I grew up in South Texas where barbecue and eating red meat are a deep part of the culture. My transition to a plant-based diet underwent a major shift in 2011 when I finally decided to regulate my personal use of meat to only those times when I legitimately needed to consume it.
I spent a period of about 6 months reflecting on past personal experiences, studying scripture, and searching for wisdom in the words of past and present Church leaders. As I studied and considered many perspectives, I felt that a transition to a plant-based diet was necessary.
In adopting this way of life, I knew that there would be consequences that I would need to address. First, I had to find suitable alternatives to the meat I had become accustomed to. Thanks to the Internet, there is no shortage of recipes out there, and I have been very satisfied with the alternatives I have found. I realized that it wasn’t the taste of meat that I liked, but the spices, sauces and flavors that I found most enjoyable. I began to find alternatives to meat to provide the foundation for those flavors. Because of the vast array of options out there, I don’t feel that I am missing out on anything. It is similar to the feeling of alcohol abstinence, I don’t feel like I’m missing out there either.
Balancing my personal food choices among family and friends has been a little tricky. How do you justify making a radical change in diet that culturally alienates you from those you care about? In my situation, my motives were driven by morals, health, and a desire to please God. I am a believer in persuasion rather than force, so I have been concerned with others thinking that my choices were a condemnation of theirs. My wife and children are free to eat what they want, and they often choose animal products when they are an option. In rare situations, I will eat meat that is served to me if I feel that to refuse would be disrespectful to my host. I found Romans 14 (CEV version in particular) to be a good source of inspiration. Animal flesh is not a prohibition like certain plants are, so the sparing use of it guided by wisdom and judgment is important. I follow the rule and deal with exceptions individually.
Perhaps the key reason I feel so strong about this way of life are the spiritual blessings. There was a talk I heard in 2003 by Boyd K. Packer where he mentioned that the Word of Wisdom is not all about health, but about revelation. I have wanted to make changes in order to remove any obstacles between myself and God. I’ve come to see food and all creation as more sacred. I have always loved animals and never felt right about killing them myself, but I didn’t think twice about consuming an animal that was killed by someone else. I turned a blind eye to the inhumane, industrialized ways that animals were raised. You don’t see suffering in a plate of food until you trace the journey of that meal. Intentionally ignoring suffering and abuse because it is uncomfortable seemed like a contradiction to pursuing a spiritual life. You can’t look at the industrial production of animal products and not think to yourself, “Something is wrong here.” We wouldn’t think twice about showing our children wheat or vegetables being harvested and prepared, but we would cover their eyes from video or images from a slaughterhouse. The words that President Joseph Fielding Smith once wrote to a member of the church made a big impact on me,
. . . why do we feel that we do not have a square meal unless it is based largely on meat. Let the dumb animals live. They enjoy life as well as we do. In the beginning the Lord granted man the use of the flesh of certain animals. See Genesis 9:1-6, but with so many fruits of the soil and from the trees of the earth, why cannot man be content?” [In a letter to a member sister in El Paso, Texas, dated 30 Dec. 1966, quoted in “Health Is A Blessing: A Guide to the Scriptural Laws of Good Health,” by Steven H. Horne, advance publication copy (Springville, Utah: Nature’s Field, 1994), p. 34.]
This has not been an easy change for me, and my progress is still ongoing. I’ve had to put a lot of old ways behind me, but I have also discovered many new things that I have come to value more than those I have left behind. If a carnivorous meat-eating Texan who loved the art of barbecue could voluntarily make the change, anyone can.
Steve Reed was born in Florida but was raised in Texas until he departed on a full-time mission to Idaho in 1999. Two years later, he returned to Texas to pursue education, employment, and in 2004 married and started a family. He obtained a degree in management while simultaneously building up a freelance graphic design company. In 2007, his family moved to Las Vegas to live and work. In 2010, he started the blog oneClimbs.com and enjoys the subject of symbolism and temples. His greatest love is his wife and four daughters.