I grew up in a family that always tried to eat healthy, without refined sugars and processed foods. My mom was vegetarian and mostly vegan, so we did not have a lot of meat at our house. My dad and siblings and I still had dairy products, but not as much as a lot of families. I remember hearing in school how we needed milk to be healthy and asking my mom about it. She replied that she wasn’t sure, but she felt like it was not necessary.
When I went to BYU, I took a nutrition course. I remember feeling like they were off base because I believed my mom was right and that animal products were not necessary or healthy, but I didn’t give it much thought. I still considered myself to be a healthy eater, but I did occasionally have meat, and I had dairy all of the time by this point.
When our oldest daughter was about six months old, my dad was experiencing health problems and decided to go completely vegan to see if his problems would go away. I got the book Food for Life by Neal Barnard and was so excited when I read it because it made so much sense to me! My husband and I (his idea) decided to support my dad in his decision and try it out ourselves. We have never looked back!
We have raised our five children completely vegan (they do have dairy in crackers/snacks that they are served other places, and we try to be relaxed about it to not make others uncomfortable). They are all extremely healthy and happy, and none of them have any behavioral problems, asthma, allergies, etc. which I believe is at least partly because of our diet. They excel at school and in sports. They have never had meat and the thought of eating animals is completely foreign to them.
When my daughter was about five, I was explaining to her that other people do eat animals and it’s ok, but we don’t in our family. Later on I heard her telling her little brother in an incredulous voice, “Did you know people eat giraffes?” He was of course shocked! She went on to list several other animals that people eat (all of them were exotic animals that people don’t usually eat), and he responded with extreme surprise every time. Although this was just a funny example with my kids, it was also a clear picture to me that if we aren’t raised eating meat, it is not actually natural or necessary.
I once had a friend ask me what we ate for Thanksgiving, and I told her that the “turkey” we eat is made out of mushrooms. She said, “Oh, that sounds gross!” I of course responded with some polite comment, but what I was thinking in my head was, “Are you kidding me? You just cut the head off of your meal, and you think that mushrooms sound gross?” It’s all about perspective!
My husband is a chiropractor and has been able to help several patients with their diets, which has been rewarding. When he was in school, they taught from Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live, which helped us become healthier vegans with more vegetables and less processed foods. It was amazing and sad to see how most of his classmates, many of them LDS, totally discounted the nutrition professor and everything they learned because it promoted a plant-based diet. I believe a lot of them wouldn’t even consider that it might be correct, because they didn’t want to make the change themselves.
One of my favorite things about eating this way is that I don’t have to ever wonder about which of the latest fad diets is the best. I have seen many friends struggle with weight, even though they exercise several times a week. I feel like it would also be almost impossible for me to maintain a healthy weight if I was still eating the Standard American Diet. You can’t outrun your fork! There is a lot of confusion about how to eat correctly, even from doctors and nutritionists. It’s no wonder people don’t know what to do. There is so much information (and misinformation!) available that it’s almost impossible to sort out what is correct and what isn’t. I just feel incredibly blessed that I already know because it’s right in the scriptures.
I understand that the parts of the Word of Wisdom that address eating animal products are not the most important part of the law, and it’s certainly not a requirement to be faithful. But I do feel like we receive blessings of health when we try to follow the guidelines laid out as closely as possible. It is so comforting to me to know that Heavenly Father really does care about our bodies and how we take care of them.
I love my mom’s patriarchal blessing that mentions how she will eat, and I also have a vegan friend who had a very specific patriarchal blessing that told her she was “eating in the Lord’s way” even though the patriarch did not know her or her diet at all. I have also had friends have the Spirit testify to them that going plant based was the right direction for them. It is wonderful to know that if we are searching with an open heart, Heavenly Father will guide us to the correct knowledge of how to take care of our bodies.
Eliza Hirschi , 34 years old , lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho with her husband and five kids. Hobbies include nutrition, CrossFit, yoga, playing with the kids, and anything in the sun!
Eliza’s parents (Paul and Orva Johnson) are featured in the video, “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film” and also in an extra video featuring extended footage about their story. Don’t miss these amazing videos! You can find them here, “Video and Extras.”