“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.

There were a lot of questions I had when my wife and I started considering eating this way all at once. There were concerns about adequate nutrition, enough protein, and whether humans could be healthy without calcium from milk. I soon discovered how truly ignorant those concerns were, and perhaps how influenced we are by food industries set to gain from confused consumers with misinformed ideas on what the body really needs. But with reassurance from the Word of Wisdom, and the specific guidance it provides regarding grain and “herbs,” I went to work in the scientific literature. I’ve spent a lot of time doing so. In my opinion, there is not one single aspect of the Word of Wisdom that isn’t backed by scientific literature, if both are properly understood.

My story is a little different, because it’s not about weight loss or even regaining health, since I was already healthy and not overweight. My wife heard from a friend about Jane Birch’s book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom and also the Forks Over Knives film. When I was finally willing to watch the film with her, I was amazed at what I hadn’t been told earlier, or perhaps what I had refused to hear until then. We read Discovering the Word of Wisdom as soon as we could acquire a copy.

Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish have shown that the plaque building up in your arteries, that gradually gets worse over the years, can not only be stopped, but reversed, without surgery or drugs. Heart attack proof. Dr. Esselstyn also discusses dementia prevention as well, eliminating micro-strokes that most people don’t notice. T. Colin Campbell has shown that tumor growth can be switched on by eating animal protein, and switched off by replacing it with plant protein. Others have shown that many diseases including autoimmune types appear to have ties to inflammation caused by animal protein. Roy Swank has shown that meals heavy in fat, including isolated vegetable oils, cause blood cells to stick to one another and form clumps that slow blood flow almost to a standstill in places and even cause the blood-brain barrier to break down, possibly leading to the lesions typical of multiple sclerosis. Type 2 diabetes has been shown to be triggered mostly by fat buildup in muscle cells.

Pick almost any disease, and even if I haven’t heard of it, I’ll be confident that for most if not all cases, eating a diet centered on minimally processed, whole plant foods will surely do you no harm; it may even stop the progression of the disease, perhaps help you to reverse the disease, and work at least as well as drugs in many cases, without side effects.

Whether these things were due to this lifestyle change, coincidental, or due to a placebo effect, I don’t care: My eyesight has improved for the first time ever. I found this out at an eye appointment I scheduled since my glasses started giving me headaches. A new spring is coming to confirm, but my hay fever may have gone away during the part of the summer after the change. And I rather casually beat my high school personal best mile time on a track, without training for it. I attribute it and the improved eyesight partially to better blood flow and muscle efficiency without so much fat in the blood.

I stopped eating meat, eggs, and dairy for selfish reasons. I wouldn’t call myself a vegan. Vegans can live on fries and Oreos, because their main concern is the animals. They’re not necessarily doing it to be healthy. But I now understand ethical vegans, instead of pitying them. Their reasons have an overabundance of merit. The ominous environmental reasons are also enough on their own to warrant eating grains and other starches instead of animal products. It just turns out that the best thing for a human is the best thing for the planet, including water conservation and the economy. Not to mention the animals themselves, who I’m sure would prefer to not live in often-lightless factories nor constantly drink water laced with antibiotics meant for humans (unnervingly causing the rapid evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs in these factories) just to survive and grow quickly in that harsh environment. Such factories will continue to be necessary if humans are to continue to eat them at anywhere in the same order of magnitude as the rate we do (Listen to this excellent plea from Philip Wollen).

But why go 100%? Certainly a small amount of meat, dairy, oil, or refined sugar is all right, health-wise. The reason is that 100% is easier. Why remind my brain’s pleasure centers once a day, once a week, or once a month what refined sugar tastes like? Why would a smoker smoke once a month? For the enjoyment? Only perhaps to remind themselves of the addiction that they are keeping just fresh enough to taunt them. Why keep sugar, animal products, or anything that isn’t purely good in the house? Why not just eliminate it as a food? Forget about it. Temptations? What temptations? I eat all I want of what I consider to be food. Why spend time planning on how to make certain to limit meat, milk, refined flours, oils, and sugars to under 5% of my calories? I certainly don’t want to have to monitor myself so closely. So I decide what is food and what is not food. And then I eat the food! Done! Couldn’t be simpler.

From my mistakes in sharing too eagerly at first, I’ve learned that sharing what I feel to be so beautiful and simple needs to be done with greater tact than I am prone to use. This message is difficult to share with anyone, including Mormons. Copious amounts of ice cream seems justifiable for a culture that has eliminated more standard vices like alcohol. I understand now that we’re all sensitive and protective of how we feel about ourselves and how others view us. I understand now that every individual I share with is unique in how they’re going to hear it, and I have learned that the message needs to be tailored to everyone differently. And maybe just left for them to ask questions if they want.

I feel that it is most important to let each individual know that, in my view, they are fantastic. I admire them. They are better than me in countless ways. There are things I should be asking them about their knowledge and experience that I’m still ignorant of. Only with this attitude and understanding can anything meaningful be shared from my end. Love, respect, and honor matter deeply to all of us.

Decide what you think. But consider which diet can reverse the nation’s number-one killer, among others. Let that be the diet of choice, at least until something beats it in that regard. Give it a try. Really do. You might, like me, finally allow your mind to understand how sweet a piece of fruit is. Once you’ve eliminated refined sugar for awhile, you may bite into a new type of apple you bought at the grocery store and be genuinely surprised by a beautiful realization, “WOW! This is amazing!”

Doug Hawkes is 29 years old and studies bioinformatics at BYU in Provo, Utah. In the summer you might find him at a Kiwanis Park pickup soccer game. Join in and judge his claim that he can still play faster than the guys fresh out of high school. He and his wife Stephanie love getting lost together hiking in the mountains whenever they can.

