“Eat Meat Sparingly” by Elder Joseph F. Merrill

From Word of Wisdom Literature by Jane Birch

Joseph F. Merrill

Eat Meat Sparingly*

Elder Joseph F. Merrill

of the Council of the Twelve Apostles


April 1948 General Conference Adress

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Brethren and sisters, including radio listeners:

A year ago from this pulpit I spoke to the theme of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, indicating that, aside from Jesus Christ, I looked upon him as second in greatness to no other religious teacher that ever lived And judged by the same standard used in judging greatness in men—by his works—as with Shakespeare, Washington, Lincoln, Einstein, etc. I still believe my view of him is correct and that he is the greatest man America ever produced. Hence I am convinced that he is deserving of a careful, thorough, and honest study by every person interested in his personal well-being. According to first-class evidence, Joseph Smith did actually, really see and hear the Father and the Son, two highly glorified beings, they seemed to him, in whose image man himself is made. If this is not a fact, he was the greatest religious fraud this world has ever seen. Between these two positions—prophet or fraud—there is no middle ground, or compromise. This is a strong statement, I admit, but certainly a correct one. Which of these two positions is the right one? If the first one is right, then certainly Joseph Smith’s teachings should be studied by every human being qualified to study, for Joseph was God-taught and made available to the modern world the knowledge that every person must have, and by which he must live, if he would return from mortality to the celestial kingdom, the realm where God personally lives.


With this brief introduction, I wish to talk for a few minutes on a phase of one of Joseph Smith’s revelations, commonly spoken of as the Lord’s Law of Health, or otherwise known as the Word of Wisdom.

But why the Word of Wisdom as a part of religion? someone may ask. In the language of the document itself the Word of Wisdom shows:

. . . forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days—

And those:

. . . who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones (D&C 89:2,18).

And health is an important factor in the work of serving God and man.

The apostle Paul asked,

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are (1 Cor. 3:16-17).

Now, in order that health may be maintained, it is common knowledge that the laws of health must be observed. Scientists have long taught that law is universal throughout material realms. With this thought in mind the poet wrote of the “music of the spheres.” The Prophet Joseph Smith taught the universality of spiritual laws when he wrote:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated (D&C 130:20-21).

All over the Church the belief is general that the Word of Wisdom is practically observed if the individual abstains from the use of tea, coffee, liquor, and tobacco. But a careful reading of the revelation shows this belief to be erroneous. There is much more to the document than abstention from the use of narcotics. Among the statements are these:

Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving. 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 (D&C 89:11-13).


It is to flesh as an article in human diet that I wish to direct your attention. It is needless to confess that I am not an authority in the field of nutrition. So I hope you will tolerate my quoting freely from writings of men generally accepted as authorities. These authorities say that generally food has more to do with health than any other factor affecting health. But that food may do its most for our health we must have a balanced diet, made up of five essential substances in the right proportions—these substances being proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins.


In How To Live, perhaps the most widely read and authoritative book in English for the layman on the subject of personal hygiene and published under the auspices of the Life Extension Institute, Inc., we find a great fund of reliable information given in simple language by the authors, Professor Irving Fisher of Yale University and Dr. Eugene Lyman Fisk, medical director of the Life Extension Institute, Inc. The book was first published in 1915 under the auspices of the board of directors of the institute, of which Judge William Howard Taft was chairman and writer of the forewords to the first and the fifteenth editions. My citations will be from the fifth printing of the eighteenth edition, 1929. (The most recent revised edition, the twenty-first, was written by Professor Fisher and Dr. Haven Emerson of Columbia University, but nothing here quoted is nullified by this edition. )

As just stated, the essential foods are proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. Protein is the tissue-building constituent of foods. It is found in meat, eggs, fowls, milk, peas, beans, grains, especially wheat, most vegetables, fruits, etc. Lean meat and the white of eggs are particularly high in protein. The book, How To Live, page 42, says:

They consist entirely of protein and water; also most ordinary foods contain more or less protein.

And the book goes on to say:

. . . foods should be so selected as to give to the ration the right amount of protein, or repair-foods, on the one hand, and of fats and carbohydrates, or fuel-foods, on the other.

According to what are regarded as the best investigations, the right proportion of protein is generally about 10 percent of the total number of heat units consumed. This means 10 percent of the total nutriment, that is ten calories of protein out of every one hundred calories of food.

And further on the books says:

. . . a chief and common error of diet consists of using too much protein, two or more times too much.

And on page 47, we read:

At a meeting of the Inter-Allied Council of Physiologists during the World War I, it was decided that meat was not a physiological necessity—since the proteins of meat can be replaced by those contained in milk, cheese and eggs—as well as by the proteins of vegetable origin.

And why is too much protein injurious? On page 47, we read:

When protein is taken in great excess of the body’s need, as is usually the case in the diet of Americans, added work is given the liver and kidneys, the circulation is over-stimulated and the “factor of safety” of these organs is exceeded

And on page 68 is the following:

Before leaving the subject of intestinal poisoning, we may here again mention the importance of avoiding the poisoning that comes from too much protein

Now please give particular attention to the following, found on page 250:

Even the most ardent advocates of a meat diet cannot produce a scientific evidence to show that intestinal putrefaction to a high degree due to the presence of meat is in any way beneficial to the organism; hence, in seeking the best form of diet, meat as a source of protein may well be excluded and the requisite protein secured from milk, nuts, cereals, and vegetables. If in the average diet a pint of milk daily is substituted for whatever meat portions have theretofore been taken, there would be no danger of protein lack.

