over the animals of the world. Thus, he should be able to do with them as he pleases, correct?
Although humanity does have dominion over the animals, we need to make sure that we are exercising righteous dominion. Reading about the practices of the meat industry easily shows that they are involved in questionable practices and cruelty. This leads to the important question: Is supporting the industrialized meat industry really exercising righteous dominion?
Now, I know that many farmers treat their animals well and kill them as humanely as possible, but for the most part the meat that we consume does not come from local farmers. I believe that the industrialized meat does not represent what God meant when he gave man dominion over the animals.
Quotes from the brethren
Doing research for this article, I found some great quotes and wanted to share some interesting quotes that I found. These show some of the opinions that leaders of the church have had about vegetarianism and meat consumption.
During his life, Joseph Smith often discussed the treatment of animals, once writing:
I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during my journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.
Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith’s brother stated:
[God] has appointed the Word of Wisdom as one of the engines to bring about this thing, to remove the beastly appetites, the murderous disposition and the vitiated taste of man, to restore his body and vigour, promote peace between him and the brute creation.
President Lorenzo Snow (the fifth prophet of the church) was probably the most outspoken Mormon leader about the use of meat. The History of the Church records a 1897 meeting when Lorenzo Snow
introduced the subject of the Word of Wisdom, expressing the opinion that it was violated as much or more in the improper use of meat as in other things, and thought the time was near at hand when the Latter-day Saints should be taught to refrain from meat eating and the shedding of animal blood.
In another meeting President Snow reportedly discussed how he was “convinced that the killing of animals when unnecessary was wrong and sinful, and that it was not right to neglect one part of the Word of Wisdom and be too strenuous in regard to other parts.”
Around the same time, Elder George Q. Cannon taught:
Am I or my family hungry? If so, of course man is justified in killing animals or birds to satisfy his or his family’s hunger. But if he has not any want of meat he “sheddeth blood,” and he exposes himself to this wo which the Lord has pronounced.
In a 1948 General Conference, Elder Joseph F. Merrill spoke about the Word of Wisdom and concluded by saying:
Meat is the richest source of proteins but sizable amounts are found in the excellent foods—eggs, milk, cheese, beans, nuts, wheat, and more or less in other cereals, vegetables, and fruits. Americans eat too much meat, a non-essential in human diet, because all the proteins needed are available in the other foods just named.
President Heber J. Grant attributed his long life to refraining from eating meat:
I think that another reason I have very splendid strength for an old man is that during the years we have had a cafeteria… I have not, with exception of not more than a dozen times, ordered meat of any kind.
Finally, President Joseph Fielding Smith seemed to be vegetarian. According to his wife, President Smith never ate meat, and felt a “disdain for meat and a love of vegetables”.
All of this shows us that vegetarianism is not in any way opposed to the principles of the Word of Wisdom, in fact it is in line with the intent of the revelation.
Even if you are not a vegetarian, consider these quotes and ideas and attempt to limit your meat consumption. And who knows? Eventually you might give it up all together.