Sunday, April 1, 2012

Should Mormons Be Vegetarians?

My good friend Amanda and her husband, Andy, stayed at our place last night one their way home from vacation.

Amanda's the hot one in the middle. Steph's the hot one on the left. I'm the brillo pad on the right.

I'd planned on making a new recipe for dinner--Tikka Masala. The recipe called for an abundance of chicken thighs, and while I'd usually cut the meat in half and add veggies or beans, I decided to stick with the recipe because I didn't want to make something too hippie-healthy for our guests. I also bought some Cheerios for them because I wasn't sure they'd like the oatmeal-sans-sugar fare we've been having for breakfast around these parts lately.

So my beloved friend and her beloved husband got to our house, we caught up a bit, and then I remembered the Crockpot of molten Indian deliciousness on my counter.



Kimber: (gesturing Martha Stewart-esquely to the gently bubbling pot) Do you guys like Indian?

Amanda: Uhhh .... well, we're sort of vegetarian now.

!

There I was, making some gelatinous chicken thigh dinner, wondering if they'd be okay with just brown rice. Then they go and flash their superior health standards in my shocked face---I was so excited!!! Another friend in the diamond business interested in whole foods/vegetarianism/hippieness/etc.!

Immediately we made plans to have dinner at my favorite restaurant in Provo, Bombay House--an Indian restaurant with plenty of vegetarian options. Then while the boys went to the priesthood session of conference, I probably talked Amanda's ear off about all my hippie ideas about doctors, birth, nutrition, shampoo--whatever I could think of. I was just so excited to hear that she'd been making a lot of the changes we have--and even more! I got some great ideas from her, some book suggestions, and she just got me pumped about recommitting to living the way I really want to. I love Amanda.

One of the coolest things she shared was her perspective on a scripture I'd read many times before--but apparently I missed a big part of it:

"12 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;
13 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

I'd gotten the "sparingly" part before, and even the "only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine" part--though probably not as much as I should have, but for some reason I never noticed the clarity
of the highlighted portion: God is pleased when we don't eat meat.

Woah.

Through studying the Word of Wisdom in more depth over the past couple years, Nathan and I have transitioned to eating meat about 3-4 days a week (as opposed to the previous seven days a week), and when we do have meat, we cut it by half and greatly increase the veggies/beans. I was feeling okay with that, but still wondering if I could still do better.

What does sparingly mean? Nathan and I decided that "sparingly" does NOT mean every day. We also pondered what the Lord meant by "only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine." We concluded that those are times when fresh fruits and vegetables aren't available, and therefore meat is necessary to sustain an adequate diet.

BUT--in this wonderful day of global trade, there is NEVER a time in our privileged American society when fruits and vegetables are not available. We effectively never experience the conditions of an 1833 winter/cold/famine. We have refrigerators and freezers. We have a bountiful produce section at the grocery store--year round. Yes, your spinach may cost more in February, but if you aren't spending three dollars a pound or more on meat, you'll be amazed at how much your grocery bill drops--especially if you are willing to eat more rice, beans, lentils, and other extremely affordable and healthy foods.

Another insight I gained as I looked to a footnote found in the scriptures above. From "used," we're directed to D&C 59:20 (which is referencing the earth's resources--plants and animals are mentioned specifically):

"And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion."

How do we extort the earth's resources? Is this talking about shady oil companies? Logging companies who irresponsibly destroy forests and leave squirrels homeless and on Medicaid? Maybe--probably. But what about the little hen who lives in a cage barely bigger than she is, waiting in the dark until she's big enough to end up in my enchilada?

I think the chicken looks happy here, don't you?

Here's the definition of "extort": To obtain from a reluctant person by violence, torture, intimidation, or abuse of legal or official authority, or (in weaker sense) by importunity, overwhelming arguments, or any powerful influence. (oed.com)

I admit, I used to think "animal rights" was a crock ... full of deliciously slow-cooked beef and potatoes. But does God agree? I'm starting to think He may not. Yes, we have dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26). Yes, the Lord has taught that eating meat should not be forbidden outright (D&C 49:18). But I think we often throw around the word "dominion" as an excuse for our bacon for breakfast, turkey sandwich for lunch, hamburger helper for dinner lifestyle. We dismiss reports of cruelty to farm animals as sensationalized products of liberal media meant to drive us from beloved steaks to overpriced sprouts. I admit--I'm ignorant about what happened to the cow in my chili before it was the cow in my chili. Was there extortion (violence and torture, remember) involved? I don't know. Should I know? I think so.

Because no post about animals is complete without this picture.

The Lord said, "wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need" (D&C 49: 21).