And on the following page is found:

We have quoted Hubner, one of the world’s foremost authorities in hygiene, as condemning the very popular idea that meat is very “strengthening.” Actual experiments on this point have shown exactly the opposite to be the case.

This statement will surprise most people. But the book continues:

Meat eating and a high-protein diet, instead of increasing one’s endurance, have been shown, like alcohol, actually to reduce it.

Then experiments conducted at Yale University by Professor Fisher are described, after which the book continues (page 252):

The experiments furnished a severe test of the claims of the flesh-abstainers. Two comparisons were planned: one between flesh-eating athletes and flesh-abstaining athletes, and the other between flesh-eating athletes and flesh-abstaining sedentary workers. The results would indicate that the users of low-protein and the nonflesh dietaries have far greater endurance than those who are accustomed to the ordinary American diet.

Now let me read to you a few words from the Word of Wisdom, given by the Prophet Joseph Smith to the world long before science knew any of the facts that I have just read to you from How to Live. As a promise for observing the Word of Wisdom the revelation says:

And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones . . .

And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint (D&C 89:18,20).

Do the Yale experiments and the statements read from How To Live confirm or discredit the teaching of the Word of Wisdom relative to the eating of meat? How do you account for the fact that Joseph Smith could give these truths to the world many years before science knew about them?


Now I wish to quote from Health and Efficiency, a book written for schools by Professor M. V. O’Shea of the University of Wisconsin and Dr. J. H. Kellogg, superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, and published by the Macmillan Company in 1927. I believe anyone could read this little book on hygiene with a great deal of profit. From the chapter on “Food and Efficiency” I condense the following statements:

Proteins are body-building materials. They may also be used by the body as fuel, but this occurs only in case of necessity. When heat producing foods—fats and carbohydrates—are burned up proteins are used for fuel. So if the body does not need the protein for repairs it will use it, but it is a bad form of fuel, for it leaves behind what might be called clinkers. When fats and carbohydrates are consumed, they leave no “ashes.” With protein foods the story is quite different. These, when formed, yield substances that are not ready for elimination by the kidneys until they have been chemically changed by the liver. These products are poisonous and circulating through the body are present in excess in the blood of heavy meat eaters. The result is that the liver and kidneys are much overworked and thus wear out prematurely


Of the food eaten, a small portion remains behind in the intestine undigested. This is particularly true of protein food, the unused residue of which is usually much greater than that of the carbohydrates and fats. When more protein is eaten than needed some of it remains in the large intestine until it is discharged. The warmth of the body causes it to putrefy.

It is evident, then, that if one’s diet is such that a considerable amount of undigested meat is left to decay in the colon, harmful poisons will be absorbed in the blood and will do harm to the liver, kidneys, blood vessels, and the other tissues.

Dr. Newburgh, a University of Michigan professor, as a result of his researches, has concluded that an excess of protein in the diet resulting from heavy meat eating, is one of the causes of the great increase in recent years of diseases of the kidneys, heart, and blood vessels.

The foods to be used most sparingly are those which contain a great excess of protein, such as meat, eggs, cheese, and beans. On this account, there are many authorities who think that it would be safer to discard the use of meat altogether than to continue to use it so freely as many Americans are doing.

And then the book quotes Dr. McCollum of Johns Hopkins University, an eminent authority on nutrition as follows:

I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that a vegetarian diet, supplemented with fairly liberal amounts of milk is the most satisfactory type of diet a man can take.

Next, Professor Chittenden of Yale University is quoted:

With vegetables of all kinds and milk, bread, and butter, you have at your command all the necessary resources for a nutritious diet.

Then the book speaks about a bulletin by the United States Department of Agriculture in which we are told that

. . . meat may be omitted from the diet altogether, for it has been determined that all necessary protein and energy may be obtained from other materials.

As a final quotation from the book Health and Efficiency I give the following:

Energy can be gotten from food only after it has become part of a living cell. The excess protein is never assimilated: it never becomes an actual part of the body; it is burned to get rid of it, just as rubbish is. Even the heat produced is extra heat which the body does not need and so is carried off by an increase in the insensible perspiration. Under conditions of extreme exposure to cold the heat might be of service. On the other hand, in case of fever, and in hot weather, the heat excess induced by ton much protein may do great harm.


Now I read again the words of the revelation to the Prophet:

. . . .they [meats] 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 (D&C 89:12-13).

Latter-day Saints, why should you complain of the scarcity or high price of flesh foods? Have you not known that in any case you should eat them sparingly? The Lord told you so. I have quoted from some of the highest authorities in the world to the effect that they are not essential to your physical well-being. But Americans did not know this until God revealed it to them through his Prophet, Joseph Smith.

And now I sum up. Proteins are the building materials of the body, the needed amount of which is largely determined by age and the kind of physical activity: but for the average adult it is about 10 percent of food intake. More than this should be avoided. 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.

May the Lord help us to accept and live by every word he gives to us by the mouths of his holy prophets, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

* The Conference Address was not originally titled, but it was based on a longer speech Elder Merrill entitled, “Eat Meat Sparingly.” When the Conference Address was published in the Improvement Era, it was entitled, “Eat Flesh Sparingly.”

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