Archive for compassion for animals

Taking Life

Beautiful Animals Looking at CameraThis article is part of an occasional series on “Word of Wisdom Reflections.” You can also read Steve Reed’s plant-based conversion story.

By: Steve Reed

I wrote most of this back in 2014 but haven’t published it until now. In fact there was a lot more history before and after this, but I feel like this one experience was a big turning point for me. Few people know about this experience, and even fewer know the details which I’m going to attempt to convey. This event happened about 15 years ago while I was a full-time missionary.

After I share this story, I want to wrap up by exploring what doctrine, principles, and applications relate to this subject.

Winter of 2000

My companion and I were trying to reach out to a less active young man on a small Idaho farm. We got on the conversation of animals and he mentioned that they would be cooking some goat soon for Christmas dinner. My companion, who was Fijian, mentioned that he was an expert at killing pigs and could kill the goat in seconds. The young man and I were impressed with the claim and decided to put my companion to the test.

The day came and we met out at the farm, I was anxious to witness this spectacle of my companion slaying a goat with the skill and finesse that he claimed. I came from Texas where hunting is a big deal and I wanted to see how they did things island-style. We walked out to the goat pen and a large goat was selected. I volunteered to take the rope and lasso the goat, and nailed him perfectly right around the horns. My companion had a habit of calling me “Texas Ranger” and my apparent skill with the lasso caused him to excitedly exclaim, “You ARE the Texas Ranger!”

We pulled the goat out of the pen as it struggled against us. I yanked him around like the dumb animal he was while his fellow-goats cowered away.

We pulled the goat down to the ground and my companion straddled it while I held its head to the ground. A medium-sized knife was handed to my companion. I watched as he took a deep breath, while aiming the instrument and sincerely whispering the words, “Sorry, goat.” With a swift jerk, he thrust the knife into the chest of the animal and it let out a disturbing cry of pain while fiercely fighting against us. The cry was jarring, and although this was just an animal in my mind, I couldn’t help but imagine the exact same sound and physical reaction from a person being stabbed in the same way. I held the goat’s head down firmly and looked into its eyes.

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“I had the sweet feeling that this new baby was a special gift”

Joy and Jane BarryBy: Joy Barry

I was blessed to be raised on a diet healthier than the standard American variety. In the 1970s when most kids were living on toaster pastries, Twinkies, and Wonder Bread, we were grinding our own wheat to make whole wheat bread and cracked wheat porridge. When we made cookies or Kool-Aid, my father insisted on using half the sugar that the recipe called for. As I grew older and moved away from home, I continued to cook most things from scratch, the way I was brought up. I wasn’t too concerned about health or a balanced diet, it was more about saving money and making homemade food that tasted better. Besides, I never had to worry about losing weight as I was always trim and thin as a child and young adult. I never even exercised.

When I hit my mid-20s, I started to put on a little bit of weight. It concerned me enough that I started exercising to try to get in shape. But all my bike-riding just left me worn out and discouraged. It never occurred to me that my diet was to blame. I thought I was doing just fine.

I married at age 29 and had my first child when I was 30. My new role as a wife and mother made me more concerned about healthy eating. It was not just about me anymore, I had a family to feed. The responsibility to not just feed my family, but to feed them well, rested heavy on my conscience. I read everything online that I could find about healthy diets and worried much about how to best feed my family a balanced diet.

Although I read many conflicting opinions from various “experts,” I felt blessed to have the Word of Wisdom as my foundation. If I read anything that said to eat lots of meat and avoid grains, I dismissed it immediately. However, I always wished that the Word of Wisdom had more specifics. I thought it was too vague and didn’t cover all the food groups. I knew it said to eat meat sparingly, and I tried to follow that advice, but what about eggs and dairy products? I also worried much about what kind of oils were the healthy ones, and other hotly debated topics.

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“Having another life grow inside of me changed me”

Stephanie Berglind FamilyBy: Stephanie Berglind

My journey to a healthier way of living started when I became pregnant with my first son in 2004 and started to think differently about the foods I ate and the things that I put into my body. Up to that point, I hadn’t really cared too much. I exercised regularly and tried to limit my calories, but I didn’t put much thought into what those calories were made of and how they were hurting or nourishing my body.

