A fresh take on the Word of Wisdom

Oct 5, 2011
41 min read

In February of 1833, an inquiry was made by Joseph Smith concerning what the Lord thought of some of the men using tobacco in their meetings.

The response was a very unique document that identified its contents as “A Word of Wisdom.”

This Word of Wisdom was not sent as a new set of commandments and it had to do with what constitutes our bodies and the connection to certain physical and spiritual blessings.

While this revelation is sometimes called a “dietary law” it never claims to be such and I think that narrowing the focus to diet alone overshadows the deeper implications of the wisdom the Lord is trying to teach.

I would like to start with looking at what the Lord has instructed his people in the past concerning these things from the Garden of Eden to Noah, the law of Moses, and into the restoration.

A brief history of instructions from the Lord concerning food and drink

The Garden of Eden

We read, there was a garden eastward in Eden where Adam and Eve were counseled concerning that which they took into their bodies for nourishment:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:16-17)

Since they were allowed to eat of every tree of the garden, we can assume that their diet in this case was strictly limited to vegetation.

There is no evidence of man consuming flesh for food at this point. The only thing they were commanded to not partake of was the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

Now the interesting thing about this guidance is that it had a specific purpose; to facilitate the fall, create a state whereby redemption was necessary and allow for the eternal progression and posterity of man.

Have you ever thought about what other purposes God might have in mind for the other laws and instructions he has instituted over time?

Post Garden of Eden Counsel

After partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Adam is given new counsel as to what he will eat from this time forward.

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast…eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;…and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground;…Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.(Genesis 3:17-18,23)

In the next chapter we read that Abel kept flocks and we can assume at least two or three things that they were used for:

  1. Sacrifices (Adam and his posterity offered sacrifices to the Lord)
  2. Clothing (think of the coats of skins the Lord provided for Adam and Eve)
  3. Food? (It doesn’t appear clear one way or the other but it is certainly possible)

Noah and his people

We begin to get a little more information as we see the Lord teaching Noah what is acceptable to him in terms of what he may eat.

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 deliveredEvery moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. (Genesis 9:2-4)

They are told that every moving thing that liveth is ok to eat, just as the green herbs are ok to eat. But interestingly, the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 9:11 reads:

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.

This seems to indicate that while the Lord approved of his people eating flesh for food, that it was to only be in circumstances where you needed to do so to “save” your life.

He further indicated that we would be accountable for the blood of every beast that we slay.

 The Law of Moses

The Law of Moses contains, perhaps, the most rigorous set of dietary restrictions and laws that has ever been revealed.

These may be found in Leviticus chapter 11 and Deuteronomy chapter 14.

The Lord begins saying “These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth (Lev 11:2)” So it is clear that God has ordained animals for the use of man, for food and for raiment.

The Restoration’s Word of Wisdom

In March, 1831 a revelation was given to Joseph Smith mainly to counteract the ideas being promoted by Ann Lee who claimed to be the embodied Jesus Christ who had returned to the earth.

One of the things she and her followers taught was abstention from the eating of meats. There is a revelation where the Lord comments on this:

And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance. (D&C 49:18-19)

This goes right in line with the previous instructions that we have read about in the Old Testament.

The phrase “he might have in abundance” might cause one to think that this is a green light on gorging ourselves on meat, note what the Lord says in the next verse:

And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.

Note that in the previous verse it says that man “might” have in abundance, not “shall” or “should” or “must.”

When exactly does one “need” to shed blood for food? Thus far, we have read that it should be done to “save your lives”.

A few months later August of 1831 we get further guidance from the Lord in:

Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth; Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards; Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. 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. (D&C 59:16-20)

These verses instruct us that all things are made for the benefit and use of man, both plant and animal alike. This sounds very much like the counsel given to both Noah and Moses and is consistent with what the Lord has said in other places.

It seems to be an established fact that all these things are for us to use, but with judgment and not to excess.

In 1833, a new revelation was given concerning these things and is perhaps the clearest of all revelations on the matter.

However, there is something uniquely different about this revelation, it was given as a principle to the people of the last days for important key purposes.

In the beginning of the revelation the Lord states:

In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation— (D&C 89:4)

The Lord in his infinite foreknowledge is aware of “evils and designs” that could be dangerous to us, so he is seeking to warn His people by giving a clear set of instructions.