What fits the description of "need" in regards to this scripture? If I have a pantry full of beans and grains and a fridge full of produce, do I need boneless, skinless chicken breasts to make tacos? Or do I just I want it? Could I maybe try taco-seasoned zucchini and mushroom tacos? (thanks for that idea, Amanda!)

In Genesis 9:11, JST, we gain insight into how the Law of Moses approached the idea of need: "And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands."
 
I recommend this Ensign article for more insight into animals and the gospel.

What can I conclude from my quick study of what the Lord has revealed to us about eating meat, and the treatment of animals in general? It's tough to write, but I'm really starting to feel that my recent efforts to eat less meat are still very inadequate. What changes should I make? Should I never eat meat again unless I'm starving? Should I never make it at home, but accept it if I'm at my parents' house for Thanksgiving? What if I just go to Smashburger once in a while? I've heard they have a great bean burger ...
  
I know this is controversial subject, but I'm very interested in other perspectives, especially if they're different from mine! I'm still exploring the topic and hoping to learn more. Please share your thoughts!

14 comments:

  1. You bring up some very interesting points. I would agree that the WOW is saying that meat should be used in times of winter, famine, and cold, but you are right. We are never wanting for fresh fruit. Also, with the ability to can fruits and veggies, we can really be prepared for those times of famine. I think my biggest problem is that I am so used to making things with meat, I have a hard time thinking of things to replace it with. That lentil loaf that mother made still haunts me. :) Ok maybe I am just too lazy and I want others to experiment and find the good, healthy replacement. I think you are off to a good start Kim and that you are headed in the right direction. I know people that only eat animals that they kill. That is an interesting response to animal cruelty, but not a practical one if you can't hunt and can't keep chickens. (Some cities do not allow residential chickens). I think if you are trying to eat less meat to follow the WOW it is ok to have the occasional Smashburger or Thanksgiving turkey. Unless, that will whet your appetite for flesh and all your progress would go down the drain. You have given me a lot of food for thought. :) Ha ha ha, I am so corny. :) ha ha ha. love you!

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  2. I always wondered why the verses you quoted aren't given any real attention in the church. I agree with your line of reasoning and I think that any reasonable interpretation indicates that mormons should be vegetarians. But I guess the brethren think other issues are more important and most members won't interpret scriptures in a way that is more restrictive (or liberating, depending on your point of view?) than what is officially taught.

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    1. I agree--the WoW is important, but we do know that at least right now the "don't's" are what matters a lot more. I think this is a great way to continue to progress, though.

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  3. You've really made me think about that scripture in a new way. If I were single it would be a lot easier to be a vegetarian--but with my picky family I would have a revolt on my hands if I started serving zucchini tacos and lentil un-meatloaf. I've created a whole new generation of meat hunting vampires and don't know how to stop! But just last week hubby and I discussed having one meat-less meal a week (other than breakfast), oh and we might actually try it ha ha, it's a start. Baby steps!

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  4. If the scriptures were the only direction we had about the Word of Wisdom, then I would probably say that vegetarianism is the only way to completely follow the commandment. However, prophets have given further explanations and clarifications to help us understand what the Lord is asking of us. Just like we know that "hot drinks" means coffee and tea (and not hot chocolate), we can also read on the lds.org Study by Topic page that:
    "The flesh “of beasts and of the fowls of the air,”... is “to be used sparingly” (see D&C 89:12-13)."
    If we in the modern world (with a constant supply of healthy and filling non-meat foods) are not meant to eat meat at all, I believe we would have been told this explicitly by our modern prophets.

    That being said, we all know that lots of things are left up to interpretation in the WOW. Alcohol, coffee, tea are all no-nos, right? I wonder about:
    Coffee-flavored things
    Iced tea
    Caffeine (and de-caffeinated versions of other drinks)
    Non-alcoholic beer
    Fatty foods

    No one wonders about their temple recommends when eating hamburgers at the ward party. But everyone would be freaking out if iced tea were served. Even Pepsi would cause a stir. Why? It's a question that I'm glad you've brought to light! My final thoughts come back to my own ideas about another controversial topic, caffeine: If I drink caffeine, I will still tell my bishop that I obey the Word of Wisdom. Same thing if I eat meat according to my personal interpretation of the quote pasted above. But will I insist to someone else that they are wrong for believing that ingesting caffeine or meat breaks the Word of Wisdom? No, and I hope that they would extend to me the same privilege of deciding for myself how I will live the parts of the commandment that we are meant to interpret ourselves.

