By: Dr. Ernest Severn
I switched to a plant-based diet so long ago, and I have so many reasons, it is hard to know where to start so I will just jump in. I would have to say for me there are seven main reasons I follow a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet, but there are really even more than that. It’s more like seven categories of reasons.
I was a missionary for the Church in the early eighties. I served in New York City among the Greek immigrants there. I walked every day, usually over 10 miles a day. When I returned from my mission, I gained 10-15 lbs. so I decided to lose it. I started running and doing some other exercises. I was exposed to Dr. John McDougall, I think on a radio program. I got his book, The McDougall Program: 12 Days to Dynamic Health and read it. I decided to follow it, and I lost the weight I had gained in a month pretty easily. In his book, Dr. McDougall talked about all the other benefits of this way of eating so I learned about that as well. Initially, I used the diet to control my weight so I went back and forth, sometimes being strict and sometimes not.
In 1987 my father died suddenly. He was 54 years old and had a history of high blood pressure. He died of a dissecting aortic aneurysm. I also had an uncle die while I was on my mission of a heart attack. He was only 45 years old. I decided to have my cholesterol checked and found that it was high, so I went back to following the WFPB diet strictly, and it went down. So then I had two health reasons to follow that diet. As I stayed on the diet longer, I found that other health problems improved or went away. My allergies got better, my energy improved, my stomach cramps and constipation were gone. I had less oily skin and less acne. This is when I decided to make this a long-term lifestyle choice and not just a temporary diet to lose weight. Over the years my extended family has continued to have numerous health problems, but I have not. These health problems include heart disease, Parkinson’s, ALS, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, and stroke. I’m 54 years old now and still going strong. I still run and have a normal weight and enjoy lots of activities. So my first “category” of reasons I follow this diet is for better health.
My second category of reasons are spiritual. I have loved the scriptures since junior high. The Word of Wisdom talks of how it is pleasing to God if we not eat meat, only in times of famine, etc. Although there is no specific mention of eggs or dairy, they are much more like meat than the plant foods that are advocated as the “staff of life” and for our “constitution” so it made more sense to me to lump those foods in with meat. Other scriptures include the story of Daniel refusing the “King’s meat,” Adam and Eve in the garden, and the description of the millennium where there will be no eating of animals, etc. In addition, our modern prophets have also encouraged us to eat very little meat. So I decided that it is good for a true disciple of Jesus Christ to break from my family tradition and to submit my will to God’s even in terms of what I eat. The promised blessings are so great, and I really want those blessings. As you will see, there are many other spiritual principles involved, but this is my second category of reasons. As I have followed this path, I have found that most of my categories of reasons have a spiritual component. For example, my reason of better health ties in with being a steward of my body and treating my body as a temple. It helps me to do greater works of service to others, and it keeps my mind clear and helps me feel and understand the promptings of the Spirit much better. I have found many reasons it is pleasing to God.
My third category is the ethical and more compassionate treatment of animals. Some years ago I read JST Genesis 9:11, and I did a double take. I reread the last part, “and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” When I read that it just hit me that all life is sacred. Since reading that I have come across numerous other scriptures and talks given by the prophets that indicate as much. I have come to know that taking animal life needlessly is sin. For me there is no question. For some reason people have a “disconnect” on this when they buy meat in the grocery store, and they don’t relate it to taking a life. In some ways this is a “hidden treasure of knowledge.” This is so because our traditions and habits have blinded us to the truth. Seeing we see not and hearing we hear not. It’s one of those things that’s right in front of us, but our natural man rationalizes it away to satisfy our passions. In addition, I have learned more about how most animals that are raised for our tables are treated, and it just gives me a bad feeling to know that in the vast majority of cases they are treated very poorly and live in very bad conditions. I have always enjoyed and rejoiced in the beauty of the earth and in God’s creations, especially animal life. Following the Word of Wisdom to the fullest has helped me reverence God’s creations all the more and develop a deeper appreciation of the sanctity of life.
