Borderline omnivore activist goes plant-based

Devin BarnesBy: Devin Barnes

“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.

Devin Barnes is featured on this episode of the Mormon Vegetarian podcast. His mother, Karen Barnes, is featured in at the end of Chapter 10 of Discovering the Word of Wisdom.


  1. Haha, this was a great read Devin; you’re a humorous writer! Congratulations on your lifestyle change. I graduated from BYU-I in 2005. 🙂

  2. “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.”

    Even though I’m eighty two years of age I really related to what you wrote. I deeply appreciated the way you expressed yourself and particularly how you were able to come around to understanding the truth about how the Lord wants us to eat after what I quoted your having said above. You are a great example to others your age who are seeking to eat right and be healthy!

  3. God job Devin, I had lost so many friends because the same reason as well, but it is so amazing to find and read about people that has your same beliefs and habits. Keep doing a great example for others, as Jane said to me once, it is like another mission or when we are new converts. Have a great day!

  4. Nice post, Devin! I didn’t know you were scared of camels. I know you rode one at the zoo once…I will have to research Screamo as well, I don’t know what that is. And yay for investing in our future selves! I tell people I eat this way because I don’t really feel like getting cancer.

  5. I wasn’t going to read it because it seemed too long to read for me, but somehow I started reading, and I finished reading. Congratulations on becoming a vegan! I tried, but failed. I feel bad to eat animals, but they taste good…and I can’t resist the temptations… I love Banzai burger at Red Robin… I think you should meet Bro. Patch’s family. He has four sisters, three are single, very beautiful, and they all like veggies, and don’t eat meat! I think I mentioned you about Reliv nutrition before, but it’s vegan, and it has all the nutrition your cells need to reproduce healthier cells. If you feel like you are missing any nutrients from your plant-based diet, check out Reliv. It is the best one on the market. Our family loves it, and we all got off medications, thanks to good nutrition Yes, what we eat is important. Keep us posted on your new diet. Someday I might be a vegan… We are having missionaries over tomorrow, and we are having tacos. For now, I am enjoying my meat and chocolate cake. I am glad that you weren’t a vegan when you came over to our house for dinner. It’s sometimes hard to cook for my husband’s family…

  6. Way to go, Devin!! Your story is amazing. I went to BYU-Idaho too and I know it must be difficult to make your way as a vegan there with all the activities involving food. Thanks for sharing your experience. Your lifestyle choices are unfortunately not very common for most men in the church at this point in time, but by continuing to tell people about your lifestyle you can really make a difference. Keep up the good work, and avoid camels. 😉

  7. I loved hearing your story. Thanks for sharing. Also, YES to your research into ‘moderation in all things,’ I have looked into that as well, and I am always stumped by that un-true phrase and all that it implies.

  8. Terrific Journey Devin

    I can attest to what you have experienced starting and trying to maintain a vegan lifestyle. Fortunately I am grateful to have a passion for cooking and I love to cook my own plant-base dishes. I am also in my third year as vegetarian and first year as vegan.

    Maybe you should create a W.O.W. club at BYU Idaho to create a social group to spread the word and share each others dishes.

    It is terrific to know that I am not the only young single adult who lives this way.

  9. Devin, I’ll bet you anything there are more female vegans that male in the Church! You ought to be able to find one and make a happy couple. I haven’t had any luck yet convincing my millenial-age children to switch, but I just keep trying to be a good example of a healthy and happy oldster!

  10. Way to go Devin!
    I enjoyed your life-changing research project! I am in the process of trying to follow the Word of Wisdom as we are counseled- to eat meat only in times of winter or famine! I feel like a little kid that’s learning to ride a bike and keeps falling off! But I keep trying! My problem is the rest of my family is eating the opposite – a low carb, high fat and protein diet. I try to focus on the things we have in common- veggies!
    I am excited to hear more Doctors are finding out for themselves how to truly heal the body! I feel people are slowly learning and accepting the whole food, plant based diet because of the great results that are being discovered! Continue being a pioneer and you will help many more find the truth! Keep up the good work! And I agree on the W.O.W. Club at BYU-I! You could start something big!! Let your light shine!☀️ Dena

Leave a Reply