Though I didn’t grow up vegetarian, I was raised on plenty of farm fresh, local produce—apples, asparagus, cherries, grapes and corn were common local crops. My mother made sure we had plenty of nutritious plant-based meals around the dinner table. Growing up in this environment helped instill in me a love for vegetables, fruits, and all other food grown from the earth.
Fast forward to my adult years. In 2006, I was 23 and pregnant with my second child. My husband was a student, and we couldn’t afford the hefty co-pay for delivering in the hospital, so we decided to have a home birth. I had hypertension at the end of my first pregnancy, and my midwife told me that she could only deliver healthy moms at home, so if I developed hypertension (or any other trouble) I would need to deliver at the hospital. I thought that hypertension was not in my control, but she gave me a different perspective: You can choose to have or not have hypertension based on what you eat. She recommended I go vegan for better health during pregnancy. I thought she was crazy.
But, per her recommendation, I read The China Study (it had just been published) and realized, “You know, there is pretty strong evidence that a plant-based diet is the way to go.” Over the next months (about seven), I slowly weaned myself off dairy and meat. It wasn’t easy (I was pregnant after all), but a few weeks before I had my son, I was completely vegan.
I felt self-conscious about my diet, and I didn’t have a lot of courage. I had told friends and family that I was only going vegan “for the pregnancy.” But once I had my son, I realized, “Hey, I like this. I feel great, and it makes sense to me. I never want to go back to eating the way I used to.” So I told my very supportive husband of my decision, and I’ve never looked back.
The first two years were hard. I was worried about what others would think of me. I felt self-conscious and uncertain, but over time it got easier and easier until I felt fully comfortable with the diet and my decision.
I’ve had three more children and stayed true to my decision to go vegan. My kids are plant-based (they eat vegan at home and vegetarian elsewhere). My husband is not vegetarian, but he happily eats whatever I make at home, and you won’t find a stronger advocate for a plant-based lifestyle.
While I went vegan for health reasons, I’ve stayed vegan for my family, for the environment, for the animals, and also because of my religion. As a practicing, devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’m often asked by others in the faith why I’m vegan. I don’t often bring up the Word of Wisdom in these discussions (they believe in it just as much as I do), but it’s something I strongly believe.
When the Word of Wisdom was given in 1833, “winter” and “cold” were times of real food scarcity. There were no grocery stores where fresh produce and a bounty of non-animal foods could be found. I get that. But as a person living in the luxury of 21st century American life, I have constant and immediate access to nearly every imaginable food, almost year-round. I can go to one store, and in one trip, stock up on leafy greens, fresh berries, watermelon, bananas, oats, beans, bread, and so many other delicious and nutritious things that my ancestors could only dream about obtaining in one setting.
As I read the Word of Wisdom, it’s clear to me that plants ought to be the staple of our diets. If meat ever enters the picture, it should be because our life depends on it. This is not me being extreme, the scriptures declare this (JST Genesis 9:10-15)! Sparingly, therefore, does not mean “only once a day” or just “a little bit” with every meal, but rather when my nutritional needs cannot be met any other way. Since going vegan eight years ago, that fortunately has never happened because I live in such a state of food abundance and availability.
I know the Word of Wisdom is an inspired piece of counsel, that if followed, will initiate a flow of blessings that cannot be numbered. The spiritual blessings of the Word of Wisdom are near and dear to my heart. Everyone is different, and it may just be particularly important for me, but I have seen over the years that as soon as you start making deliberate, conscious decisions to choose compassion, the blessings just flow. Your heart is opened and softened. Anger that used to be there is not there any longer. Not that I’m perfect, but eating this way has helped me to reevaluate the way I treat people and the way I treat animals and the environment. The spiritual blessings include being more in tune with the Spirit and feeling love and showing love.
I’m at the stage where I no longer give food much thought. I definitely went through a period (the first two years or so), where I devoured all plant-based cookbooks, vegan for health books, and any other plant-based lifestyle book, and thoughts of food and nutrition seemed to encompass everything I did. It wasn’t a very a balanced (or sustainable) way to live, but as the years have passed, the way that I eat has become a very natural, secondary aspect of my life. I would no more eat a piece of cooked flesh than eat nail polish. It seems that foreign and odd to me.
I understand that not everyone will interpret the Word of Wisdom as I do. (I speak to this a bit, in a post I wrote a few years back entitled Vegan and Mormon: An Anomaly?) That’s okay. I don’t pretend to speak for the whole Church. But I know what I’ve felt. I know the impressions and experiences that I’ve had have shown me that a plant-based lifestyle is absolutely the path for myself and my family. It brings me joy to eat this way. It brings me great health and vitality to eat this way. For the naysayers, I say, try it. Give it a month of sincere, diligent effort and see how you feel. If cutting meat and dairy out completely is not for you, then try making these foods ones that only grace your plate on special and rare occasions.
I love eating potatoes, beans, rice, pasta, breads, fruit, vegetables and other plants. These foods are simple, satisfying, and healthful. It seems that everyone is looking for a “magic bullet” or “magic pill,” but the reality is, the solution to better health, energy, and a trim waistline is to eat simply, to eat mostly or all unrefined plant foods. If people stray from this, and stop cooking and/or instead rely on processed, elaborate and complicated, or fast foods to get them through, they often forget that the solution to losing weight or feeling better is not a no-carb diet, a fancy or expensive eating regimen, or Slim-Fast shakes, but it is to return back to simple, whole plant foods. The answer really is that basic.
I don’t worry too much about what other people are or are not eating. I believe the most influential thing I can do to help spread the word about the joy of a plant-based lifestyle is to live it myself, to raise my kids to love eating this way, and when the opportunities present themselves, to speak simply and boldly about the power of eating wholesome, simple, plant foods.
Everyone’s activism will look a bit different—but I think the most important thing is to speak the truth, to view the knowledge you have as a gift, and to approach each interaction with others as an opportunity to share, not preach.
I am optimistic about the future. I have enjoyed seeing the vegan Mormon world grow as people look at the Word of Wisdom and return to eating simple “herbs in the season thereof.” There are great promises and blessings to be had from following both the don’ts and the do’s of the Word of Wisdom, and for this reason, I know that this movement will only grow and continue to flourish, because it’s true.
Janae Wise, age 31, is a mother of five and a happily married US Air Force wife. She is the founder and writer of the blog Bring Joy, where she shares ways in which to bring more joy (as well as many delicious vegan and gluten free recipes). You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+. You can read more about Janae’s decision to go vegan here, “Why I Become Vegan.”