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Does the Word of Wisdom Require Latter-day Saints to be Vegetarians?

by W. John Walsh

The Word of Wisdom states:

"Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine." (D&C 89:12-13)

A very literal reading of these verses might lead one to conclude that the only time eating meat is acceptable to God is during winter, cold, or famine (i.e., when nothing else was available).  Certainly, there is nothing wrong with people choosing to be vegetarians.  Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:

"Isaiah gives us these poetically phrased particulars about animal life during the Millennium. "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together," he says, "and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock." Implicit in this pronouncement is the fact that man and all forms of life will be vegetarians in the coming day; the eating of meat will cease, because, for one thing, death as we know it ceases. There will be no shedding of blood, because man and beast are changed (quickened) and blood no longer flows in their veins. "And dust shall be the serpent's meat," meaning, as we suppose, that they shall no longer eat mice and vermin and animal life. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord." (Isa. 65:25.) And further: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den [adders' den]. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain." (Isa. 11:6-9.)" (The Millennial Messiah, p.658, emphasis added)

Those people choosing to become vegetarians now are simply getting a head start on everyone else.  However, before we accept the stark conclusion that everyone is commanded to become vegetarians, we know we should see what else the Lord has had to say on the subject. (See Difficult Doctrinal Teachings)

Elder John A. Widstoe noted that when this revelation was given, many people believed that meat should be the only article of diet when available.  He interpreted the phrase not to refer to meat in general, but as a warning not to use meat as the sole food source except to prevent starvation.  Elder Widstoe wrote:

"Meats have the power to sustain life for a time if nothing else is eaten, provided that the blood and internal organs--heart, kidneys, liver and brains--are eaten. Under such conditions, the proteins which normally are body builders are burned and used as energy producers. It is clear therefore that in times of famine there could be no objection to using meat as the only article of diet." (The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, p.217)

Elder Mark E. Peterson taught:

"There are those in the world who teach that no meat at all should be included in the human diet. The Lord does not take this position. As is shown from this revelation he gave us the flesh of beasts and of fowl for food, but that they were to be used sparingly.

It will be remembered what Paul the Apostle said about those who forbid the use of meats:

"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy: having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." ( l Timothy 4:1-5)

Following the flood, when the Lord outlined to Noah what he and his family could use for food, he said:

"And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them. Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.   But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat." (Genesis 9: 1-4)

In another revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith the Lord again touched on this subject and declared that those who forbid the use of meats, "that man should not eat the same is not ordained of God." ( Doctrine and Covenants 49:18)

But why should there be a caution against the over use of meat? Did the Lord have a reason? Many leading physicians teach that although meat is an excellent protein food, if eaten in too large quantities it is definitely harmful to health." (A Word of Wisdom, p.16-17)

President Spencer W. Kimball noted:

"Regarding the eating of meat, the Church leaves that also to the discretion of the individual. What would be required by one person might be too much for another. It would seem to me that a man engaged in very heavy, physical manual labor would require more meat than one sitting at a desk.  If one's physical condition required an extra supply of meat, I would not worry about the breaking of the Word of Wisdom, in that matter especially, if this was on doctor's orders or if they felt that this was the thing to do. " (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.202)

Finally, one reason the Church has not issued more specific instructions regarding the eating of meat is because the proper amount of meat varies for each person according to their individual nature and circumstances.  Therefore, the Church teaches its members the correct principle (i.e., eat meat sparingly) and allows them the freedom to implement it in their own lives as their conscience so instructs them.

(See "Run and Not Be Weary" by Elder L. Tom Perry; Daily Living home page; Attitudes Toward Health, Medicine, and Fitness home page)

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