By: Terry Hermansen
My story begins about 40 years ago when I was about 16. My mother would share pearls of wisdom from her reading with me. She liked to read books and was always learning something new. Her reading was always of a practical nature; she didn’t waste time reading anything impractical. Not even the classics merited her attention, just the scriptures and self-improvement books. Even though this was before The China Study and Forks Over Knives, she somehow managed to find books on diet that favored eating whole grains and cutting back on meat. She never made any dramatic dietary changes, yet her determination to learn and search for wisdom had a big impact on me.
I remember her coming to me and saying on one occasion, “Did you know how powerful grains are and how packed with nutrients they are?” She was preaching a whole foods, plant based diet before anybody that I was aware of. It was strange to me but somehow it seemed logical. Her comments moved from point A to B or even to C, but I had a long ways to go before I reached Z and was ready to give up eating meat.
At 19 I went on an LDS mission to Ecuador, where meat was a big part of the diet. In one city I met a woman who ate less meat. I noticed she was thinner and looked healthier than most of the women. She said that from the time she was a little girl she had felt inspired to eat differently than her countrymen. Her words moved me a couple steps closer to Z.
It was around that same time that I began carefully pondering scriptures about eating meat, specifically Doctrine & Covenants 89:13 & 15. I pondered the meaning of “it is pleasing unto me that they [meat] should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” Those words had a big effect on me. I wasn’t ready to change my diet, but I thought about those words from time to time.
Years later, I became a scoutmaster. I was probably around 35, and it was my luck (blessing) to have an assistant scoutmaster who was vegetarian. He was also a bodybuilder and seemed to be way healthier than me. On one particular campout, the boys had just finished eating their hobo dinners, which consisted of hamburger, potato, and various vegetables wrapped in foil. My assistant ate something vegetarian that he brought. After we’d all eaten, he picked up a foil wrapper from a hobo dinner that was now caked in white grease from the hamburger. He said, “This is why I’m vegetarian.” As I imagined a quantity of similar grease inside myself, his words had a big effect on me.
Soon after that, my meat eating began to taper off. For example, my wife cooked wonderful barbecue chicken but instead of eating 4-5 pieces as was my habit I began having one or two.
Furthermore, it was about this time that I began hearing statistics about obesity in the United States. I started looking around. I started noticing how much obesity there is inside and outside of the LDS Church. I thought, “Are we living the Word of Wisdom if we can’t run and not be weary, walk and not faint?” I knew that the Lord wouldn’t break His promises so I concluded that we, as Church members, weren’t fully keeping the Word of Wisdom as it was intended.
I wondered if some of the heavy Latter-day Saints might just be struggling with poor willpower, whether they just needed a little restraint and they would lose weight. But over time, I got to know many of these good people, and I dismissed “lack of will power” as a primary factor. I concluded and became fairly confident that the American diet was not healthy and that the Word of Wisdom was saying just what I initially thought it was saying. I decided at that point to take the plunge and stop eating meat.
Now, my timing was a little off because I was giving up meat right before Christmas. My wife probably thought I was joking when I told her my plan, but to her surprise (and my own!) I made it through Christmas. I feared, however, that once the novelty wore off I would fall back into old eating habits and give into temptations. But though the temptations did come rolling in (New Year’s parties, Valentines Day dinner, and my wife’s birthday dinner), I somehow managed to stay the course.
In fact, it became easier and easier to deny myself meat. What further strengthened my resolve was that I began seeing little benefits and blessings. For example, I lost about six pounds, and I started feeling better. I was able to do more push-ups and sit-ups. I was feeling more energy. This helped me to stay the course.
Meanwhile my dear wife was preparing two dinners each night. She would prepare a vegetarian meal for me and then add meat to the main entrée for the rest of the family. After several months, however she got tired of doing this and finally decided to become vegetarian as well. Of course there were other reasons for her decision. She had been studying on the side and decided the health benefits would be worth it.
This was a joyous time for me because I always wanted her to experience the same benefits that I was feeling, but I didn’t want to apply any pressure. Thankfully my example, and the inconvenience of preparing two dinners, turned the trick. Now she and three of our children are vegetarian. The older three children were raised as meat eaters and continue as such but time may change that. We don’t apply any pressure since they are all adults, and we see it as a personal choice.
I’ve now been vegetarian for 6.5 years, and I’m happier than ever with my decision. I’m feeling better than ever. My sense of smell has never been better, my joy of eating has never been better, and my overall sense of well-being has never been better.
When people ask me what my primary reason for being vegetarian is, I first think of Doctrine and Covenants 89 verse 13 and verse 15 (and a few other verses of scriptures), but besides that there are three more reasons why I do what I do (or eat what I eat) and they are: health, environmental stewardship, and yes, humanity toward animals.
I wouldn’t hesitate to eat an animal if I was starving, but hopefully it won’t come to that. A famine could force a dietary change on me, but until such time, I’m content to eat a plant-based, whole foods diet. I truly feel that I am currently living the good life!
Terry Hermansen is 56 years old and lives in Lancaster, California. He and his wife have six children. He teaches middle school language arts & Spanish and commutes to work 15 miles a day (round trip) on bicycle. He loves to play the guitar and sing with his class as often as he dares!