When I think about the influence of the Word of Wisdom in my life, my mind goes way back to the blessing of being born into a family with strong gospel roots. From there, it has been many years of learning and listening.
I was raised in southeastern Idaho on a small acreage. There I had an idyllic childhood in a wonderful family. We grew a large garden with a big strawberry patch and two long rows of raspberries and had a small root cellar where we stored potatoes, carrots, and apples for the winter. Each spring we would order 50 baby chicks and just six weeks later we would chop the heads off half of them, pluck their feathers, and put them in the freezer to supply fried chicken for half a year of Sundays.
My dad would wake my brother every day at 5:30 am to go milk the cows. Before I made it out of bed, they would be back with buckets of warm whole milk. The milk got poured through a strainer to get the bits of manure out. The thick cream would float to the top and be skimmed off for whipping cream and for putting on Dad’s cereal. Since I never enjoyed the taste of milk, I would leave my tall glass of it to the end of my meal before gulping it down. From some of the cream we churned our own butter, and since we had an ample supply of butter, we used it generously. It is hard to believe today that this vegetable-loving dietitian once buttered her fried pork chops!
Every spring each of us children would get a calf, and by the following fall, our calf would be ready for market—the proceeds would buy our school clothes and Christmas presents for each other. We also had a couple of family calves that were raised for beef. Every fall, we would take them to butcher. A few days later we would go back and pick up the tallow, from which we would made our own lye laundry soap (outside over a fire). And then back again, to pick up all the wrapped roasts and steaks and burger to fill the freezer for the winter. We were quite a self-sufficient family. We really bought very little from the store and our meals were very “animal based.”
My father had been raised during the Depression years in an area of Idaho with a shorter growing season, so he had never learned to like vegetables. He often told us that vegetables were for women and children. That may have been very true in his early years, when vegetables were scarce and saved for the childbearing or the rapidly growing. I remember a few times when my dad was gone overnight (for business or for church trips with the Young Men). We would then get to have one of our favorite meals—green beans and bread and butter. How we loved that meal! Well, I guess I should admit that the green beans were cooked with bacon. But to me, it was a delightful break from having a hunk of meat on my plate. I recall occasions where I asked if I could have more vegetables and being told, “No, not until you finish your steak.”
Perhaps that was the beginning of my interest in food and health and the connections between the two. When I left home and began to have a family of my own, I started to read about nutrition. I read a lot and found that some things I read fit and felt true, some did not. I grew to marvel more and more at the blessing of being able to recognize the truth in all things as I studied. This confirmed to me that I was to continue to study and learn all that I could about food and health and the connection between the two. As I did, I slowly moved toward more of a plant-based diet, and felt more and more sure that that was the right thing to do. I had received a promise that I would study nutrition and that as I did I would be able to cast out illness that entered my body or of those that I loved.
When my children were all in school, I decided the time was right to go back to school and get a degree in dietetics. Some wonder how I could go through a traditional dietetics program with my food beliefs. I understand that question since many dietitians are heavily influenced by pseudo educators such as the Dairy Council or the Beef Council. I really never found a conflict. The more I learned about nutrition, biochemistry, and pathophysiology, the more convinced I became that a plant-based diet is the way to go. My training as a dietitian has made me proficient in the evaluation of research and data, and I read many scientific medical and nutrition journals each month. I have never found evidence that contradicted my beliefs. In fact, the scientific findings that support my beliefs keep piling up.
Over the years I have been asked to speak to many, many Relief Society groups. I am always surprised to find so many sisters so confused about nutrition. There are many members of the Church following high protein diets (Paleo, Atkins, etc.) yet still struggling with their weight. There are many more that eat a standard American diet but feel guilty about not following the current fad diets.
When I address Church members, my standard message is, “evaluate all nutrition information against the standards given in the 89th section of the D&C,” then I speak about the positive messages there. I tell people that I have never found scientific evidence that contradicted the plan laid out by the Lord. Some hear me; most are not ready to completely hear me. So, I try to leave some simple steps that all can take—eating more fruits and vegetables and reconsidering the goodness of whole grains are some feel good messages that most can accept. Some are only ready to learn about the Word of Wisdom “line upon line, precept upon precept,” and that is okay.
I have no dramatic stories about weight loss or disease remission to share since I have been blessed with excellent health. I am now almost 60, yet I run half marathons and am free of aches and pains that others my age complain of. I have truly been blessed! As I have followed a whole food, plant-based diet, I have received wisdom and great treasures, even hidden treasures, just as promised!
Sandi Hemming, age 59, lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband Bruce. They have 4 children and 5 bonus children, 13 grandchildren and 15 bonus grandchildren. She enjoys running, cooking, and photography. She finds food more beautiful than flowers, and would rather shop at a thrift store than the mall. She enjoys cooking creative delicious plant-based foods and learning about foods from other cultures and countries. She works as a Registered Dietitian, has taught nutrition at two universities, is a recipe tester for plant-based cookbooks, and is a beginning blogger at Plant-your-plate.com.