By Jane Birch
Central to understanding the Word of Wisdom is an understanding of the absolutely critical role of the body in both our mortal experience and in the eternities. I am not sure any of us fully comprehend the importance of having a physical body, or understand how sacred our bodies are. The Apostle Paul taught:
. . . Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:19–20)
We are the literal children of God. Our bodies are made in His image. They are gifts from our Father, and we are stewards over them, to keep and protect them. We do not want to pollute our bodies any more than our spirits, for they are “the temple of the Holy Ghost.” Just think what an endowment we were given when we came to this mortal world and entered these tabernacles of God (D&C 93:35).
We are likewise stewards over this beautiful earth, to keep and protect it as a sacred and precious gift. After creating this earth and all the creatures thereon, God proclaimed them to be good. God loves not just us, but the whole earth, and all the creatures on it. In fact, God gave commandments not just to us, but also to all His creatures. And He covenanted not just with us, but also with every living creature (Genesis 9:8–15).
We are not told in detail all the covenants the creatures of this earth made. We know that they, like us, were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:22). But we also know animals have a role to play in the preservation of human life:
And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;
For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance. (D&C 49:18–19, emphasis added; see note for expanded analysis of this verse in relationship to 1 Timothy 4:3)
I am humbled by these verses and the understanding that God’s amazing animal creatures have been ordained for our use. However, just as God ordained these creatures for our use, He makes it plain what the boundaries of that use are. Continuing from the above verses we read:
But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.
And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need. (D&C 49:20–21, emphasis added)
The same principle is taught in D&C 59:
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;
. . . Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
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. (D&C 59:16, 19– 20, emphasis added)
God has given us rich abundance, but He also has commanded us to be wise stewards. He has ordained the use of animals to sustain our lives in times of need, but we are told to use judgment and to not shed blood when there is no need. Furthermore, this injunction is not just a modern commandment. In the beginning, God gave our first parents a diet of plants. In the Bible account, consuming the flesh of animals is introduced only after the flood destroyed the vegetation on the earth. In Joseph Smith’s translation of Genesis, we learn that God tells Noah that now he may eat meat, but He emphasizes its use only in times of need:
Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. . . .
And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands. (JST Genesis 9:9, 11)
I have been emphasizing the health reasons why we should be careful about our meat consumption, but it is perhaps our duty to be good stewards of the earth and of the animals that is equally pleasing to the Lord.
I do not doubt that one role of animals is to serve as food for humans. We are told several times that they are ordained for our use, but that does not mean they are ordained for our abuse. The Lord gave humans dominion over the animals, just as He gives parents dominion over their children. We are blessed with this opportunity, and we are privileged to act in the place of God to serve those weaker than ourselves. This is a sacred stewardship for which we will be held accountable.
God has blessed us with rich abundance, and this is pleasing to Him. But He asks us to use these blessings with judgment, to use the flesh of animals “sparingly,” only in times of need. Hugh Nibley suggests the use of the word sparing means “sparing God’s creatures.” Nibley goes on to say,
The family who needs a deer to get through the winter have a right to that. The Lord will not deny them, but He is also pleased with those who forbear.
God will justify the taking of animal life to sustain man’s want, but he reserves a special blessing for those who place their own nobility before their necessity.
I can imagine a possible scene from long ago: God asking the animals if they would be willing to perform the sacrifice of giving their lives for humans when the need arose. I imagine them agreeing to do this for us, perhaps even knowing that at times we’d abuse that privilege. This, of course, is speculation on my part, but it nevertheless strengthens the love and respect I feel for these fellow creatures who in so many ways enrich our common world, and who are often called on to sacrifice their lives for our sakes. Why should we take advantage of their relative weakness?
Plant Foods are Better for the Earth and the Animals
Only after I stopped consuming animal flesh did I become aware of how abusive mankind can be in how we treat animals to obtain, not just food for times of need, but food in excess, food for pleasure, food for game, food that we indulge in because we can afford to do so, and far more food than most of our brothers and sisters in foreign lands can ever hope to obtain.
