Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Word of Wisdom: A Case for Vegetarianism

(This post is very religious in nature - specifically my religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - but is my opinion only and is not indicative of official doctrine of the Church.)

I am a Mormon. Part of my belief system includes following a certain lifestyle code, known as the Word of Wisdom. In our scriptures, it is a promise of blessings. It is an explanation of all things good for us to use and to eat; it is also a warning against things that are harmful and addictive.

We commonly get caught up in the "don'ts" of the Word of Wisdom - Mormons don't drink coffee, tea or alcohol, don't use tobacco or non-prescription drugs.

But the list of "do's" is quite long and incredibly enlightening when studied in more detail.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, section 89 verses 10-17 state:

10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome aherbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
 11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with aprudence and bthanksgiving.
 12 Yea, aflesh also of bbeasts 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 csparingly;
 13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be aused, only in times of winter, or of cold, or bfamine.
 14 All agrain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
 15 And athese hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.
 16 All grain is good for the afood of man; as also the bfruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—

I'm going to break this apart a little bit, verse by verse.

10: all wholesome herbs (ie, plants) for the constitution, nature and use of man.

Okay, so plants are for our use, like medicines. Sounds good. For our nature? Maybe that means to beautify our environment? Not too sure on that one, but it makes some sense. What about for our constitution? An old-fashioned definition means, among other things, "the physical character of the body as to strength, health, etc."

So we should use plants for food, medicine, and pure enjoyment. Got it.

11: use herbs and fruits in season, with prudence and thanksgiving.

This is where it starts to get interesting. Do we actually eat food only in season, or are we buying tubs of strawberries in December, flown in from South Africa? Is that following the advice and instruction given?

Something to think about.

The word prudence is a good one. Part of the definition includes "caution in practical affairs; discretion or circumspection."

Okay, so um, what do discretion and circumspection actually mean?

Discretion = wise self restraint

Circumspection = discretion out of concern for moral or social repercussions*

I think that a case could be made against not only eating foods out of season, but also considering the implications of the so-called food miles involved, fuel and energy expended in transport and storage, and simply even overeating in general.

Very interesting indeed.

12 - 13, 15: flesh of beasts and birds to be used sparingly, and only in times of winter, cold or famine.

Now we're getting closer to the focus of this essay today. One aspect of these verses that jumped out at me was a missing word, as compared to verse 11 up there. Is the flesh of animals meant for our constitution? Our physical health and strength?

Maybe not.

How many times have I truly experienced a deep winter, cold spell or famine? Never! If the flesh of animals isn't particularly designed for normal health and strength, to be preserved in emergency circumstances and then only sparingly, am I following this counsel if I eat the Standard American Diet? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say, Probably Not!

16: fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, all these are good for us to eat.

From things I have been reading recently, a plant-based diet is completely compatible with good health. Most proteins in legumes and such are much more bio-available than in meat.

How can we use animals for food and raiment, as spelled out in another scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 49:18-19 and 21?

Does this automatically give us a free pass to eat steak and potatoes? I don't think so at all!

I am more of a mind to consider the idea of permaculture when I read these verses.

Animals don't have to give us milk, eggs or meat to provide food for humans. If allowed to eat naturally (ie, grass-fed cows as opposed to corn-fed), they put far more into the soil than they take out of it. Here is an example of farm animals being useful and providing food for human consumption:

-grass fed
-quality manure
-when grass is cut back the equivalent amount of root dies off and decomposes, increasing soil quality
    \ /
-scratch through the cow manure, spreading it out
-add their own manure
-destroy pests
    \ /

SOIL for growing PLANTS
-quality is improved by animal activity, manure
-better grass to feed the animals
-higher crop yield achieved, without use of chemicals leeching into the water supply

I'd like to point out another word in this study: Prudence. Doctrine and Covenants 59:20 warns us NOT to use animals to excess or extortion. However, this is exactly what happens to animals used for food, including bees!