Now I think it is common for people to concern themselves with the negative items on the list, after all, we are being warned of danger are we not?

There is a big focus on a few specific the things that we are told to avoid such as “hot drinks” which is interpreted to mean coffee and tea.

We wonder why God would say that these are not good for us and when caffeine was discovered we assume that this is the reason and then we restrict any other drinks that have caffeine like Coca-Cola, etc.

Is this looking beyond the mark?

Perspective on caffeine

Many members of the Church will avoid caffeine as if it were an illegal street drug, but where did this aversion to caffeine come from?

I have a theory that is rooted in the fact that we are always wanting to know the exact reasons why the Lord has banned certain things in the Word of Wisdom.

Somewhere along the lines, we figured that some of the “don’ts” in the Word of Wisdom are all addictive in nature.

The Lord has given us agency and doesn’t want us addicted to things to he counsels us to avoid them; makes sense. So what is addictive about some of these items? Alcohol can be addictive as well as tobacco for certain reasons, but what about Coffee and Tea?

Ah, they have caffeine in them.

So maybe caffeine in these beverages is one of the main culprits for these drinks being banned by the Lord. We assume that caffeine, since it is addictive, must be avoided anywhere it can be found, but this is where the hypocrisy sets in.

A can of Coca-cola harbors 35 milligrams of caffeine and is on most church members’ “no-no list”, yet many of these members may still enjoy a Hershey’s dark chocolate candy bar that harbors 31 milligrams of caffeine.

Eat a Hershey’s kiss, and you’re eating 1 milligram of caffeine and I’ve seen these given to primary children – oh the horror! Caffeine is found plentifully in chocolate, which can be found regularly in treats consumed at home and at church activities.

Now I have heard people claim that they have “withdrawals” when they stop drinking their favorite caffeinated beverage. They attribute this to the addictive qualities of caffeine, but is it the caffeine that is causing the withdrawals or is it something else?

What if there was something else in those fizzy drinks and many other things that we ingest that was discovered to be more addictive than caffeine and even more addictive than crack cocaine?

Wouldn’t you want to know immediately what this horrifying substance was so that you could adjust your eating habits accordingly?

Sure, that can of Coke has 35 milligrams of caffeine, but did you ever consider that the 39,000 (yes, that’s thirty-nine THOUSAND) milligrams of SUGAR might have anything to do with your withdrawal headaches? Yes, that white “enriched” sugar is, in fact, a highly addictive substance.

By the way, how can something be “enriched” when you remove all the nutritional value out of it? Enriched sugar? Enriched white flour? Sneaky, sneaky and we fall for it.

In a recent French study, scientists found data that led them to conclude:

Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals. We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants. In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants. The supranormal stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, would generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.

Are we so focused on “evil and conspiring men” putting caffeine in our beverages that we are blind to the astronomical increase in added sugars being put into virtually EVERYTHING we consume!

What else is there that we take into our bodies regularly that shouldn’t be there?

These conspiring men are good at what they do and you’ll remember how good they are every time you participate in a ward function where “refreshments” are served and someone mechanically “blesses” donuts, brownies or cake to “strengthen and nourish” us. 

Hmmm, how about some fruit or something, let’s get creative here people!

To make it worse, I’ve heard these poor souls specifically asked “Will you pronounce a blessing upon the refreshments?” But maybe if that’s all we’re getting at church activities, we should be asking for divine help to protect us!

Look, I’m not a total party pooper, I love a good brownie just like the next guy but are we really setting a good example to our youth and congregations?

Statements from general authorities of the church concerning eating meats

I was surprised to find very little said concerning the eating of meats in recent years.

Most of the quotes that I found were all very similar and not very specific, they just say “sparingly” and leave you to interpret what that means. I think this make sense given that the Church is a global one now and they are speaking to people in many circumstances, some of which live in famine-ridden countries; so I think they are more careful about what they say.

As we look backwards in time to when the church was centered mostly in the United States, we see leaders of the church speaking more specifically on the matter.