I will not go into detail here elaborating the problems with the meat, dairy, and egg industries, but the treatment of animals in these food factories is surely antithetical to the verses I’ve just quoted from the D&C, in which we are asked to use animals “with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion” (D&C 59:20). Animals are routinely held in what can only be described as abusive conditions, where they are caged in small areas, allowed no freedom, are continually administered drugs to keep them alive, and are fattened quickly for the slaughter. They are not allowed to freely fulfill God’s commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, nor are they allowed to fulfill their natural biological instincts to care for their young. Humans take this entire process into their own hands so they can manipulate these lives for their own profit. Under these conditions, how could these animals take joy in fulfilling the measure of their creation? The animal food industry works hard to make sure we do not witness the conditions in which animals are kept in order to produce the amount of animal foods eaten in this country. They are well aware that most people, when exposed to the facts, would be morally outraged.
Likewise, I’ve learned that the production of meat and dairy products has an inordinate impact on the environment. It is not widely understood how much more energy, land, water, and other resources are required to produce animal foods versus plant foods. In California, for example, it takes roughly 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes or wheat; 49 gallons for apples; 815 gallons for chicken; 1,630 gallons for pork; and a whopping 5,214 gallons of water for a pound of beef. You would save more water by not eating one pound of California beef than you would by not showering for six months.
Raising animals for food is a highly inefficient use of resources; we must devote an enormous quantity of food (the majority of the grain and cereals we grow in this country) to feed animals to produce a comparatively small amount of meat, dairy, and eggs. We could instead directly consume the food we feed the animals with much less cost to the environment and to our health (not to mention the health of the animals!). Not only could we feed ourselves, we’d have enough food left over to feed all of the world’s poor. I like the fact that by reducing our animal food consumption and devoting those resources to feeding the poor, we could not only dramatically improve our health, but also bless our brothers and sisters around the world. This seems right in light of the following scripture:
But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need. (D&C 49:20–21)
Furthermore, we all know how vulnerable we are due to the volatile supply of readily available fossil fuels. We are also increasingly aware of the environmental impact of how we use these fuels, which disproportionally affects the poor of the world. We use an enormous amount of energy to fuel our cars, trucks, airplanes, buses, and motorcycles, and the chemical gases they emit may be wreaking havoc on the environment worldwide. Yet, livestock production produces more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. While I struggle to imagine our modern world functioning without modern transportation, what would we lose by giving up meat, dairy, and eggs? (Hint: heart disease, strokes, diabetes, pollution, etc.)
According to a careful study done at the University of Chicago, people who consume animal foods are responsible for an extra ton and a half of CO2 equivalent per person per year, as compared to people who consume no animal foods. As a consequence, a person who changes from an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet would save more greenhouse emissions per year than switching from a Toyota Camry to a hybrid Toyota Prius (at much less cost!). If everyone on the planet switched to a low-meat diet, such a transition would dramatically impact our ability to resolve environmental issues that now appear intractable. One estimate suggests such a global change “would reduce the mitigation costs to achieve a 450 ppm CO2 -eq. stabilization target by about 50 percent in 2050.”
In a study comparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets, “the nonvegetarian diet required 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than did the vegetarian diet.” The livestock industry is “by far the single largest anthropogenic user of land,” a leading contributor to deforestation and land degradation, and a major factor in the reduction of biodiversity. And livestock produce 130 times more waste in the US than humans do, leading to widespread pollution of land and water. Unfortunately, these are just a few of the disconcerting facts that can be cited about the environmental costs of animal food production. Bill McKibben, a well-respected voice for the environment, concludes, “Industrial livestock production is essentially indefensible—ethically, ecologically, and otherwise.”
We in America seem to feel it is our right to eat whatever amount of animal foods we can afford, but this practice is not sustainable in the long run, especially as the world’s population grows and demands the same right. As Philip Wollen (former VP of Citibank) stated in a passionate address in defense of animals, “The earth can produce enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” The Lord tells us He has blessed us with rich abundance, that “the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare” (D&C 104:17). Only our greed makes it otherwise. A WFPB diet is not just healthy and humane; it is also sustainable. It helps us fulfill our responsibility as wise stewards of this beautiful world.