Late breaking news: on the day I posted this story, I got this from Doug: “I took first place in my age division at the Rex Lee 5k today 🙂 Felt great!” See 2015 Rex Lee Run Race Results

Read more from Doug Hawkes:

The Dangers of Giving Up Meat, Part One

The Dangers of Giving up Meat – Part Two: Carnivore? Herbivore? Omnivore? Scavenger


  1. The first paragraph of Doug’s story touches me deeply. I too “see animals differently now, which I only let myself do once they weren’t food anymore.”

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. I too am not a vegan but one who partakes of plants as my only source of food. I don’t want to eat animals or their by products. Thanks for giving me something else to think about.

  3. Thank you Doug. What a great article. I like your writing style!

    I wish I had figured this all out sooner. What helped me to repent was looking up the meaning of “sparingly” in my huge 1944 dictionary. Here is a bit of that:

    Sparingly-to spare:
    1) to use frugally, not be wasteful of (Wo unto he that wasteth flesh and hath no need)
    2) To save from any particular use (making animals work for us?)
    3) To do without
    4) To forbear; to omit; to refrain from
    5) To forbear to inflict or impose upon (animal abuse)
    6) To use tenderly; to treat with mercy, pity, or forbearance; to forbear to afflict, punish or destroy.
    “To kill, when not necessary, is a sin akin to murder.” (D&C commentary p. 286)
    (forbear – to avoid voluntarily; to decline, to abstain from, to refrain)

    What finally touched my heart was #6. I could absolutely hear the Savior saying that. When I read it my heart finally softened to the point that I felt deep sorrow for the suffering of all the animals that I contributed to. It was the sweetest experience; I almost immediately received a confirmation of forgiveness.

    Now, just like I saved the definition of “sparingly”, I am going to save your “Why go 100%?” paragraph. I will be pondering that next. I can see the Savior eating what is served to Him and being grateful for it, so I wonder about being so inflexible that you have to make everyone change to accommodate you. I can get through a restaurant meal or a potluck easily enough, but I wonder about when we are at someones house who isn’t so accommodating. Perhaps we can be as careful as we can and let it go on those rare occasions. I don’t have definite ideas on that yet and it isn’t a situation I would be in more than once or twice a year.

    I love your attitude about seeing the good in others and about being sensitive to each individual’s feelings regarding this issue. As one who has been overweight for years and felt hopeless, I see the value of being gentle and kind in discussing the subject. When how we eat has ever been brought up in Relief Society, almost every head goes down and you can see that people are uncomfortable and some even become offended or defensive. I really get that.

    My happiest change at just two months into this is that I know I could now go through a temple recommend interview and say that I obey the Word of Wisdom without any feelings of guilt for the first time ever!

    • Jan:

      Thanks for sharing those thoughts. I want to address your reactions to my 100% idea. Personally, I have zero problem with someone having some occasional meat, refined sugar or oil, or whatever, in a carefully prepared meal offered by a sensitive friend who would feel slighted if the meal were rejected. But…I have yet to come across that scenario. In my own personal experience, there’s never been a time when I wasn’t able to cheerfully describe why, while I am extremely grateful for what they have offered, I’ve made a personal decision to keep certain things out of my stomach, and they would surely agree that I should keep that commitment, and focus on our friendship instead of food. Again, if I couldn’t see a way out, sure, I would certainly take the meal in grattitude. But I hope you wouldn’t tell me that if someone offered me only whiskey at a visit, that I should break my personal comittment just for them. Really, I’d be happy to eat anything someone offered, if that was the best thing to do. I don’t see it necessarily ever being so though.

    • Thank you for sharing. Oddly, I had never considered definitions for sparingly that connote mercy or forbearance in the context of this scripture. Insightful perspective.

  4. Doug, I read every one of that which is submitted to my eldest child, Jane Birch. I’m always impressed by what I read, but I have to say that which you submitted had a much greater impact on me than most every thing which Jane has to this point presented to us!

    I took the time to listen to the presentation of Philip Wollan which you provided for us. AMAZING!!!

    I now quote one of your paragraphs by which I particularly was touched:

    “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.”

    That which you mentioned in that paragraph of yours I just quoted, about what is pleasing to our Savior particularly touched me!

    Best wishes to you as you surely continue to provide what you provided for us in that which Jane just published!

    J. Neil Birch

  5. Love it! Thank you. I love to see the progress that is taking place with animals, and that we are all beginning to wake up in seeing them differently now. The relationship between human health, our fellow beings and the environment is becoming well known and is now regular language. That is progress! So glad to see this today. 🙂

    Peace, hominy, hummus and humus.

  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m a pescetarian but eat very little fish and try to eat whole foods as much as possible. I’ve only been eating this way for 6 years and made drastic changes for health reasons, but I think you’re right…there’s more to not eating animal products than just health reasons for us. Your comments are giving me more to ponder about…thank you.

  7. Definitely more to the picture than our own health. What’s best for us is truly best for everything else too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5YC3xZFeQo
    But the health part is the easiest thing for people to stomach. Most people aren’t ready to hear things about their diet that make them feel guilty. But once they have changed their diet, usually for health reasons, they sure start to see certain things in a new way. Perhaps because it no longer pricks them to hear it.

    We all have things we’re ignorant of though, that we aren’t listening to yet, at least partially on purpose. Myself definitely included.

  8. I’ve been feeling a lot like this lately. I’ve never really felt love for animals until now. I get excited seeing my daughters little fish and find myself talking to him each day. My other daughter has a hamster and I can’t get enough of her sweet little spirit.

    To be honest, the feelings took me by surprise and watching the temple video fills my heart with joy when I see the creation of animals and there purpose to fill the measure of their creation. They too, are suppose to have joy.

    I’m grateful to feel this love in my heart for God’s creations.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

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