President George Q. Cannon (This one starts off talking mostly about hunting):

We should by every means in our power impress upon the rising generation the value of life and how dreadful a sin it is to take life. The lives of animals even should be held far more sacred than they are. Young people should be taught to be very merciful to the brute creation and not to take life wantonly or for sport. The practice of hunting and killing game merely for sport should be frowned upon and not encouraged among us. God has created the fowls and the beasts for man’s convenience and comfort and for his consumption at proper times and under proper circumstances; but he does not justify men in wantonly killing those creatures which He has made and with which He has supplied the earth. SOURCE

George Q. Cannon of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, 7 April 1868:

We are told that swine’s flesh is not good, and that we should dispense with it; and we are told that flesh of any kind is not suitable to man in the summer time, and ought to be eaten sparingly in the winter. [“Word of Wisdom—Fish Culture—Dietetics,” reported by David W. Evans, Journal of Discourses, vol. 12 (Liverpool: Albert Carrington, 1869), pp. 221–22.]

Brigham Young, President of the Church, 19 July 1877

Mothers, keep the children from eating meat…Now, sisters, will you take notice, and instruct those who are not here today, to adopt this rule—stop your children from eating meat, and especially fat meat. [“Relief Societies—Talk to Mothers—Improvement Societies—Domestic Matters—Training Children—Home Production—Silk Interests,” reported by James Taylor, Journal of Discourses, vol. 19 (Liverpool: William Budge, 1878), pp. 67–68; spelling modernized.]

Lorenzo Snow, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, 11 March 1897:

[President Lorenzo Snow] introduced the subject of the Word of Wisdom, expressing the opinion that it was violated as much or more in the improper use of meat as in other things, and thought the time was near at hand when the Latter-day Saints should be taught to refrain from meat eating and the shedding of animal blood. [in Journal History of the Church, 11 March 1897, LDS Archives; see also Leonard J. Arrington, “An Economic Interpretation of the ‘Word of Wisdom,’ ” Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, Winter 1959), p. 47.]

Joseph Fielding Smith, President of the Twelve, 30 Dec. 1966

This is my answer to you in relation to President Brigham Young’s statement that mothers should not feed their small children meat. Yes! Small children do not need the flesh of animals. May I add also that adults would be better if they would refrain from too much eating of meat. As far as I am concerned the eating of meat should be very sparingly. In fact I will be contented if the Millennium was to be ushered in next week. When it is, we will learn that the eating of meat is not good for us. Why do we feel that we do not have a square meal unless it is based largely on meat. Let the dumb animals live. They enjoy life as well as we do.

In the beginning the Lord granted man the use of the flesh of certain animals. See Genesis 9:1-6, but with so many fruits of the soil and from the trees of the earth, why cannot man be content? Naturally in times of famine the flesh of animals was perhaps a necessity, but in my judgment when the Millennium reaches us, we will live above the need of killing dumb innocent animals and eating them. If we will take this stand in my judgment we may live longer. [In a letter to a member sister in El Paso, Texas, dated 30 Dec. 1966, quoted in Health Is A Blessing: A Guide to the Scriptural Laws of Good Health, by Steven H. Horne, advance publication copy (Springville, Utah: Nature’s Field, 1994), p. 34.]

Heber J. Grant, President of the Church, 4 April 1937 said:

I think that another reason why I have very splendid strength for an old man is that during the years we have had a cafeteria in the Utah Hotel, I have not, with the exception of not more than a dozen times, ordered meat of any kind. On these special occasions I have mentioned I have perhaps had a small, tender lamb chop. I have endeavored to live the Word of Wisdom, and that, in my opinion, is one reason for my good health. [in Conference Report, April 1937, p. 15.]

Heber J. Grant, President of the Church, 1 October 1937

It is no hardship to me to eat meat sparingly. I lived for several years, during the winter time, in the Utah Hotel and I am sure that not more than ten or a dozen times did I order meat, and then it was some small lamb chops; no pork, no turkey, no chicken, no veal of any kind did I ever eat during that time at the cafeteria. [in Conference Report, October 1937, p. 14.]

