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more on the Word of Wisdom

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Jun 15, 2009

I have this secret little hobby at church.   I love to hear the lessons on this scripture, the Word of Wisdom, and  mentally collect all the ways that, almost invariably, the teacher or people in the class find ways to rationalize their way out of having to actually adhere to those last two verses.   You know, the ones that say God gave animals for our use, but only sparingly, in times of winter, cold, or famine.

There is NO way to justify the way most of us are eating, against this counsel.   But I’ve heard some  really interesting rationalizations.   A really good one is this: “That counsel was for people in 1833, not us, because they didn’t have refrigerators or freezers like we do.”   Yesterday in church, it was about how the comma in that verse was added by church administration to make it clear that we’re actually being ENCOURAGED to eat meat.   Well, that’s a comforting interpretation for those who don’t want their testimony of the  Gospel of the Standard American Diet shaken in any way, but . . . I don’t think so!

I’m going to make a strong statement and welcome your comments about it:   I think that  the vast majority of  LDS people are not living this scripture for the “weakest” of the Saints.   Someone at church yesterday made the comment that worrying about those two verses is “straining at gnats.”

Tomorrow, the rest of that section of scripture, including some good stuff about whole grains.

Posted in: Standard American Diet

26 thoughts on “more on the Word of Wisdom”

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  1. You know what I have noticed? More and more articles about the Word of Wisdom in the Ensign magazine. They just keep popping up. Do you think someone is trying to say something to the general members of the church? Hmm…but how many people read it every month?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you. Hearing things like that from people make me want to respond something like this: Then should we be lax on the other counsel in the scripture to? If that meat part wasn’t meant for our day, then maybe the rest of it wasn’t either. The Lord is not dumb and knows what is best for us.

    It bothers me to see members of the church health go down the drain when they think they are abiding by the word of wisdom. Food is a major part of our health, not just tobacco, tea, and alcohol.

    It is a code of health. Our bodies are our temples and we are supposed to treat them like one. I even more agree with you that the vast members of the church are not living this scripture. They overeat and eat unhealthy food.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s unfair to assume that people are rationalizing. Some people may interpret it differently. Some people, through revelation, have been given an interpretation that is not the same as yours. Some people, like me, are desperately searching for answers, with no preconceived notions to defend.

    Also, I believe it’s the LDS Institute manual that originally gave the explanation about refrigeration.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If the comma thing were true, wouldn’t that verse then be implying that people mostly ate meat in winter or cold? Was that so in the 1800’s?

    I have heard the argument that the prophet and apostles eat meat, so it must be okay. What’s your response?

    Really, this part of the word of wisdom is so confusing! On the one hand verse 13 says ONLY in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. On the other hand, in verse 15 it says ONLY in times of famine and excess hunger. Which is it? “only” is a pretty strong word, so it seems the verses counterdict each other. Unless verse 15 is actually talking about grains? The previous verse talks about grains. If not, then we start by talking about meats, then grains, then meat again, then grain again. That’s a lot of jumping around. And what exactly does “staff of life” mean? Something that is the mainstay of our diet? Or something we lean on, like a staff, when we need too? Lastly, if verse 13 is saying that we should eat meat, only sparingly, then verse 15 would have to be talking about grain. (so people who eat meat, shouldn’t be eating grains). The only thing clear to me is that fruits and vegetables are good.

  5. I feel just as you do. I heard a lesson on the Word of Wisdom in YWs recently. One the girls asked what it meant to eat meat sparingly. The teacher innocently said, “That means we should not eat it at every meal.”

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hey, we have the same secret hobby!

    Here’s another fun biblical reference that people rationalize with. “The land of milk and honey.” My mom tried to tell me that being vegan was wrong because milk and honey were obviously sanctified. I asked her if the streets in America were actually paved in gold. I told her that I take the milk and honey statement was probably expounding on the wealth of the land.

  7. I also loved this discussion at church, and found it interesting how somethings we see such black and white. We wouldn’t think of smoking or drinking, yet other things people said on Sunday “should be up to each member to decide how to live that teaching.

    I’ll tell you though, the only thing that has changed my entire attitude toward animal products was Original Fast Foods. The discussion they have at the end of the book with quotes from prophets, struck such a chord with me. I’ve always inherently known it was better for my health to eat less meat, but never before did I equate that with a higher law. A garden of Eden type existance, where it is more divine to not contribute to animal cruelty. I would love to be able to say, I am not harming living things in any way!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Those are the same two points that came up in my class. 🙂 I do eat meat nearly every day. But very small portions. I do a lot of weight training and haven’t found anything (other than protein shakes, but how natural is that?) that gives me back my energy like animal protein does. On days when I don’t train, I am more likely to not eat meat.

