I knew I was clearly on the wrong course when a physician friend of mine pulled me aside at church, expressed concern about the way I looked, and point-blank asked me if I had cancer. This conversation occurred about 4 and a half years ago. A few months before that I had been increasingly concerned about my health. I was overweight and under a lot of professional stress. I generally didn’t feel good. At times I felt bad enough that I knew I needed to make some changes in order to avert a health crisis.
Based on a flawed assumption that my problems would go away if I just lost weight, I embarked on one of the high animal protein diets. I lost weight quickly, but I felt worse and developed a gaunt look. Other friends pulled me aside and ask if the weight loss was intentional, implying that I might be afflicted with a serious health issue.
As I contemplated what to do next, my daughter stumbled across a documentary called Forks over Knives. She and I had done the animal protein diet together and were both so tired of eating meat that the idea of vegetables sounded very refreshing. This documentary, and my personal research that followed, was life changing. The scientific and clinical evidence gathered over decades by Drs. Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, and others was irrefutable. I have always considered myself analytical by nature, and so I was surprised and shocked to discover how thoroughly I had been duped.
In reviewing the research on causal links between animal-based foods and a host of chronic diseases, I was forced to consider the reality of my situation and the damage I had most likely done to my body over the years. My grandfather died of heart disease at an early age — only a few years older than my age at the time. The beautiful thing about this research, especially Dr. Esselstyn’s clinical work, is the evidence that a plant-based diet would not only stop the progression of these lurking chronic conditions but that it would actually reverse them.
As I connected the dots, I realized that this way of eating would not only improve the quality of my life but that it could actually extend it. Tammi and I have been blessed with a wonderful family. We are all very close and being with our family is our greatest joy. At the point I was contemplating this shift to a whole food plant-based lifestyle, I thought of our first grandchild who was about a month away from being born. My grandfather passed away when I was only 3 years old and so I really didn’t get to know him. I felt like I had been given an opportunity for a different course and a different outcome.
As I further contemplated adopting what I had always considered an extreme lifestyle choice by vegetarian or vegan friends, I turned my thoughts to the Word of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants Section 89) to reconsider what the Lord had to say on the matter. I was surprised and somewhat ashamed to realize that every detail prescribed by Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn had been given plainly in this precious revelation to Joseph Smith 178 years earlier. I keenly felt the irony that it required scientific and clinical evidence to lead me back to a source of wisdom I’d had access to all along.
In re-reading the Word of Wisdom through this newly acquired lens, I saw it in a new light and considered versus I had previously filtered out. In the past, I focused on verse 12 of Section 89 and the phrase “to be used sparingly,” in reference to eating the flesh of beasts and fowls. Our family never ate a lot of meat, probably less than the national average, but preparing meals with meat was an important part of our family and social get-togethers, and I made it fit within the definition of “sparingly.” Somehow I thought that the commonly-quoted phrase “moderation in all things” was actually scriptural, and I had applied that “principle” to meat consumption.
With a new perspective, I read verses 13 and 15 of Section 89 as if for the first time. I realized that the Lord clearly stated, and even repeated the clarification, that meat was to be eaten only in times of winter, famine, or excess hunger. It also occurred to me that in considering winter, famine, and hunger exceptions, it was important to take into account the historical context of 1833 when the revelation was received. In that time period, and in that latitude, it could have been difficult to maintain a plant-based diet in winter months and especially in times of regional famine. We are blessed with a very different situation; we have local and global economies that provide a relatively miraculous supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts any time of year.
Another discovery in the Word of Wisdom touched me deeply. Even though the revelation was “not given by way of commandment or constraint” and that the Lord provided exceptions where it might be appropriate to eat meat, He says “it is pleasing unto me that they not be used.” It occurred to me that in all the many ways that I don’t please the Lord because of my weakness, this was a simple way in which I could please the One who created this world for us and provided every type of beautiful and delicious food that our bodies need in their natural form — no processing required.
