Only In Famine: Vegetarianism and the Word Of Wisdom

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.

Righteous stewardship

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.


Shouldn’t Mormons Be Vegetarians

Vegetarianism: An LDS View

Lorenzo Snow and Meat Use

The Word of Wisdom The Forgotten Verses

Eat Flesh Sparingly- Elder Joseph F. Merrill


12 responses to “Only In Famine: Vegetarianism and the Word Of Wisdom

  1. The phrase “only in times of famine” in my mind might also mean a “deficiency famine”. I’ll explain: at 18 months, my daughter began losing her vocabulary, screaming for no reason (long drawn out screaming, not normal), pulling her hair out, having insomnia, inability to maintain eye contact, pulling away from physical touch, bouts of extreme frustration, hyper-activity, stimming (repetitive and odd behavior- pushing her head around in a circle on the floor for long periods of time, picking her nose until it bled, weird finger twitches, weird toe twitches), hitting or slapping herself, and on and on. You get the idea: she was becoming autistic. Through prayer and research, we found a diet that suggested high fat intake, along with lots of cooked vegetables, fermented foods, and no grains. Not exactly W.O.W. But we felt that the diet had been confirmed by the Spirit, so we forged ahead. It was the hardest thing we had ever tried. Nine months of pure hell. We avoided parties, cleaned out our kitchen of all offending foods, had to take turns shopping so one of us could stay home with our daughter, etc, etc. But it was a success: She is now back on regular food and grains (we steer clear of processed food as much as possible), and is doing great. Most of her symptoms are gone. My theory is that the high fat diet helped her gut and brain overcome some deficiencies, among other things.

    I believe that there are four missing components of our appreciation for the W.O.W., and they are found in D&C 59:
    15 And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance—

    16 Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;

    17 Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;

    18 Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;

    19 Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

    20 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.

    The 4 things are: thanksgiving, good judgment, not to excess, not by extortion.

    The most interesting to me is extortion, which I think is processed food, or heavily sprayed with pesticides, or maybe GMO food. Even the lunch meat that says “98% fat free” is extorted.

    I was a vegetarian for years, and still had high cholesterol, which was strange to my doctor, but it makes sense to me now. My advice: try to be open minded, and use all of the scriptures to find your answers.

    • Hi, I’m sure you meant well with your story. A lot of food that we eat today is not what Heavenly Father intended us to and a lot of is it actually poison (GMO foods, sugar) however there is no way your daughter was “becoming autistic”.

      I’m autistic myself. It’s not a bad thing thing. It’s a developmental disorder which happens in the womb. All that it means is that our brains function differently than non-autistic (allistic) people. It is a mental disability but it is also a blessing. The way autistic people see the world is actually very beautiful and just different than other people. Although sounds and other senses, like touch or taste, can be sometimes be incredibly overwhelming and there are other downsides to it, every autistic person I’ve ever met has been of the opinion that even if they could stop being autistic, that they never would. How we see and interact with the world and how our minds function, well, that’s what makes us who we are. Even if it were possible, I’d never want for the way my brain works to be changed. I would only be a ghost of myself and in all honestly, I love being me.

      You can’t stop being autistic by eating healthy or any other treatment. If your daughter was truly autistic she would still be autistic. It would have been how her brain developed. You say most of her symptoms are gone and I wonder what she has still because my dear man, it’s impossible to become autistic and it’s impossible to stop!

      She might have been sick with something else or it’s possible she is autistic but is just managing better. Whatever it is, I hope she’s doing well. I didn’t discover that I was autistic until I was already an adult and my childhood was fairly difficult because of it. I thought I was just weird and that my brain was broken since I was five years old. I’m really happy to know that I’m not the only person in the world who’s brain functions in the way it does. It’s a very lonely feeling. Discovering that I was autistic was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I know other people like me now and now I know coping strategies for when my brain is going into overload. What I’m trying to say, and what I’m trying to convince you of, is that if your daughter is actually autistic you shouldn’t shy away from it or believe it’s a bad thing, for her sake. And if she’s not, then you were very wrong with your diagnosis and might want to keep a look out if any of her symptoms ever come back.

      Heavenly Father gives us each our own trials and blessings. I know He will guide you so that you will know what is best for your family and how to take care of them. You seem like you truly care for your daughter. If it does turn out that your daughter is autistic, you can message me back on here even if it has been years since, I would be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

      • She was most definitely Autistic. I’m sorry, but I completely disagree that being autistic is a good thing. Pulling you hair out, being non-verbal, hitting yourself, scratching or picking your nose until you bleed, head banging, having emotional meltdowns because you are too rigid when a routine changes slightly are not blessings from heaven- they are signs that something is wrong. We feel blessed to have been able find the information on healing and curing autism. You should look into this information:
        From LeGrand Richards (an Apostle): “For Every worry under the sun there is a remedy or there is none; if there is a remedy hurry and find it. If there is none never mind it.”

  2. I only actually read the Word of Wisdom for myself a few years ago in Sunday School and I was astounded to read that we should only eat meat in times of hunger! They didn’t even mention it in the class though and we skipped right over it. I think this comes from people misinterpreting it and not reading it with the comma so instead they read “And it is pleasing to me that they should not be used only in times of winter, or cold, or famine.” Which would mean that we should use it ALL the time.

    I completely agree with you though and reading the rest of this article solidified my opinion 100%. I don’t believe it’s pleasing to God for us to kill animals. They’re not His actual children but their souls are sacred, just like ours.

    I wish the prophet or one of the apostles would come out and address this issue, especially since the Words of Wisdom are required to get a temple recommend. Imagine if the entirety of LDS members just stopped eating meat in a single day! I’m sure such a command would prompt most people to look into the meat and dairy industry and realize how cruel it is. Which in turn would prompt change. 😀

  3. Good on you for standing your ground in what you believe in. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost two decades. The rage is on both sides of those who are vegetarians and those who are not. But just remain in the light and you’ll be alright 🙂

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