    I tried to bring portion size and processed foods into the discussion (I teach, but only every other Sunday, and I was a student this time) and got shot down as “sidelining” the lesson.

    Do you eat meat in winter?

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s classic to go to a ward function/family reunion-what do they serve? Hamburgers and hot dogs.. well where I live anyway! Drives me crazy!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Does my comment even show up? I was interested in others thoughts on this but no one has seem to commented.

  11. Anonymous says:


    I had the same questions about 15 and a staff. I didn’t bring them up yesterday since Robyn hadn’t quoted those verses yet, but I had the EXACT same questions.

  12. Tiffany, don’t forget the Jello salads! LDS even seem to get their animal by-products in the dessert! 🙂

  13. Anonymous says:

    Some people have actually mocked me at work for eating fruits and vegetables for lunch. A well-meaning neighbor “worries” about me not eating meat. But it’s ok to eat hamburgers and hotdogs or cake and ice cream. Nobody makes fun of that!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Great comments (Jill and Lazurii, still laughing!). Most of our lesson was a very energetic debate about COLA DRINKS. As if there’s any defense for that nutritionally (regardless of whether it’s “outlawed” in some fashion).

    Speaking of confusing, read the first few verses . . . IS it a commandment or ISN’T it?

    (Erin, have you tried SunWarrior fermented brown rice protein? I make protein shakes for my teenage son every night with it.)

    I am less qualified to be the arbiter of final truth on any of this, than any other topic we discuss on my site/blogs. So I’m just kicking it around with you all.


  15. Anonymous says:

    But do you eat meat in winter?

  16. http:// says:

    Only rarely.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I think that’s why God gave us minds, knowledge, and personal revelation. We can research everything we learn, and find out for ourselves what is right. I don’t think we need someone else telling us what is right or wrong when we have the ability to figure it out on our own. This is a great discussion!

  18. Anonymous says:

    I realize I’m coming to this conversation rather late, but rationalization is a pet peeve of mine and in my ward SO many commandments that are taught at Church meetings end up having a significant amount of time spent on rationalizing not completely following them. I wish people who aren’t sure what “sparingly” means would make it a matter of prayer for themselves and their family, rather than rationalizing what they WANT it to mean, which is what I so often hear.

    And I remember a quote somewhere from Elder Packer, which (paraphrased) said that anyone who taught that the Word of Wisdom required us to eat NO meat was teaching false doctrine. However, he did not say that we should NOT eat no meat, just that it’s not the doctrine of the Church. But I’ve heard people try to say that’s what it means.

    I think many people don’t look at that part of the commandment too carefully because it’s their vice of choice, since the more obvious vices of society are more obvious. Mormons DO like their meat and sugar! LOL (And isn’t there something about that on the yin/yang food scale — that eating meat, on the one end of the scale, sets up a craving for sugar on the other end, in an attempt to balance it?!)

  19. Anonymous says:

    How I feel about “only in winter” is I lived in a heated apartment where the temperature stays between 50*-65*. Not exactly winter conditions. Now, if I lived in Russia, where it gets -50*, yeah, I would eat meat.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I think ‘only in winter’ probably had a lot to do with meat being the easiest local source of nutrition during a season when people–outside the sunbelt–couldn’t grow, harvest, or mail order their own food. Therefore, they needed to eat meat or face malnutrition. Otherwise, animal flesh was to be avoided. A lot has changed since then to allow us greater variety of vegetarian options in the winter.

    There are obviously drawbacks to our modernized system, of course, and there are certainly benefits to being a ‘localvore’. But, a recent study concluded that eating vegan creates a smaller carbon footprint than eating local.

    I was reading a bit on the Weston Price Foundation website and he advocates avoiding a vegan diet of any kind. I personally disagree, but I wanted to figure out why he would say that. My theory is that he found a similar trend, that at the time it was hard to be healthy without a source of concentrated nutrients. Once again, things have changed. Not only in terms of food availability, but in terms of knowledge.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I totally agree that we are not supposed to eat so much meat. How do you respond to people who argue that we should eat meat now because we have refrigerators? I always get stuck on that one.