I don't think eating meat is a sin. But I don't see how we can justify eating it whenever we want, and in vast quantities. As it says in Genesis 9:4-10 (JST) we will be held accountable for our meat eating choices.

For me and my family, we've decided to abstain from eating meat from now on. Maybe we'll buy a bit of meat from ethical sources for Christmas, but I don't know. We'll talk about it more when the time comes.

As for now, life is good! The kids don't miss meat all that much, apart from the sausages they smelled cooking in a stall in town the other day. We've talked about our reasons for avoiding meat, and they agree. We are keeping ex-battery hens on our allotment, and they know all about the terrible conditions those poor birds have had to suffer. We don't want to give our money to companies that treat animals badly.

*I have extreme ethical concerns about the meat industry, which is why I cut back on our meat consumption a while back, so full-on vegetarianism doesn't seem much harder at this point!


notmolly said...

I like your reading of it! This is what I've leaned toward for a long time, myself. I can say that eating foods in season definitely adds to the "thanksgiving" aspect of it... when the strawberries come in season, it's a joyous time to eat them fresh, and preserve them for off-season use. I won't buy tomatoes out of season at all (we used home-preserved when they're out of season), and I can tell you I'm truly giddy with glee to slice into those first seasonal maters and nosh, nosh, nosh!

I share your concerns over factory-raised flesh, too. Cutting back to start, then going with humanely, sustainably raised meats makes a big difference, and since a: it's less meat overall; and b: higher-quality meats don't require *near* as much quantity for true tastebud satisfaction, we see a reduction in the grocery budget, even eating "the good stuff."

Raisin4Cookies said...

I love the connection between thanksgiving and eating foods in season! Thanks for sharing that; I had never thought of it before, and it makes so much sense. Wow!

And yes, I completely agree with your stance on meat consumption. There is a butcher in a village near our house that has a farm attached; you can actually see your food alive before taking it home to cook it. Unfortunately, it's something like £30 for a steak, but if we only eat meat once in a blue moon, then it might be worth it. Before we stopped eating meat, I was using less of the good stuff, and you are so right; you just don't need as much if it is higher quality.

Mortons said...

Thank you for this post, the Word of Wisdom used to seem so simple to me (I just focused on the don'ts and thought Check! No problem with that commandment). Now I get more and more concerned with how I can improve. Living the gospel isn't about just scraping by, it's becoming the best I can be! I am trying to overcome that 'norm' to eat highly processed (I call man made)foods. I suppose I'm trying to overcome addictions too. I'm very interested in eating whole natural foods that haven't been messed with. Having said that since we also decided to cut back on meat this year we have been eating substitutes as I am nervous about the boys getting enough protein. It takes such a lot of work, but we'll get there in the end!

Raisin4Cookies said...

Addictions play a large part in this. Processed foods are designed to make us want more and more (how else are they going to make money?) and it's so hard to break away from that.

If you are concerned with protein, try to replace a few meat-based meals with beans and legumes. You might be interested in watching the documentary, Forks over Knives. It is a real eye-opener!

Rebekah said...

I saw your comment on Misfit and wanted to read what you had to say about the Word of Wisdom. Nice post, I enjoyed reading your insights. It's always nice to glean insight from other members of the LDS church. Misfit has great things to think on too but remember she is not a General Authority and if you've received personal insight/revelation about various matters for yourself and your family then don't let what she writes about cause you to question that revelation. We need the spirit of discernment in all things, even what Misfit writes. I also don't think it's wrong to blog about those insights or even market some things (even the General Authorities write books that are sold) as long as you don't do it in a way that says your insights are the only legitimate insights and if a reader doesn't agree with you then they are wrong/deceived/practicing priestcraft. God works through us all and I know, for me personally, I would not have learned about things that have been helpful for myself and family if others didn’t share their talents so to speak.

Raisin4Cookies said...

Thanks for your comment, Rebekah. You are totally right - I shouldn't base my life around what anyone else says or does, unless it's the Lord or His servants. :D I am glad that I took the time to re-evaluate my blog post, though, because I'm not always the best at introspection.