While making the decision to take the leap, I had been working in Idaho away from our home in California. I started to consider the impact this would have on my family. I thought, at the time, it might be like coming home from an extended trip to Idaho and announcing that I had joined a different church. I knew I couldn’t force this choice on my family, and I considered ways to minimize the impact. I naively thought that maybe I would just prepare my own plant-based dinners alongside whatever the rest of the family was having. After revealing my new discoveries and decision to Tammi, we faced the magnitude of this change. Thoughtfully prepared dinners with foods we all enjoyed had always been really important to our family. Tammi graciously supported my decision and came up with a plan that was more practical than mine. We would prepare whole food, plant-based meals for dinner, and she would prepare some meat on the side for those that wanted to add it to their meal. It wasn’t easy, but it worked. I give the credit to Tammi for adapting this new lifestyle to our family.
Little by little, the meat options gradually just disappeared from our dinner table. I believe that this transformation took place because the food was surprisingly delicious, the new things we tried were adventurous, and we all felt better. Fortunately we were not the only ones making this switch, and we were able to draw upon the experiences and recipes from friends, various blogs, and recipe sites. Our fear that we were facing a trade-off between “delicious” and “healthy” turned out to be just the opposite. We have found amazing recipes and regularly enjoy delightful meals with increasing variety textures and flavors.
The impact of this transition outside of my family was more challenging than I expected. I experienced a variety of reactions, ranging from sincere concerns about my health and constant questions about “where do you get your protein?” to friendly jabs and awkward comments. I have found and embraced the fact that when someone with a whole food, plant-based diet is at the dinner table, it always stimulates a conversation. I simply tell as much of my story as is appropriate at the time and try hard not to offend or ever give the impression that I am passing judgment. I try to remind myself that the same rational, informed person that made the decision to go plant-based would have considered this an extreme and even unhealthy choice just 5 years ago. I try and share what I have learned, especially with those that are close to me and those that are curious if this lifestyle could help them.
Another powerful motivator for sharing my experience comes from the sting of how thoroughly I was duped by a system that profits from foods that make us sick and then further profits from the costly medical procedures and pharmaceuticals that attempt to treat the symptoms. I believe that we are blessed by a prophetic forewarning of this vicious cycle created by “conspiring men in the last days” (D&C 89:4). I am passionate about helping people understand that our healthcare crisis is completely preventable with a whole food, plant-based diet and physical activity.
It has been just over four years since I adopted a whole food, plant-based diet. At age 51, I feel better than I ever have. I am 35 pounds lighter than when I started this process, but I don’t have the gaunt, sickly look I had with my animal protein diet program of four and a half years ago. Tammi and I took up running this year to prepare for a relay race, and it has now become an important part of my life. I can’t believe the energy I have and how good I feel when I run now. As I was finishing a 10 mile run this last Saturday, and feeling what I can only describe as a “runner’s high,” a powerful impression came to me. I thought of the beautiful promises in the Word of Wisdom, in particular the promise that we will “run and not be weary” (D&C 89:20). I am grateful for those that have helped me along this path, and I pray for a long, active life with my growing family.
People often ask me if I miss eating meat. I can honestly say that I don’t miss it at all. There is one thing that I have been missing as Thanksgiving approaches: pumpkin pie. Again, Tammi has come to the rescue. She tried three different recipes for plant-based pumpkin pie and finally found one the worked beautifully. We’re looking forward to a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.
Brian, 51, lives in Boise, Idaho with Tammi Sevy, his wife of 29 years. He earned a Master of Business Administration at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School and works as a product innovation executive developing cloud-based software solutions. Brian and Tammi are the parents of 5 children and have 2 grandchildren. They enjoy cycling, running, and hiking. Brian is currently training for his first marathon.
Also check out the interview Brian and Tammi did on the Mormon Vegetarian podcast. They shared many great insights here: “Episode 9 – Going Plant Based Together, Brian & Tammi Sevy Tell Their Story.”