“The Staff of Life” (D&C 89:14)

By Jane Birch

“All grain is ordained for the use of man . . . to be the staff of life” (D&C 89:14).

What does “the staff of life mean”?

The “staff of life” means a “staple food.”[1] What is a staple? According to Merriam-Webster, the word staple used as a noun means “the sustaining or principal element.” When used as an adjective, it means “principal, chief” and “used, needed, or enjoyed constantly usually by many individuals.”[2] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, staple means “having the chief place among the articles of . . . consumption.”[3]

According to the Word of Wisdom, the principal or chief element of our diet should be grains. Grains include grasses like wheat and rice, but corn and legumes (like beans, lentils, peas, and other pulses) can also be classified as grains.

Isn’t a Staff a Crutch?

The “staff of life” is an English idiom. An idiom is “an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own” (Merriam-Webster). Some well-meaning Latter-day Saints have attempted to use one of the words in this idiom (“staff”) to interpret the idiom as a whole, thus misunderstanding how an idiom functions in our language. They point out that a staff is a support, a type of crutch, something used only in time of weakness and necessity, and they conclude that grain as the “staff of life” is to be used only as a support, in times of need, and not as a staple food. But as the definition of the word idiom explains, you can’t understand the meaning of an idiom by focusing on the separate words in the idiom, because the idiom as a whole has its own meaning, apart from the separate words. Think of other idioms in our language; they are unintelligible by simply studying the meaning of the individual words:

open a can of worms

strings attached

go postal

pulling your leg

had a cow

It does little good to simply define the individual words; you have to understand the idiom as a whole by studying how it is used.

The idiom “staff of life” is the same. It cannot be understood by simply defining what the word “staff” means and then hypothesizing the meaning of the idiom. We understand the idiom by seeing how it has been used. Scholarly research clearly shows that the idiom “staff of life” has had a well-defined, consistent meaning throughout the long history of the English language. It clearly refers to a “staple food” (Oxford English Dictionary). The word staple means “having the chief place among the articles of . . . consumption” (Oxford English Dictionary). The Oxford English Dictionary illustrates this with examples beginning in 1638, but you can search the phrase “staff of life” on-line and find the same results (be sure to place quote marks around the phrase when you search for it).

When the Lord ordained grain to be the “staff of life,” he declared that grains should hold the chief place among the foods we consume every day. Some people are persuaded that soaking, sprouting or fermenting grains is better, and that may be fine. As long as the bulk of calories are still are coming from grains, then grains are serving as the “staff of life” in the diet.

Again, grains include grasses like wheat and rice, but corn and legumes (like beans, lentils and other pulses) can technically also be classified as grains. Other high-starch foods like roots/tubers (potatoes, cassava, yams and taro) are also staple foods in various parts of the world.

See also:

Discovering the Word of Wisdom: All Grain Is Good

Discovering the Word of Wisdom: The Danger of Displacing Grain

Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Wheat for Man

Gluten, Wheat, Grain (and other food sensitivities)


[1] “staff, n.1” Oxford English Dictionary Online (Oxford University Press, June 2014).

[2] “staple” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2013).

[3] “staple, adj.” Oxford English Dictionary Online.

See also: Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective by Jane Birch

Last updated: April 7, 2015


  1. How can I apply this to diabetics who are supposed to be on a carbohydrate restricted diet? We live in Samoa with limited grains available and the doctor said taro and other root crops readily available here should be limited because of the high carbohydrates. Now what? Any thoughts?