John A. Widstoe speaking of the Word of Wisdom in his 1937 book “The Word of Wisdom, A Modern Interpretation” wrote:

The revelation deals only with grains, fruits, vegetables– nature’s products– and with meat to be used sparingly in cold or famine, but it does not follow that foods not specifically mentioned in the Word of Wisdom are prohibited…It is believed by many that grains, fruits and vegetables are chiefly valuable as foods for other than their protein content. This is incorrect, for a properly selected low meat or wholly vegetarian diet, if supplemented with milk, cheese and eggs, will support life completely. The above conclusion is fully borne out by experiments carried out by men of the highest professional training and integrity. SOURCE

Jessie E. Smith, Wife of Joseph Fielding Smith, President of the Church said:

My husband doesn’t eat meat [but rather] lots of fruit and vegetables. [in Gerald E. Jones, PhD Dissertation entitled Concern for Animals as Manifest in Five American Churches: Bible Christian, Shaker, Latter-day Saint, Christian Scientist, and Seventh-Day Adventist (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1972), p. 118.]

Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a General Conference of the church:

The foods to be used most sparingly are those which contain a great excess of protein, such as meat, eggs, cheese, and beans. On this account, there are many authorities who think that it would be safer to discard the use of meat altogether than to continue to use it so freely as many Americans are doing. [He goes on to quote a USDA bulletin which states:] “meat may be omitted from the diet altogether, for it has been determined that all necessary protein and energy may be obtained from other materials.” …Americans eat too much meat, a non-essential in human diet, because all the proteins needed are available in the other foods just named.” SOURCE

Joseph Fielding Smith said concerning the use of flesh:

While it is ordained that the flesh of animals is for man’s food, yet this should be used sparingly. The wording of this revelation is perfectly clear in relation to this subject, but we do not always heed it. The designated grains for the use of man, beasts and fowls, is scientifically correct. (CHMR, 1948, 2:148.)

Spencer W. Kimball in 1978 quoted Joseph F. Smith who said:

“I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent men whom I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939, pp. 265-66.)

Elder Harold G. Hillam of the seventy said in October 2001:

The scriptures tell us that all grains are good for us (see D&C 89:14) and that meat is “ordained for the use of man” but should be “used sparingly” SOURCE

L. Tom Perry said in 1996:

The Word of Wisdom contains some very positive aspects. It encourages us to use grains, particularly wheat, and to use fruits and vegetables and the sparing use of meat. SOURCE

Since recently we are left to determine what the meaning of the word “sparingly” means in relation to the Word of Wisdom, it becomes necessary to examine the scriptures further for additional clarification.

For a more complete list of general authority statements on animal life, click here.

The constitution of man and the consuming of flesh

In Doctrine & Covenants 89, we are introduced to a simple outline of what God has ordained for man to eat:

And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving. (D&C 89:10-11)

So all wholesome herbs and fruit are ordained, or set apart, for the constitution, nature and use of man.

Now it is important to analyze some of the words in these verses. Going by the trusty Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, we learn that herbs are defined as “A plant or vegetable with a soft or succulent stalk or stem, which dies to the root every year, and is thus distinguished from a tree and a shrub, which have ligneous or hard woody stems.”

Further, “The word herb comprehends all the grasses, and numerous plants used for culinary purposes.”

Fruits are defined as “the produce of a tree or other plant; the last production for the propagation or multiplication of its kind; the seed of plants, or the part that contains the seeds; as wheat, rye, oats, apples, quinces, pears, cherries, acorns, melons, &c.”

Now what does it mean that these things are to be for the “constitution” and “nature” of man? Constitution in this instance means:

“The state of being; that form of being or peculiar structure and connection of parts which makes or characterizes a system or body. Hence the particular frame or temperament of the human body is called its constitution. We speak of a robust or feeble constitution; a cold, phlegmatic, sanguine or irritable constitution. We speak of the constitution of the air, or other substance; the constitution of the solar system; the constitution of things.”

So herbs and fruit are ordained to be the things that constitute the human body; you are what you eat, right?

What about “nature”? Nature is “The essence, essential qualities or attributes of a thing, which constitute it what it is” and there you have the word “constitute” again.

Continuing with the revelation we read:

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; (D&C 89:12)

Read the language very carefully, the Lord says that he has also “ordained” the flesh of beasts and fowls for the USE of man, with thanksgiving and that they are to be used sparingly.