Since changing my diet, my love and appreciation for this planet has deepened significantly. Just as we depend on this earth, the earth depends on us. We are intimately interrelated, and I’m concerned that she groans under our sins. The biological and physical worlds are pure. They fully obey the will of the Lord and are redeemed through their service to us, but they also suffer due to our disobedience. I believe we humans are the cause of much of the “natural” chaos in the world. It is a reflection of who we are and of the choices we have made. Brigham Young said:
Let the people be holy, and the earth under their feet will be holy. Let the people be holy, and filled with the Spirit of God, and every animal and creeping thing will be filled with peace; the soil of the earth will bring forth in its strength, and the fruits thereof will be meat for man. The more purity that exists, the less is the strife; the more kind we are to our animals, the more will peace increase, and the savage nature of the brute creation vanish away.
I believe that ceasing enmity toward animals will lead to a greater depth of spirituality, sensitivity, and charity in the hearts of the Latter-day Saints and help prepare the earth for the Millennium. We must change for harmony to exist in the world of nature and things. Only then can we be fully at peace with each other and with all of God’s creatures.
Encouragement from LDS Leaders
Beginning with Joseph Smith, latter-day prophets and other LDS Church leaders have spoken out frequently and with great eloquence on the responsibility we humans have for our fellow creatures. For example, Joseph Smith related the following experience from the 1834 Zion’s Camp expedition:
In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, “Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.” The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.
Apostle George Q. Cannon wrote:
[God] has bestowed life upon man, and upon beasts, birds, fishes and insects, and no one has the right to take that life, except in the way and under the conditions which the Lord prescribes.
. . . when man becomes their true friend, [the animals] will learn to love and not to fear him. The Spirit of the Lord which will rest upon man will also be given to the animal creation—man will not hurt nor destroy, not even tigers and lions and wolves and snakes, and they will not harm him— and universal peace will prevail.
One reason Church leaders may have felt so strongly about this issue is that the Latter-day Saint view on animals is fairly unique among Christians. We believe animals, like humans, are eternal beings (see D&C 77:2–3); that they are “living souls” (Moses 3:19) who will be “resurrected and glorified” in God’s presence; and that we are accountable to God for our stewardship over them (see JST Genesis 9:5 and D&C 104:11–14). Regarding animals, Heber C. Kimball wrote, “Let them rest: They are as good as we are in their sphere of action; they honour their calling, and we do not, when we abuse them: they have the same life in them that you have, and we should not hurt them.”
Other Church leaders have spoken out with care and passion for animals and emphasized our responsibility to not hurt or kill them, except as needed for food. Apostle Lorenzo Snow said, “We have no right to slay animals or fowls except from necessity, for they have spirits which may someday rise up and accuse or condemn us.” Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith further explained, “Although there was no sin in the shedding of their blood when required for food . . . to take the life of these creatures wantonly is a sin before the Lord. It is easy to destroy life, but who can restore it when it is taken?”
President Joseph F. Smith, in particular, was well known for his kindness to animals. He spoke and wrote often about our obligation toward them. The year he died, he made a profound statement that was “later quoted by two other prophets”:
We are a part of all life and should study carefully our relationship to it. We should be in sympathy with it, and not allow our prejudices to create a desire for its destruction. The unnecessary destruction of life begets a spirit of destruction which grows within the soul. It lives by what it feeds upon and robs man of the love that he should have for the works of God. . . . The unnecessary destruction of life is a distinct spiritual loss to the human family. Men can not worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creations. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life.
. . . Wisdom and virtue come from the animal and vegetable world which carries with it a spiritual as well as a material blessing. Nature helps us to see and understand God. To all His creations we owe an allegiance of service and a profound admiration. . . . Love of nature is akin to the love of God, the two are inseparable.