Having another life grow inside of me changed me. I started reading about super foods and clean eating. I cut out most sugary or processed foods but still considered Greek yogurt and chicken as “health foods.” I continued my clean eating for the next few years. I had lost some weight but was suffering with hypothyroidism, gallstones, acne, and athlete’s foot—things that I just thought were a part of life.

Over time, I started to feel a tug towards a plant-based diet. I would read little snippets here or there, or watch things on social media. But it wasn’t until May of 2013 that it really hit me. I was recovering from the birth of my third child when I finally decided to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. As I watched this show, I was in shock to learn about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, as well as the environmental benefits. But it wasn’t until I got on my knees that night that I started to feel the beginnings of the spiritual benefits of taking care of my body, the animals God created, and the beautiful earth He gave to us.

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“Eating the way I do brings me joy”

Manda Dangerfield FamilyBy: Manda Dangerfield

Growing up and into in my late twenties, I ate what the USDA food pyramid said I needed to eat daily: grains, milk and other dairy, meat, fruits, and vegetables. I really liked ice cream, milk chocolate, and other candy and processed foods. Grains were cold cereal, bread, and pasta that wasn’t whole grain.

My journey to a whole foods plant-based diet probably began in 2007. My husband and I had been married for three years and were new parents. Our baby girl was ready, at five months, to eat “solids.” My stepmom had given me a recipe book for baby food, and I liked it. I understood that we would save money by not buying baby food if possible. I made our daughter a variety of foods by steaming foods and using a mini food processor, or just mashing if it was banana. Some of the foods were vegetables that I personally didn’t grow up eating, or didn’t remember enjoying, including spinach and some kinds of squash. I know I had tasted cooked spinach but didn’t like it. I discovered that I didn’t hate cabbage, I only hated the ingredients in coleslaw sauce! I loved the ratatouille, other simple combinations, and the plain steamed cauliflower that I made for her. I did get pre-made jars or containers sometimes for convenience. The ones with meat in them didn’t smell so good, and I knew there was a difference between the pre-made veggies and my freshly-made veggies. I remember thinking one day, “Why am I feeding her a jar of lamb? We don’t eat lamb.” (And now I wonder why anyone would want to eat a baby sheep.) But we did eat a pretty typical American diet with other meat in it.

When our daughter was almost a year old, and not quite done breastfeeding, we started having her drink whole cow’s milk, like we thought we were supposed to in order for her to be healthy. By the time I took her for her twelve-month doctor appointment she had pretty bad eczema. Eventually — I wish I would have kept a journal of all this! — I read that dairy has been shown to be connected to skin problems, and I realized that her eczema had started at the same time as her introduction to cow’s milk. However, the doctor had said nothing about diet, only to bathe our daughter in plain water and put a specific ointment on her skin. Later, when I stopped giving her cow’s milk, cheese, and yogurt, the eczema went away. A few times it seems that her arms have gotten a little eczema again, after she has chosen to eat some dairy when away from home.

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“We had a major awakening”

Chelsea PorterBy: Chelsea Porter

I grew up learning how to shoot a gun and using it to hunt animals. Each year we had pheasant, dove, and the occasional antelope meat in our freezer that my dad, brother, or I most likely killed. My parents also bought part of a cow every year. Our freezer was always stocked full of meat. I literally hated vegetables and rarely ate any. I drank a glass of milk with dinner and thought that counting carbs and calories (even in high school) was as healthy as anyone could be!

I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when I was 21. At that time I drank alcohol, massive amounts of coffee and caffeine, smoked cigarettes and never wondered about the food I ate. As soon as I had my answer that I needed to be baptized, my desire and dependence to all my addictions vanished. I still have no desire or temptation to have them in my body.

When I had my first child, a boy, I had gained over 50 pounds during his pregnancy. It took quite a while to lose most of it before I was again pregnant, with another boy. I again gained 50 pounds during his pregnancy and although I was “healthier” I was still consuming meat and dairy in substantial amounts. I ate much less sugar and because I was making meals at home, I thought that was at least better than restaurant food. My husband, Jordan, also gained a total of forty pounds during the two pregnancies. So, maybe the food I was cooking was not as healthy as I thought.