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      By that same logic, we should eat more Big Macs because we have McDonalds and we should eat more food from 10,000 miles away because it can be flown in.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I’ve loved reading this blog entry and the related comments. As of just over 6 months ago, I quit eating meat, eggs, and dairy. Reactions to my choice have been…entertaining, to say the least. I just want to add that this choice has been a remarkable one for me. I would hope that we could all keep an open mind and “eat and let eat.” Not eating meat has allowed me personally to see many things in a very different and positive way. I’m so grateful for this experience.

    If you’d like to read the words of another member of the church who has given up meat, I’d recommend this particular entry. There are MANY quotes by prophets and apostles on the subject that I think you might find interesting. http://www.vegsource.com/articles/catano.htm

    Thanks again for all of your comments.

  23. We have found a way for LDS members with coffee addictions to enjoy the taste and aroma of coffee while abiding by the WOW. As former coffee drinkers ourselves we worked hard to find an alternative to coffee while adhering strictly to the WOW. What we ended up with is an amazing brewed-coffee substitute. Please let anyone who is being kept from the temple due to coffee know about Cafe Cebada.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Ok friends 🙂 I know this was written a while back, but it looks like people are still commenting fairly recently. So let me clear this up for those who may read this entry in the future & be confused thinking the WOW allows us to eat meat abundantly. I came across a little treasure, republished through Deseret Book by Real Foods down in Orem, Utah. It’s a 312 page book called, “The Word Of Wisdom – A Modern Interpretation”, written by ELDER John A. Widtsoe (Apostle) – with the proof reading & editing help of Elders Joseph Fielding Smith, Joseph F. Merrill, Charles A. Callis, & Albert E. Bowen of the Council of Twelve, Prof. N. I. Butt & Dr. vasco M. Tanner of BYU Richard L. Evans of the Improvement Era, & James Wallis, Glyn Bennion, & Hugo D.E. Peterson – – – Meaning… It was not just his own personal thoughts & words. It was WELL researched & 99% of what’s in this book still stands & proves fact even today, over 60 years later. (((Book written & revised in the early 1900’s & last publication in 1950))) — Here is exactly what he says in one chapter about the consumption of meat & the Word of Wisdom: Chapter 15 Entitled “Meat…..Sparingly” – consists of 24 pages (yes! 24!) “It is unwise to eat meat & economize in milk, cheese, & eggs. However, in summer when the consumption of meat should be ELIMINATED, great care should be exercised to secure enough protein from other sources… Let it be understood that people who do heavy work or indulge in athletic sports do not need more meat or protein… Efficiency is particularly increased when the protein is furnished largely by milk & eggs… The advice that not more than 1/6-1/10 of the food budget should be spent for meat instead of 1/3 at present should be heeded… Meats have the power to sustain life for a time if nothing else is eaten, provided that the blood & internal organs (heart, kidneys, liver & brains) are eaten. It is clear therefore that in times of famine, meat as food is better than no food. In hot weather, the meat intake should be eliminated & vegetable proteins substituted…. At the time that the Word of Wisdom was given, meat, when it could be obtained, was largely used by all classes…… It was therefore a courageous departure from accepted practice to teach that meat should be used “sparingly” and further to suggest that man may live without meat as implied in the words, “they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold or famine.” The prophetic power of Joseph Smith is emphasized in the recent demonstration by the modern science of nutrition that meat should, indeed, form a minor part of the human dietary, and that in fact the plant kingdom contains the necessary food constituents characteristic of meat… The Word of Wisdom does not contain a prohibition against meat eating, but urges its sparing use.” – And with that, I Jennifer, personally say A.M.E.N.

  25. Anonymous says:

    One more note: Milk & dairy were also highly talked about in the meat chapter. It talks about the superior health benefits of milk, cheese, dairy foods, eggs, etc… BUT it specifically states that milk should be clean, from healthy animals, & UNPASTEURIZED. Oh, how I love my fresh raw milk from healthy open range grass fed naturally raised cows. What a beautiful blessing from our Heavenly Father. Might I add that when we drank pasteurized/homogenized milk, my husband had horrible stomach issues, & my children were most easily congested. Fresh, clean, raw milk does not cause these issues at all. Soooooooo grateful I started praying for ways to improve my family’s health in 2008, & without much effort, all of this information that points directly to the Word of Wisdom & God’s healing tools literally fell in my lap. Between *real* nutrition through whole foods & natural healing, my family of 6 is healthier than we’ve ever been in our lives. 🙂 PS: We drink a LOT of green smoothies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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