My next reason is somewhat related and even more important. It is that if we eat lots of animal products there really isn’t enough food for everyone. Currently about half of the arable land in the world is being used to grow food to feed animals. The animals eat a lot more food than they provide, therefore, eating lots of animal products literally contributes to the hunger and starvation of other people around the world. The Lord says that animals are ordained for the use of man and that we are not forbidden to eat meat, but “it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin” (D&C 49:18-21). He also goes further in Section 104 and says that we are accountable as stewards over earthly blessings, that He has provided for all and the earth is full and there is enough and to spare. He says that He has done this and that it has to be done according to His own way. He says that His way is “that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low” (D&C 104:17). This is the way there is enough for all, but sadly, the rich are not seeing to the needs of the poor when they eat lots of animal products and in so doing cause a food shortage for the poor. Now check out verse 18:
Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
For me this is a tremendously strong reason to follow a plant-based diet unless there is a famine, because to do so helps follow the will of the Lord in being a good steward over earthly blessings, thus providing more food for others which can literally save human life.
Continuing with the idea of being a good steward over earthly blessing, brings me to my next reason. A plant-based diet is environmentally friendly. It’s much better for the earth. The animal product rich Western diet actually harms the environment. The Western diet contributes to deforestation, desertification, destruction of natural habits, extinction, pollution from animal waste, increased greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide, and increased use of fresh water and other resources. It isn’t just a little bit worse either. The estimated one billion tons of feces and urine from animals raised for food per year in America is one of the most serious pollution threats we face. Raising animals for food also uses 100 times the amount of water compared to raising plant foods. Plant foods literally take carbon dioxide out of the air and produce oxygen while animals consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide and methane which leads to global warming. I have seen several sources reporting that animals contribute more to global warming than cars. Since I care about the planet and want to do my part to be a good steward as the Lord requires, I choose a plant-based diet.
By profession, I am a family doctor. I advocate a plant-based diet to my patients repeatedly throughout most of my day with a majority of the patients I see. Approximately 80% of chronic diseases are caused by poor lifestyle that includes, poor diet, use of tobacco, lack of exercise, etc. Not only can a healthy lifestyle help prevent these diseases, it can help reverse them. This has been shown by countless studies. This is powerful! I think of the promise in the Word of Wisdom that says “the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.” In order to be the best doctor I can be, I follow a plant-based diet myself which helps me be a better influence on my patients. I also think of the admonition of Paul to Timothy to, “be thou an example of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12). Following the Word of Wisdom, including the counsel on the best foods to eat, is another way I can do this. Would not a true believer try to please God? Being a good example by following the Word of Wisdom in full can bless the lives of others around us. The more people change their diet and eat this way, the easier it will be for those that still eat the Western diet to change.
Finally, I will give one more reason I follow a plant-based diet. I save money. I save money on the food. I save money on my dentist bill. I save money on my doctor bill. I save money on medicine because I don’t get sick often, and I have no chronic illness that I need medicine for. I also make more money because I don’t have to take as many days off due to illness. I save money on life insurance. I save money on medical insurance. This has also been a blessing.
On the flip side I can’t really think of any reason to follow an animal-based diet. There really is no benefit in doing so except because it tastes good, and I was raised doing it so it’s easy. In the end, eating an animal-based diet feels to me like a selfish thing as it benefits no one else. Luckily, eating a plant-based diet can also taste good, so it really isn’t that much of a sacrifice to gain so many good things.
On a side note, it has been a thrill for me to help my patients learn how they can regain their health simply through lifestyle changes. I love it when they really catch on and start putting these principles into practice because when they do, they get better. I do prescribe medications just like other doctors when necessary, but I would much rather be able to take them off medicines they no longer need. I have seen patients with a wide range of health problems get better when they follow a low fat, whole foods, plant-based diet. Treating patients this way goes perfectly with my training as an osteopathic physician to treat the cause and not just the symptoms. When we stop eating things that hurt us and instead eat foods that give us clean energy with the right nutrients to repair and protect our bodies, we look and feel our best. The right food is powerful medicine.
Ernest Severn (54) lives in Farmington, Utah and works in Saratoga Springs, Utah at the Zenith Family Health where he is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. He is married to his beloved Kathryn and together they have 7 children and 7 grandchildren. Dr. Severn did his Residency in Family Medicine and is a Family Practice Physician. He enjoys running, hiking, camping in and visiting the national parks, genealogy, church service, reading, movies, spending time with family.