Note that herbs and fruits were ordained for the “constitution, nature and use of man” but when speaking of the flesh of beasts the words “constitution” and “nature” are NOT used, furthermore, it is emphasized that they are to be used sparingly. Sparingly means:

“Not abundantly. Frugally; parsimoniously; not lavishly. Abstinently; moderately.”

If we take a deeper look at the word “abstinently” we read that it means:

“in general, the act or practice of voluntarily refraining from, or forbearing any action. More appropriately, The refraining from an indulgence of appetite, or from customary gratifications of animal propensities. It denotes a total forbearance, as in fasting, or a forbearance of the usual quantity. In the latter sense, it may coincide with temperance, but in general, it denotes a more sparing use of enjoyments than temperance. Besides, abstinence implies previous free indulgence; temperance does not.”

In verse 13 the Lord elaborates by saying:

And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

The Lord is pleased when the flesh of animals is not used as food with the exceptions being, only in times of winter, cold or famine, or in the words of Genesis 9:11, “to save your lives”.

I’ve often come across the controversy over the addition of the comma after the word “used” in the 1921 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. The truth is that the comma was not in the original version of the revelation and did not appear in the first printing of the D&C back when it was section 90.

However, the whole comma controversy falls to pieces if what Royal Skousen proposes is legitimate:

First, consider the use of the word only in that part of the Word of Wisdom that deals with eating meat: “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, 1921 and 1981 editions). In editions prior to 1921, the comma before only was missing: “And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine” (1879 edition). A reader might interpret this as meaning that meat could be used at any time, not only in times of winter, cold, or famine.

Of course, the real problem here is in the meaning of only. In the last century the word only very often had the meaning ‘except’. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary quotes a use of only that undoubtedly means ‘except’: “For many years the following notice was painted up at Bolton railway station: ‘Do not cross the line only by the bridge.’” Clearly, this is the appropriate sense of only in this verse from section 89.

James E. Talmage put the comma in the 1921 edition, but not in order to change the meaning of only. Instead, the meaning of only had changed and the comma was put in so that the modern reader could read the verse and still get out its original meaning. A similar difficulty with only occurs in my patriarchal blessing, given by William R. Sloan in 1957: “Counsel with your dear parents, and they shall never direct you only in paths of righteousness and truth”—and without a comma! As a youth I thought the word never was a mistake, and I was tempted to cross it out. But I was wrong. Now when I read my blessing, I mentally replace only with except. (Royal Skousen, Through a Glass Darkly: Trying to Understand the Scriptures, BYU Studies 1986, pg. 5) Source

In verse 14 the Lord indicates what the staff of life should be:

All grain 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;

The Lord indicates that all grain is ordained to be the staff or support of life for man and the animals as well; and speaking of the animals, he refers to their use yet again in verse 15:

And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

So it isn’t just winter time that the Lord is concerned about, he prefers it seems, that the flesh of animals is only to be consumed when we do not have access to the herbs, fruits and grains that he has ordained for our constitution and nature. The Lord continues in verses 16 and 17 to emphasize this point to us:

All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.

Animal protein as an addictive and carcinogenic substance

There may be some legitimacy to caffeine, sugar, and other materials in foods being part of the reason the Lord is warning us.

The Word of Wisdom doesn’t go into those specifics, but the Lord does say that all “wholesome” herbs are ordained for us. The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines wholesome as:

1. Tending to promote health; favoring health; salubrious; as wholesome air or diet; a wholesome climate.

2. Sound; contributing to the health of the mind; favorable to morals, religion or prosperity; as wholesome advice; wholesome doctrines; wholesome truths.

Seeking after things that promote or contribute to health is important, not just to preserve us physically, but for spiritual reasons we will see later.

Caffeine or sugar could have wholesome or negative effects depending on how they are used. We need sugar to survive, but consuming it in certain forms or amounts is not wholesome at all.

When it comes to modern industrialized animal “products” there are some facts to consider.

Casein is a protein found in animal products such as meat, milk and cheese. While unprocessed and unseasoned fruits and vegetables are naturally casein-free.

So what’s the big deal about casein? Well, many people are allergic to it along with gluten for instance, but here’s were it gets interesting; what if you knew that it was also an addictive substance?