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    1. I agree--this is an area where we haven't received any clarification from prophets about what "sparingly" means exactly--and so can't be held accountable for more than what our own conscience/personal revelation dictates. However--what about the part of the scripture that says "it is pleasing unto me that they not be used"? He never gets this specific about caffeine--which is understandably a gray area to some. I recognize that this isn't a temple-worthiness level issue, but I wonder if we are keeping ourselves from a measure of health/other blessings by kind of ignoring this.

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    2. When God says "it is pleasing unto me that they not be used," I think that this is open to interpretation as to whether this is to indicate a commandment or a preference. I think this would be clear in an analogy. My personal opinion is that there are not soul mates. But I think that God knows who we would be most happy with. And I do think that He directs us to try to help us meet/marry that person. But is it a commandment? No. And can we still be happy married to someone else who is also a good person? Yes.

      So if you look at this question in this light, I think that God is letting us know that he would be pleased if we did something that would make us happier. And maybe we would be happier if we were vegetarians (given the time to get used to the lifestyle and to see the benefits). I don't know. But I don't think that God will withhold health or other blessings that are given freely (and not as a natural consequence of what we eat) if we think that we are doing what's right and we choose to live as righteously as we know how.

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  5. So here's the thing -- I agree with the WOW on eating meat sparingly. I think the trend is to eat it twice or even three times a day, when really we only need it a few times a week. But if you're thinking of cutting it out entirely it is important to see a doctor and make sure you are balancing your diet the right way, especially for your kid. There are several people in my ward that went vegan for a while because of the China Study (I haven't watched the movie, but the gist is that if you eliminate all animal products, you will not get cancer). I know this isn't what you were talking about. There were two families that did it that were good friends, and they didn't do it with a doctor or nutritionist making sure they were getting in all their nutrients, meaning their kids were definitely not getting any B12 (which is only available in animal products) and most likely weren't getting enough iron, calcium, or zinc, either. They stopped their diets after about a month because the whole family was tired all the time, probably because they were anemic.

    So I guess I'm saying, I think your current plan of eating meat only a few times a week is probably the best bet nutritionally. I think it is good to try and avoid having meat every day, or even every few days, unless you are carefully planning a menu with the RDAs for each nutrient and making sure you and your family are getting the nutrients you need (especially if you cut out dairy and eggs, too). As far as the animal rights issue goes, I understand that completely. Fortunately there are some options for that (local and organic food).

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  6. I agree with Steph. God has said, "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness..." (Doctrine and Covenants 58: 26-27).

    Because we haven't been explicitly directed on this matter, we ARE supposed to seek personal revelation ourselves. I think saying that Mormons should OR shouldn't be vegetarians is too strong. It leaves out the possibility that this really is meant to be interpreted by individuals, so God can lead them to do things that will make them the most happy.

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  7. Along the lines of what you're talking about: I would recommend the cookbook "More-with-Less". It was written by some Mennonite ladies probably 30 years ago, based on the premise that in the US we use a disproportionate amount of meat and refined sugar in our diets. There are some great recipes, but the introduction alone makes it worth checking out from your local library. She comes at the issue of nutrition from a social justice perspective. She makes some interesting points about the fact that to feed cattle requires a LOT of land and a lot of grain(land which could be used to grow food for those in the world who are hungry).