My mother-in-law gave me Herbal Home Health Care by Dr. John R. Christopher after our first son was born. It teaches a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet, and we tried living that way for a while. I did not have recipes ready and could not figure out how to cook that way; the cheese and meat were too tempting to leave behind at that point.

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“My stirrings as a child were correct”

Julie BealBy: Julie Beal

My journey to plant-based eating started when I attended Brigham Young University at age 17. I was not a member of the Church at that time. Although I lived several states away, I was drawn there due to the clean living and purity I had noticed among new LDS friends I’d met while in a beauty pageant. Another contestant felt I had a happy glow and invited me to church!

I loved learning the Lord’s teachings at BYU. I was particularly proud of earning an A in my college Book of Mormon class, as it was all new to me. I had been intimidated by that class and tried really hard to do well. I was also a serious student of the gospel. Reading the New Testament on my own the previous year had prepared me for all I would later study in my quest for truth.

The knowledge I gained of the doctrine at that time has blessed me immensely through the years. As an investigator, I was able to take any doubt or concern that my family expressed and study it out, make inquiries, and then gain a testimony of all of the details prior to baptism. I respected my parents enough to do this, and it has given me an even greater foundation in my faith and beliefs.

I took the same approach to the beautiful latter-day revelation of Doctrine and Covenants Section 89, the Word of Wisdom, which is instruction from God for our health. I took the Word of Wisdom literally, believing it means what it states. I loved knowing that God is not some mythical, magical entity, but truly a loving Father in Heaven who teaches his children how to live in the happiest and most joyful way.

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“I’ve come to see food and all creation as sacred”

Steve ReedBy: Steve Reed

I grew up in South Texas where barbecue and eating red meat are a deep part of the culture. My transition to a plant-based diet underwent a major shift in 2011 when I finally decided to regulate my personal use of meat to only those times when I legitimately needed to consume it.

I spent a period of about 6 months reflecting on past personal experiences, studying scripture, and searching for wisdom in the words of past and present Church leaders. As I studied and considered many perspectives, I felt that a transition to a plant-based diet was necessary.

In adopting this way of life, I knew that there would be consequences that I would need to address. First, I had to find suitable alternatives to the meat I had become accustomed to. Thanks to the Internet, there is no shortage of recipes out there, and I have been very satisfied with the alternatives I have found. I realized that it wasn’t the taste of meat that I liked, but the spices, sauces and flavors that I found most enjoyable. I began to find alternatives to meat to provide the foundation for those flavors. Because of the vast array of options out there, I don’t feel that I am missing out on anything. It is similar to the feeling of alcohol abstinence, I don’t feel like I’m missing out there either.

Balancing my personal food choices among family and friends has been a little tricky. How do you justify making a radical change in diet that culturally alienates you from those you care about? In my situation, my motives were driven by morals, health, and a desire to please God. I am a believer in persuasion rather than force, so I have been concerned with others thinking that my choices were a condemnation of theirs. My wife and children are free to eat what they want, and they often choose animal products when they are an option. In rare situations, I will eat meat that is served to me if I feel that to refuse would be disrespectful to my host. I found Romans 14 (CEV version in particular) to be a good source of inspiration. Animal flesh is not a prohibition like certain plants are, so the sparing use of it guided by wisdom and judgment is important. I follow the rule and deal with exceptions individually.

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“You are one of God’s creatures, your life has value”

Heather Hernandez & Jeff HixonBy: Heather Hernandez

At nineteen, I was performing in Die Fledermaus in Rome when I was first introduced to the idea of plant-based living. I was having lunch with a colleague, and I noticed that she didn’t eat meat or dairy. Though I didn’t say anything about it at first, I was intrigued. I watched her eat nearly every day over the course of the next two weeks before my curiosity finally got the better of me. At a rehearsal, I blurted out, “Are you a picky eater, or what? Why don’t you eat meat or cheese?” She tilted her head, and asked, “Do you know how meat, cheese, and eggs are produced?” Of course I had no idea whatsoever, and when I told her as much she recommended that I watch Food, Inc. and read about animal agriculture. I told her that I would, but I followed my promise with teasing her about her eating habits. At that point, the maestro’s son, who happened to be listening to the conversation, jumped in and defended her. In his exotic Italian accent, he said, “Look at her skin, her tiny waist. Listen to her beautiful voice – clearly she is doing something right.” I couldn’t argue with him. She was, after all, gorgeous and immensely talented. When I got back from Rome, I watched Food, Inc., Forks Over Knives, and hours of footage from factory farms and slaughterhouses. It changed my entire perspective on life.