    • Emily: You ask an awesome question. Controlling carbohydrates is one way to address diabetes. It can help your manage diabetes, but it does not help you to cure yourself of diabetes. A whole food, plant-based approach can actually help you cure yourself of diabetes, if you adopt it fully. It is a very different way of thinking about diabetes, so I encourage you to do sufficient research to understand this approach. I believe it is the Word of Wisdom way to addressing our diet, nutrition, and disease. I’ve posted some information on this Google doc, but feel free to contact me if you have additional questions! See: Diabetes and a Whole Food, Plant-based Diet

  2. If grain was not modified after that revelation, then you could make the same statements about grains as the scriptures. Bread is full of sugar and highly processed. Most flour is brominated, which is bad for your thyroid. In the 60’s scientists modified wheat to feed more people, so the chemical structure was modified with other grasses. That also increased the gluten protein from 5 to 50 percent.
    Look up what corn looks like in nature before being modified. It is not even the same creature.
    Next most of these products are packaged with sugar. Sugar is sucrose. 50 percent of sucrose is fructose. Fructose is 100 percent stored as glycogen or changed into triglycerides that get stored as fat.
    If you want healthy carbs look to sweet potatoes, steel cut oats, some red potatoes….
    Furthermore milk and eggs are not meat so you do not have to eat these sparingly.

    • Hi Eric: Thanks for leaving a comment! I certainly agree with you that we consume too much sugar. Better to use whole grain or 100% whole grain flour with no additives (including added fat and sugar). The Lord ordained grain to be the “staff of life.” I encourage you and all other readers to find grains that you feel comfortable eating. I also agree that sweet potatoes, steel cut oats, and red potatoes are wonderful starchy foods. All foods, including grains, have changed, but much of that has been in a positive, not negative direction.

      Milk and eggs are not meat, but they have they same nutritional profile and negative health consequences. For more see: Dairy and Eggs and the Word of Wisdom

  3. Hi Jane, considering that the very next verse says that these are only to be used in times of famine and excess hunger it seems like the definition of staff as a crutch would make more sense in this frame of reference. What do you think?

  4. 1. Carbohydrates are NOT a required macro-nutrient, only fat and protein are.
    2. Carbohydrates are the ONLY foods that will rot your teeth and body, while fat and protein does not.
    – If you eat plants/grains you MUST scrape it off your teeth every 24 hours or your teeth with rot, imagine the insides of your body after decades of use.
    3. Carbohydrates produce less than half the ATP cell energy that fat does.
    4. Carbohydrates come from plants that protect themselves with poisons and anti-nutrients
    5. Scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency) is caused by the anti-nutrients in grains sucking that vitamin out of your body. If you do not eat any grains you cannot get scurvy.
    6. If you cannot stop eating ALL carbohydrates for 1 month, then you are an addict of this plant drug.

    Like Religion (not spirituality), the Agricultural civilization is one of enslavement: sugar, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin etc..

    Similar to how so-called Christians today worship the Anti Christ (Matthew 27:22-25).

    • Hi Dan! I very much enjoyed reading your comments. I’m very familiar with the anti-carb line of thought, so none of this is surprising. In fact, I find your main points all true from in a very slated, technical sense. However, in a practical sense, however, they are irrelevant and highly misleading. From a whole food, plant-based perspective, this way of thinking could not be more dangerous to our health or the health of the planet (not to mention the animals). To each his own! If you are ever interested in looking at things from a different perspective, I hope you’ll take a fair look at the evidence for whole food, plant-based nutrition. If you have further thoughts you’d like to share, you can contact me directly. Take care! Jane

      • A more important concept is “10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man
        11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.”

        If you will look into recent research like ketogenic diet, you’ll learn that largely grain based diets are incompatible with the human digestive track. We’re not designed to ferment a lot of carbs. Not that grain can’t be eaten but we have gone way overboard. We need to eat more whole vegitables, that are safe because of the fiber. Meat that disappears in our small intestine without fermentation. We can enjoy a little fruit. Whole wheat bread if a processed carbohydrate. It triggers insulin that tells the body to store fat. Eggs, cheese, fermented milk (kefir), meat and green vegetables don’t trigger insulin.

