Book Preface by Jane Birch

I never imagined I’d feel this passionate about diet, nutrition, and preventing chronic disease. Considering how important the topic is, and how much research has gone into investigating it, you’d think by now we’d know all the answers. What could possibly be left to get excited about? Before writing this book, I knew little about the strongly held, diverse opinions currently thriving in the marketplace of ideas on diet and nutrition. Now that I’ve spent years studying the wide variety of educated opinions, I am convinced our society will never come to a consensus for what constitutes the optimal human diet.

Anyone who delves into the nutritional debates might well feel something akin to what Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, felt in the midst of the “war of words and tumult of opinions” of various religious denominations. He wrote:

So great were the confusion and strife . . . that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. . . . I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? (Joseph Smith—History 1:8, 10)

Today we are in the midst of a “war of words and tumult of opinions” on what we should eat. How are we to decide what is right? Fortunately, we have a revelation from God in modern-day scripture: Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) Section 89, which we call the “Word of Wisdom.” We can also pray to God, as Joseph did. But we generally do not realize how much our lack of knowledge, personal preferences, and cultural traditions impact our understanding of this revelation and make it difficult to receive unambiguous communication from the Lord. Just as the Word of Wisdom helps us evaluate the nutritional opinions of our day, so do the nutritional opinions of our day color our interpretation of the Word of Wisdom, as well as the way we hear the Lord’s counsel to us as individuals.

I have heard the Word of Wisdom used to justify all types of contradictory nutritional advice. It is clear that what D&C 89 tells us is not completely unambiguous, beyond what LDS Church leaders have made plain. It certainly was not clear to me. All of that changed one fateful day when I heard a few ideas about nutrition expressed so plainly and so convincingly I knew those ideas were true and that my life would never be the same again. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until sometime later that I realized these same truths were contained within a revelation I was very familiar with: the Word of Wisdom.

An LDS Article of Faith proclaims, “We believe [God] will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article 9). In the past when I pictured this article of faith coming to pass, I envisioned rather dramatic unveilings: a special session of General Conference where the Prophet announces new, spectacular revelations straight from God; the opening of the sealed portions of the Book of Mormon; or the Lost Tribes showing up in Salt Lake City with their scriptures. What I did not imagine was that some of the “great and important things” to be revealed might already be contained in the same set of scriptures I’ve had my entire life, just waiting for me to finally catch a glimpse of what they mean. This is how I now feel about the Word of Wisdom.

The interesting fact in my story is that it took people who are not members of the LDS Church, who know nothing about the Word of Wisdom, to help me discover a whole new way of thinking about the verses in Section 89. What I have learned has been not just mind expanding, but also soul expanding. While the unfolding of this revelation to my mind has not been a public event, it has in every other sense been a dramatic unveiling of new and spectacular revelations containing “many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

Just as importantly, as my mind has opened up to a deeper understanding of the Word of Wisdom, so has this understanding opened my mind to better evaluate the wisdom of the world. It has also given me courage. In my study of nutrition, I’ve encountered several key crossroads where I have wondered whether I’m on the right path, or where I have doubted whether there is a right path and whether it is possible to know it. Time after time, I have found it helpful to return to the Word of Wisdom. It has become the anchor of my study, the measure by which I can evaluate the “tumult of opinions” and scientific “facts” in the marketplace of ideas.

This book is about discovering the words of wisdom contained in D&C 89. Most of the ideas in this book will resonate with the majority of readers who are members of the LDS Church because of their familiarity with the Word of Wisdom. I also hope it will appeal to those not of this faith. I expect that a great many of the ideas presented in this book will be new to readers, as they were to me. From the responses I’ve received from initial readers, these concepts are not only new, but valuable and potentially life changing. I share them with humility and a sincere desire to bless others with ideas that have been revolutionary in my life. I believe they can be revolutionary in your life as well.

In many ways, it is a bold (and maybe foolish) attempt to write about the Word of Wisdom. Many Latter-day Saint authors have gone before me, and it is clear in hindsight that so much of what they passionately declared to be eternal truth was, in fact, heavily colored by the science of their day and is now quite dated. I know this book is also not a perfect work, but I believe the message it contains is too important to wait until the book is perfect before publishing it. I also feel readers need not wait for it to be perfected before they benefit from the ideas it contains.

I hope you will read this book and then read, study, and ponder again the words in the Word of Wisdom. Ask God to guide you. He has given us the Word of Wisdom for a reason. The evolution of our collective understanding of what He revealed in 1833 has been a long and gradual process that continues to unfold in our day. I am now convinced that at least some of the “great and important things” God will “yet reveal” to us are contained in D&C 89, the section where God has given us precious words of wisdom on what, why, and how we should consume the foods He has ordained for our use. I hope this book can be a turning point for interested members of the Church (and those not of this faith) in their discovery and practice of the Word of Wisdom.

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  1. Dear Jane, thank you for this great thought provoking introduction. I am myself very much interested in diets and nutrition. I think that healthy food can indeed become the starting point for those of us who are looking for emotional equilibrium. Once I have enough free time I will definitely read your book in full!

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