    Peace,
    Becca

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  8. Well, here goes my 6 and a half cents worth. The answer to your query? No. Mormons should not be vegetarians. Or rather, they don't have to be, nor are they expected to be, commanded to be, or otherwise encouraged to be. I don't believe I have ever heard that from the pulpit of General Conference. Perhaps I missed it those times I used to fall asleep during conference in my wild and wicked days. Now I am afraid of even closing my eyes lest I miss Elder Holland speaking. Maybe the author of Poodle Writes can address my shameful apostle worshiping in another post....Now, having said that and enraging all the Liberal-Democrat-card-carrying-PETA-member-of-the-Church who reads Poodle Writes......=)......I have to say that I have been a vegetarian in my past. Full fledged almond milk from scratch making, fried tofu dusted with brewers yeast eating, bean guzzling, and finger pointing vegetarian. Again, I am ashamed (of the judgmental finger pointing that is). As a matter of fact, Kimber, I was exactly your age when I began my journey. I got into it right before my second pregnancy.....ANYway, I had read a few dozen books, re-read the WOW with the same shocking revelation, and began about 2 years of VERY strict vegetarianism. Of course it came to a screeching halt with the advent of my third pregnancy and overwhelming cravings for lemon peppered pork chops. We didn't even drink milk for all that time. How we all have bones, I have no idea. I loved being vegetarian. I discovered a LOT of fabulous new foods and instilled the love of fruits and veggies in my two oldest. I used to plop Jenna in the high chair and give her a can of kidney beans. We would enjoy a block of quivering tofu cut in pristine little squares dipped in real tamari. At her one year check up the doc was appalled at her being a veggie, and convinced of her anemia, sent us packing to the lab. I laughed a LOT when her iron levels came back in the excellent range....Eventually I moderated back into meat eating for a number of reasons. I still eat tofu, but I have not bothered with fresh almond milk in a long time. I shamefully buy it at the store...in a carton made from trees. I really love the coconut/almond milk they have now. Yummy in my protein shakes. We enjoy Morning Star 'burgers' and 'sausages' on a regular basis. A box is always in the freezer.
    I could go on for a few pages explaining my position, but as I am trying to pack my house so I can move, marry off my a fore mentioned veggie child, pass dummy math, and make dinner, I will be brief.
    A couple of things are floating around my scattered brain. One: The Church owns the biggest beef ranch in the state of Florida. Two: In the Jain religion, my understanding is that the ultimate expression of their faith is to starve to death--a result of not wanting to make ANY impact on their environment at all. What do these two things have to do with the price of tempeh? I guess what it comes down to is we are not forbidden to eat meat as Mormons. Nor are we forbidden to eat cheese or eggs. Or chocolate, for that matter, it IS a plant, after all! The second random thing has to do with my impatience with the notion that humans are not allowed to have any impact whatsoever on the earth, and any impact we do make is evil and wicked. We have the right to be here just the same as animals, and we WILL make an impact for good or for ill. Each will be held responsible for how they have been stewards over the earth. Do I agree with all of the meat industry's practices, of course not. But really, what can I do? Protest? Throw a fit? Be angry?

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  9. As I previously stated, I refuse to eat veal. That's what I do. I try to purchase anti biotic free meats and cage free eggs and chickens. I make my voice known through the almighty dollar. I buy vegetarian products. Eventually, I want to have my own chickens, and they will roam around in my yard doing their chickeny things to their yummy little chicken hearts' content. And honestly, when I eat a particularly excellent piece of salmon or rack of ribs, I thank the happy little critter who gave their life so I could enjoy that bit of yumminess. I do, I really do. I guess what I am trying to say is that for me, a more moderate view is right for me and my family, and it is my choice to do so. I have been known to say that I wish all the cows would disappear, and bison take their places. Bison meat is healthier and better for the environment to boot. Cows really are terribly destructive, they, along with piggies, single hoofed-ly changed the ecology of this continent. But what do we do with that? The English brought cows over. They were too daft to see that Bison and deer were really rather excellent. That wasn't my choice to do that. I am not responsible for that. Coming down to the end of this rambling, muddled opinion, is that I am dreadfully moderate on this topic. I see both sides, and agree with points on both sides. Does that make me wishy washy? I have no idea, because I am wishy washy on this subject now. I love tofu and almond milk. I also love sharp cheddar and salmon. Christ DID eat fish after his resurrection, after all. What does it all MEAN?!?!

    Auntie

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  10. I've been pondering your thoughts, Kimber, and this is what I found in the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (from Rel 324 and 325 at BYU). In reference to verse 12: "The word of wisdom is not a system of vegetarianism. Clearly meat is permitted (see D&C 42:18). Naturally, that includes animal products less subject to meat to putrefactive and other disturbances, such as eggs, milk, and cheese. These products cannot be excluded simply because they are not mentioned specifically. By that token most of our foodstuffs could not be eaten."
    In reference to verse 13: "This verse has caused some to ask if meat should be eaten in the summer. Meat has more calories that fruits and vegetables, which some individuals may need fewer of in summer than winter. Also, before fruits and vegetables could be preserved, people often did not have enough other food to eat in winter. Spoiled meat can be fatal if eaten, and in former times meat spoiled more readily in summer than winter. Modern methods of refrigeration now make it possible to preserve meat in any season. The key word with respect to the use of meat is sparingly."
    That seems pretty straightforward to me. "The word of wisdom is not a system of vegetarianism." Not that you can be one if you decide that's what you want to do. But I don't think eating hamburgers at the ward party should make us question our worthiness for the temple.

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  11. I also think it's interesting that God cares about the animals on earth. I mean, yeah, I don't think animals are the same as people. they're less important--but God still was in charge of making them and He knows them individually. He notices when a sparrow falls. He loves us a lot more than sparrows, but I think when people abuse animals or are cruel to them for no reason, they'll have to answer to God for it. That would be an awkward judgment conversation: Heavenly Father bringing in some dog you'd beaten or a bird you'd thrown rocks at and who remembered you. "Yes, officer, that's the man."

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