I am impressed that the same diet that is optimal for the human body is also good to the earth and kind to the animals. Surely this, too, is more in keeping with the Word of Wisdom.
Notes to Chapter 8
1. Timothy 4:3 is often cited as evidence for the case against abstaining from meat. In this chapter, Paul speaks of heresies in the last days, specifically, “Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3). Note that the Greek word for meats in this verse means “whatever is eaten,” or in other words, food. Most translations use the phrase certain foods instead of meats in this verse (see http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/4-3.htm), though the word in this context may have referred more specifically to animal flesh. The King James translators used the word meat because this word meat meant “food” for much of the English language history. Consider this verse in Genesis: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat” (Genesis 1:29). Note also that the word “meats” in D&C 49:18 may also mean “food.” In verse 19, God explains meats to include not just beasts and fowls but also “that which cometh of the earth,” or in other words, plants (D&C 49:19).
2. Steven C. Harper, Setting the Record Straight: The Word of Wisdom (Orem, UT: Millennial Press, 2007), 23.
3. For an excellent exploration of the meaning of “dominion,” see Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), chapter 1, “Man’s Dominion, or Subduing the Earth.”
4. Nibley, “Word of Wisdom.
5. Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, chapter 2, “Brigham Young on the Environment.”
6. John Robbins, The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World (San Francisco: Conari Press, 2001). See also: John Robbins, Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth (New York: Avon, 1992).
7. See, for example, “Meat.Org,” PETA, 2012, http://www.meat.org.
8. David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, “Sustainability of Meat-based and Plant-based Diets and the Environment,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78(suppl) (2003): 660S–3S.
9. See estimates in Robbins, The Food Revolution, 236–37.
10. Robbins, The Food Revolution, chapter 15.
11. “Health Implications of Global Warming: Impacts on Vulnerable Populations,” Physicians for Social Responsibility, http://www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/vulnerable-populations.pdf (accessed November 3, 2012).
12. “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options,” United Nations, (2006), http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.htm.
13. Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin, “Diet, Energy, and Global Warming.” Earth Interactions 10, no. 9 (2005).
14. Elke Stehfest, et al., “Climate Benefits of Changing Diet,” Climatic Change 95 (2009): 83–102.
15. Harold J. Marlow, et al., “Diet and the Environment: Does What You Eat Matter?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89(suppl) (2009): 1699S–703S.
16. United Nations, “Livestock’s Long Shadow.”
17. Robbins, The Food Revolution, 241.
18. Bill McKibben, “The Only Way to Have a Cow,” Orion Magazine (March/ April 2010), http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/5339.
19. Philip Wollen,“Philip Wollen, Australian Philanthropist, Former VP of Citibank, Makes Blazing Animal Rights Speech,” ( June 24, 2012), http://freefromharm.org/videos/educational-inspiring-talks/philip-wollen-australian-philanthropist-formervp-of-citibank-makes-blazing-animal-rights-speech.
20. Brigham Young, “Weakness and Impotence of Men—Condition of the Saints—Dedication to the Lord—The Millennium” (April 6, 1852), transcribed by G. D. Watt. Journal of Discourses 1, no. 31(1853–1886): 198–203.
21. Gerald E. Jones, Concern for Animals as Manifest in Five American Churches: Bible Christian, Shaker, Latter-day Saint, Christian Scientist and Seventh-Day Adventist (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1972).
22. Joseph Smith, Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1904), 71–72.
23. George Q. Cannon, “Wanton Killing,” Juvenile Instructor 24, no. 23 (December 1, 1889): 548–549.
24. Jones, Concern for Animals, 58.
25. Heber C. Kimball, in Journal of Discourses 5 no. 137 (August 2, 1857).
26. Horne, Journals of Abraham H. Cannon, 424.
27. Joseph Fielding Smith, “Is It a Sin to Kill Animals Wantonly?” Improvement Era (August 1961): 568.
28. Johnson, The Word of Wisdom Food Plan, 18.
29. Joseph F. Smith, “Humane Day,” Juvenile Instructor 53 no. 4 (April 1918):182–183.