For many months, it was difficult for me to cope with the amount of suffering that I witnessed in these films. I had nightmares from the knowledge of the system I had been a part of. It seemed unreal that such atrocious crimes against animals and the environment were happening on such a wide scale and no one seemed to know about it. Almost all of the meat produced in our country comes from factory farms. Inside of factory farms, for example, pigs are routinely kept in gestation crates. The crates are so small that the pigs literally go insane. All they can do is sit down or stand up. They can’t move about—there isn’t any room! They don’t ever get to see the light of day. This is only one example of the many cruelties that happen to animals behind closed doors. I don’t believe that this is what God had in mind when he created the beautiful creatures we share our world with. I have looked in the eyes of animals and seen their souls. They are sentient beings that think, feel, and (according to research) even dream. They want to live. It is my firm belief that we are supposed to extend our compassion to all of God’s creatures.

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“I see animals differently now”

Doug and Steph HawkesBy: Doug Hawkes

When I read the Word of Wisdom, there is a phrase that really touches me. Speaking of the animals, the Lord says, “it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used” (D&C 89:13). It is pleasing to Him. What a choice emotion for the Lord to say He has. It sounds like a very good thing to me.

I haven’t ever seen an animal die in person. I’ve definitely seen them alive though. And they are so alive. They enjoy the company of their kind. They see and experience things. There is something good and innocent in all of them. I do know that at this point, if I needed to eat one of them, I’d like it to be for a special reason, not just because it tastes good, but because I need some food for my family to eat, and there is nothing else. In that case, I would gratefully use them as food. Otherwise, I don’t want to eat them because they might as well be my dog. I really see that level of being in them.

Perhaps part of God’s way of showing us His gladness is naturally rewarding us with better health when we eat closer to what He would prefer. From the many reputable scientific studies I have read, every single form of food we can create based on animal flesh, eggs, or milk seems to cause us harm, leading toward debilitating or lethal disease at worst and is an organ-burdening fuel at best. None of the supposed benefits outweigh the long-term harm. Calories from animals will definitely get most people through their younger years all right. But like a seemingly great car that you purchased with only 20,000 miles on it, the damage and wear in a poorly fueled and abused engine might not be evident until later.

So I see animals differently now, which I only let myself do once they weren’t food anymore. I like thinking about all of their big and little lives, full of their own emotions and struggles, being left alone to live in their way. I think I understand a little of what is pleasing to our Savior, who is full of understanding of all creatures, knows their enjoyment and pain as intimately as ours, and whose bowels are full of mercy for all He has suffered. That may sound silly or perhaps even sacrilegious to some people, but I think it is far from it.

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“I like the foods my mom makes”

Sophie Drechsel

Three months ago, I featured the story of my beautiful sister, Parie Drechsel. Today, I’m happy to feature her daughter (and my sweet niece), Sophie!

By: Sophie Drechsel

After my Aunt Jane came to visit our house, my mom read her book, and then our family started eating a plant-based diet. Now, we don’t eat any meat or dairy, and we don’t use very much oil. We also don’t eat any eggs.

I felt fine about changing our food. Before this, we didn’t have meat very often. For a second thing, I hate cheese and eggs. So it was fine with me. I don’t like even the smell of cheese!

Before changing our diet, I didn’t like cupcakes, but I did like candy like suckers. Now my mom makes treats like baked apples and bananas with cinnamon and maple syrup.

I like the foods my mom makes. I like mushrooms, rice and beans, and grapes and vegetables.

One time when I was shopping with a friend and her mother, we went to a noodle place. They had lots and lots of meat, but I told them I don’t eat things with meat. My friend asked me, “How can you get all the stuff you need?” I told her I get it from fruits and vegetables.

I think it is sad that people eat animals because sometimes they’ll just kill a baby animal, and they don’t get to live their life.

I like to eat this way because it can help others to eat this way. That will help them so they don’t get sick. And it will help more animals to live.

Sophie Drechsel is 8 years old and lives in Columbus, Indiana. She loves to read, play piano, dance, and make crafts.