          • Dennis, consider that off-the-shelf yeast is a short-cut method to rising bread akin to chemical fertilizers and pesticides giving unnaturally uniform produce. When you use clean grain and a long fermentation (@40hours leavening time), the gluten is almost completely digested, and healthy by-products are introduced into the dough. Nobody outside of Euell Gibbons thinks just chewing on dry grain is a good plan – so the question becomes, what is the best way to process grains for healthy consumption? Here are a couple of interesting things to consider:
            * http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/01/22/how-to-safely-bring-wheat-back-into-your-diet.aspx

            * http://www.abigailsoven.com/order-bread/

            This cultured-dough bread not only doesn’t impact my blood sugar negatively, it actually seems to lower it when included in a healthy meal (and I’m told I’m not the only one who has this account). (I am in no way affiliated with the folks at the end of either of those links, and gain no benefit from sharing them.)

            I think this is more in keeping with the way wheat in particular would have been typically used by our ancestors. Just some food for thought.

  5. I enjoyed your article. Your comment that sprouting “may be fine” prompted me to say that stacks of wheat in traditional cultures were left standing in the field after harvest. Most of the grains sprouted naturally under those conditions. Modern harvesting methods along with commercial yeast may be creating a product that is detrimental while traditional methods of harvesting and sourdough bread making may be much better for us. Thanks so much for your insights.

  6. Hi Jane. Just a note to say that I still follow the posts on your site — Great stuff!! Also, I’d like to brag to you and your readers that I haven’t been to a doctor since I went vegetarian (still can’t quite make it t vegan status) two and a half years ago, other than to get a prescription refill for a mild enlarged prostrate gland problem that I have, and as you might remember, I’ll be 86 years old next month–a year older than your father. Also, my cancer has been in full remission since going vegetarian. … In fact, if you know of a diet that would help my prostrate problem so that I can go 100% off pills, I’d love to hear it.

    Our Post Office building is located next to our Medical Clinic and sometimes when I go to pick up my mail (we don’t have home delivery) I glance over to watch the activities at the Clinic. With only a population of a bit over 3,000, I’d take bets that our Clinic and our THREE drug stores are the busiest places in town!

    To be fare, I should add that our town’s clinic and drug stores also service a large Indian Reserve bordering our town, plus two Hutterite colonies. Even so, it is so sad to watch all these “sick” people drag themselves in then out of the clinic, then patiently stand in line at the drug store to get their ‘medication’ that only masks, not cures, their problem.

    You’re doing a great work, Jane, and I’m sure that many people, including myself, have/are being blessed by your work. I’ve even read several ‘prophecies’ by influential people in our society that 2017 is the start of a quite defined vegetarian revolution in the way we eat, and it goes without question that your efforts are part of this marvelous turning point in our more healthy lifestyle.

    In many of my lifestyle discussions that I have with family and friends I like to ‘picturesquely’ describe our evolution as follows: “In the beginning, our forefathers practiced cannibalism. We then forsook such ‘barbaric’ practices of eating each other and ate only animal flesh. (I like to use the word “flesh” rather than the more customary polite word, “meat” because it better describes what we’re actually doing 🙂 — by the way, this is also the word that the spirit used during my “near-death” experience: “Man is not made to eat flesh” ). Now, this animal-only “meat” eating practice is also becoming gross, so we’re evolving to the point where we’re abandoning all use of “flesh” and going on a strict plant and grain based diet. Our next future evolutionary step will be to even abandon the eating of plants and grains and live on pure LOVE — The United Order! ”

    Won’t that be wonderful?

    • Dear
      Albert: this is amazing and thanks so much for sharing. I love your passion and dedication.

      I do recommend you go fully plant-based (no dairy or eggs) as that should definitely help with the prostate! Dairy is especially associate with prostate cancer. Also eating whole foods is important, unprocessed and unrefined, especially avoiding all oils. This will also help with weight loss which is highly correlated with increased risk of cancer. I am happy to help in any way I can!

      Thanks again for sharing my good friend!

  7. Hi Jane

    If I may add my 2 cents for what it;s worth a “Staff” in this instance is a support as in supporter of life. It aids helping us live but itself needs support from other staffs eg a.healthy diet and exercise, For as they say……we cannot survive on bread alone,

    Cheers Dave

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