“Oh! . . . ok . . . cool . . . why?”
Typically that’s the response I get when people find out I’m a vegan. But I can’t blame them; vegans are so strange.
At least that’s what I thought three years ago. In fact, I was so opposed to any form of vegetarianism I was borderline omnivore activist. “For so many reasons you should eat meat,” I would argue, “plants alone don’t provide adequate protein or iron. And why else would God create all these animals? It’s not like He gave us canines by accident. And I don’t recall the scriptures ever referring to the land of soymilk and honey . . . ”
I could have written a 20-page persuasive essay. Needless to say, I was passionate about meat. But honestly, deep down I pitied vegetarians. Meat is delectable! In-N-Out, Outback Steakhouse, Chic-fil-A . . . All could be classified as “Heavenly.” Vegans were beyond my understanding. Give up eggs and dairy too? Butter, milk, cheese, ice cream?? You take all the fun out of eating!
You can imagine my surprise when I gave up all animal products early in 2012.
. . . . . .
A few months prior, I had just returned home from my two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Terrible news accompanied my arrival when I found out my aunt had breast cancer. There was sadness, but there was hope as well.
She flew from Washington to stay with my family in Arizona for her cancer treatment. At first I didn’t pay too much attention to her new diet given to her by her doctor, but it became impossible to evade as she and my compassionate mother began preparing new recipes that were meatless and also contained no dairy. Apparently it was close to something called a “low fat, non-processed, plant-based, whole foods diet.” I had never heard of it before. Way too many words for my impatient mind to handle.
Thankfully, with the combination of the diet and medical treatment, the cancer went away. Did eating this way save her life? My naturally skeptical thoughts defensively murmured, “I’m sure it was just coincidence. I bet it was the medical treatment and prayer that cured the cancer.” There was simply not enough convincing evidence that this “plant-based” diet was worth investigating.
At least, not enough for me. But my aunt wasn’t the only one who noticed improved health during our vegetable craze.
My mother shared with me an experience she had while riding her road bike with her friends. She had been riding the same routes with the same biker gang for a few years. During their early morning pedaling expeditions, she would invariably end up near the back of the group. However, once she changed her diet suddenly she was keeping up with the fastest rider for the entire duration of the journey!
Her interest was piqued, to say the least. She eagerly read several books and articles to learn about this low-fat whole food, plant-based diet. They were all consistent. They demonstrated how eating this way can prevent and even reverse heart disease, common cancers, respiratory diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other common diseases.
But I knew better, or so I thought . . . My pride was clouding my vision as I dubiously reasoned, “I’m sure exercise, eating meat sparingly and plenty of vegetables would produce similar results. Besides, I doubt those biased studies are even credible.”
. . . . . .
It has always been my outlook to seek to understand others’ lifestyles that, to me, are foreign. Screamo, democrats, SpongeBob, geology, cats, turtleneck sweaters. I don’t have to enjoy or agree with these things, but I desire to unbiasedly understand why some of these things are the motivating factor for millions of people to get out of bed every morning. I want to hold intelligent conversations with people who are passionate about these things and be able to truthfully tell them, “I understand you. Let’s be friends.”
Eating a diet of whole food, plant-based diet fell perfectly in this category of things I didn’t understand. I resolved to investigate the diet and find out for myself. Conveniently, a research project in one of my classes at BYU-Idaho had just been assigned, opening the door for the perfect opportunity.
I studied several works on the subject including peer-reviewed medical journals and discovered hidden treasures of knowledge. The evidence clearly supported everything my mother had learned through her investigations. Reluctantly, I started to be convinced that this diet made sense, so much so that I wondered if I should be eating this way.
Thoughts started shooting through my mind like: “Without animal products, I don’t know what I would eat. I don’t even know how to cook! What would my friends think? Dating will probably become more challenging; this is going to make me even more awkward than I already am. And what about the Word of Wisdom? Don’t we believe in a moderation in all things?”
I decided to try this whole plant-based thing out, just as a “trial period” to see how long I could do it. At the time I was in my second semester at BYU-Idaho. Let me tell you, this was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Harder than serving a mission in inner-city Detroit, the ghetto of all ghettos, harder than selling pest control 8 hours a day during the hot summer months to people who don’t even need it.
As a college freshman, I didn’t have the best diet or cooking skills. I wished a magical chef would appear and just cook all my meals for me. But I did the best I could with the kitchenware I found at thrift stores. I would find simple recipes on Pinterest that were plant-based and no oils and learned from there.
I started to miss meat. A lot! A couple times near the beginning I would give in and get a burger or pizza or something. But after a while of eating plant-based, meat didn’t taste as good to me anymore, and I would feel sluggish afterwards.
Then the persecution started. Who would have thought I would be persecuted for the way I eat? Believe it or not, I even lost some friends. I learned quickly not to advertise my diet to others or appear self-righteous. Ironically enough, at the time I home-taught a girl majoring in animal science whose future career depended on people eating meat. We agreed to disagree and never bring it up in our visits.
I learned quickly to be extremely sensitive about this topic when speaking with other LDS members. Here’s the truth: one Latter-day Saint can eat nothing but meat, and the other can eat a plant-based diet, and both can be in equally good standing in the Church, so in the end it doesn’t really matter; neither one can judge the other. I would suggest studying Section 89 in the Doctrine and Covenants and do what you believe it teaches.
As far as a “moderation in all things,” I have found no scripture in all holy writ that contains that, or any form of that phrase. If it were in the scriptures then we’d also have to partake of alcohol and tobacco in moderation too.
Little did I know this “trial period” would become a permanent lifestyle decision. I don’t see myself switching back anytime soon. I view it as a form of investment; a way to respect my future self. If our purpose in life is to be the best agent of the Lord that we can possibly be, wouldn’t we be better agents if we weren’t limited with health problems? Imagine being an old couple, both healthy, flexible, and full of energy. Almost every newly married couple in the Church plans on serving a mission together when they retire. Little do they know, the main reason why senior couples don’t serve missions is because their health prevents them.
Since I have been living this lifestyle, and fully embracing it socially, several friends have permanently changed their diets to match mine, and that is a very rewarding feeling. I know the Word of Wisdom is divinely inspired, and I am tremendously grateful for it. I am especially grateful for the Restoration which brought to pass the Word of Wisdom. I know from personal experience that obedience to the Word of Wisdom blesses us temporally and spiritually.
My name is Devin Barnes. I’m a 24-year old single RM attending BYU-Idaho. I play the drums, guitar, piano, and ukulele. I long board, read, blog, and am addicted to making people laugh. I eat a plant-based diet. And I have a fear of camels.