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
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