One evening when my children were quite small, as I put the lamb chops on the table, I thought to myself, “I can’t eat this. This is someone’s child.” A picture of a frisky little white fluffy lamb by its mother’s side came to my mind, and I knew that eating it was wrong.
In the nearly thirty years since that day, I have had no desire to consume meat. I couldn’t have told you then where the thought came from, and I didn’t explore the source of that inspiration, but there was no question in my heart that my life changed in that moment and there was no going back.
Perhaps the seed of the idea was planted when I was but a toddler. As the youngest child of four, during my early years I was my mother’s shadow on a small family acreage in Idaho. She adored animals and each spring would quietly sit in the pasture watching the newborn calves until they would approach her and allow her to pet them. I learned how to gain their trust as well, but she warned me not to give them a name because she knew that would form an attachment leading to problems on the day they were sent to butcher. It was not uncommon to see her sitting near the trough and talking to the pigs while they ate, or clucking to the chickens as she gathered the eggs. I am sure this example of love for animal life contributed to my sensitivity to consuming flesh later on.
My mother was not blessed with strength; she could not run without becoming weary, in fact, there were many days that she did not have the power to even hold up her head above her shoulders because she was burdened with a terrible disease. At the time of my birth, the doctors did not expect her to be able to raise me, giving her three years at best. Nevertheless, her life, though weak, extended well into my teenage years.
She passed away at age forty-six, and it was not until I reached that age that I began to seriously ponder what extended her life beyond the doctors’ expectations. Although she was medicated for her condition, I attribute the strength that she was able to enjoy to a wholesome diet. She was not vegetarian, but she ate as wholesome as she could within her understanding. Second to her love of animals was her love for her garden, which was magnificent, and harvesting the produce was a celebration, especially the first fresh peas which remain my favorite treat to this day. The long rows of corn truly grew “as high as an elephant’s eye.” She enjoyed trying out new vegetables and species; I remember her excitement the year she discovered kohlrabi and taught us to love it. If she sinned, it was the pride in her eyes as she admired the rows of jars of canned fruits and vegetables on the shelves.
As I reminisced, I decided that she would have been happy to know that I had chosen to be a vegetarian, and I wondered if she would have followed the same path if she had walked the earth during a different era, and if that choice would have given her additional time in mortality.
From the very moment of pushing the lamb chops aside, giving up meat was not a challenge for me; you might say I became a vegetarian “in the twinkling of an eye.” I never experienced cravings for meat. This decision was personal and private, and I did not push my family to follow. My husband was supportive, if not in agreement. Less and less meat found its way to our table, but I continued to do my best to please my husband and two sons with a traditional diet. The most difficult part was the smell of meat cooking, which sometimes bothers me to the point of nausea. On the rare occasion when I could truly not escape consuming something that contained meat, I quickly learned that my body could no longer digest it. I was thankful for this because it gave me a reason to abstain that no one could argue with.
Originally my choice was based fully upon my love for animals. Occasionally when the Word of Wisdom was discussed I would wonder about the full meaning, but as a lifetime member of the Church, the standard American Mormon diet was ingrained in my mind as exactly that: standard. In church social gatherings I defended my choice as simply a personal decision, and when the conversation went to D&C 49:18, I didn’t analyze the verse; I simply stated that I didn’t forbid anyone else from eating meat. I have heard my share of jokes and jabs, of which I cannot see the humor, but I try to endure them with patience and forbearance. One of my sons has chosen a WFPB lifestyle, but he alone shares my convictions in my immediate family. He made this choice after he left home and was on his own, but I hope that my example played a part in his decision.
I’ve been a happy vegetarian for about twenty-seven years. While several of my friends struggled with weight, I did not, which added to my reasons to continue. Until I became acquainted with Jane Birch’s research on the Word of Wisdom, I am embarrassed to say that spiritual purpose was not a strong guiding force in my diet. In 2014, new worlds opened to me as I read her book, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. As I read and reread her words I found no reason to question her logic, nor her inspiration. A simple verse in Doctrine and Covenants Section 89 leaped off the page for the first time: “and it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used…” There is nothing I want more than to please the Lord. And, thus began my desire to move towards a WFPB diet.
After studying Jane’s book and her other writings, I became more aware that avoiding meat was only a start, so I began removing dairy products from my diet. This presented more of a challenge than I expected, especially in baking, but I was committed to learning. After a period of trying to change and convert recipes, I have decided it need not be difficult if I simply eat fresh produce, truly fast food. I continue to cook and bake for my husband, who is very cooperative. When we sit down in a restaurant, the first thing he does is read the menu and make sure there are options for me to select. At business functions, he always requests a vegetarian plate for me in advance.
It is my firm belief that this way of eating gives optimal health, helps maintain weight, and improves spiritual sensitivity. I do not believe that it ensures complete and total freedom from health challenges and disease. I understand that there are purposes for this earth life that sometimes include physical maladies and disease. The Lord has given us directions to maximize our energy and vigor, but these do not guarantee freedom from pain.
Finally, my experience is that the promised blessings of the Word of Wisdom are dependent upon obedience to all of the commandments. Eating fresh whole foods gives me strength and health that I can enjoy as long as I am also exercising, both physically and spiritually, serving others, getting adequate rest, keeping my covenants, fulfilling my stewardships, and all else that is required of me at this season of my life.
Marsha Burdick is 56 years old and lives in St. George, Utah. She recently retired and is enjoying her newfound freedom immensely as she looks forward to serving a mission. She has 2 sons and 3 grandchildren. She enjoys playing many musical instruments, painting, gourd sculpture, and walking. She currently serves as the ward and stake organist.