The Orlando Sentinel July 13, 2003, published an article that revealed some interesting information about cheese:

Why is cheese so addicting? Certainly not because of its aroma, which is perilously close to old socks. The first hint of a biochemical explanation came in 1981, when scientists at Wellcome Research Laboratories in Research Triangle Park, N.C., found a substance in dairy products that looked remarkably like morphine. After a complex series of tests, they determined that, surprisingly enough, it actually was morphine. By a fluke of nature, the enzymes that produce opiates are not confined to poppies — they also hide inside cows’ livers. So traces of morphine can pass into the animal’s bloodstream and end up in milk and milk products. The amounts are far too small to explain cheese’s appeal. But nonetheless, the discovery led scientists on their search for opiate compounds in dairy products.

And they found them. Opiates hide inside casein, the main dairy protein. As casein molecules are digested, they break apart to release tiny opiate molecules, called casomorphins. One of these compounds has about one-tenth the opiate strength of morphine.The especially addicting power of cheese may be due to the fact that the process of cheese-making removes water,lactose and whey proteins so that casein is concentrated. Scientists are now trying to tease out whether these opiate molecules work strictly within the digestive tract or whether they pass into the bloodstream and reach the brain directly…

The cheese industry is miles ahead of them, having gone to great lengths to identify people who are most vulnerable to addiction. It dubs them “cheese cravers,” and tracks their age, educational level and other demographics so as to target them with marketing strategies that are tough to ignore. With a $200 million annual research and marketing budget, the dairy industry is not content to have you just sprinkling a little mozzarella on your salad. It is looking for those Americans who will eat it straight out of the package, whatever the cost to their waistlines or cholesterol levels.

At a “Cheese Forum” held Dec. 5, 2000, Dick Cooper, the vice president of Cheese Marketing for Dairy Management Inc., laid out the industry’s scheme for identifying potential addicts and keeping them hooked. In his slide presentation, which was released to our organization under the Freedom of Information Act, he asked the question, “What do we want our marketing program to do?” and then gave the answer: “Trigger the cheese craving.” He described how, in a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the dairy industry launched Wendy’s Cheddar Lover’s Bacon Cheeseburger, which single-handedly pushed 2.25 million pounds of cheese during the promotion period. That works out to 380 tons of fat and 1.2 tons of pure cholesterol in the cheese alone. A similar promotion with Pizza Hut launched the “Ultimate Cheese Pizza,” which added an entire pound of cheese to a single pizza and sold five million pounds of it during a six-week promotion in 2000. The presentation concluded with a cartoon of a playground slide with a large spider web woven to trap children as they reached the bottom. The caption had one spider saying to another, “If we pull this off, we’ll eat like kings.”

One could argue that this is one direct fulfillment of the Lord’s warning:

In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—” (D&C 89:4)

Here are some quotes regarding the addictive properties of casein starting with a brief statement from the Great Plains Laboratory:

The peptides from gluten and casein are important because they can react with opiate receptors in the brain, thus mimicking the effects of opiate drugs like heroin and morphine. – Great Plains Laboratory

Dr. Neal Barnard, in an interview with the Washington Post had this to say:

Certain foods appear to stimulate the release of opiate chemicals within the brain. These are chemical cousins of morphine and heroin. The are not as strong as illegal drugs, but appear to be strong enough to keep us coming back, especially when we are stressed, tire, angry, or alone.

Not every food does this. The groups that do are sugar (and sugar-fat mixtures, such as butter cookies, as well as foods that produce sugar rapidly), chocolate, cheese, and meat. Let me share some of the evidence for this. In emergency rooms, doctors use the drug naloxone to block opiate receptors. So when a person has overdosed on heroin, naloxone can save their life. If we give it to a seriously addicted chocoholic–a person who really binges on it–chocolate is much less attractive. This suggests that chocolate’s attraction is not just its taste, but rather its effect on the brain. The same has been found for sugary foods, cheese, and meat…It is odd to think of meat as “addicting” but there are many people who feel they really cannot give it up, even after they have had a heart attack or a relative has developed colon or breast cancer (two forms of the disease linked to meat consumption).” – Dr. Neal Barnard is a nutrition expert, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and the president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. SOURCE

Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. in an interview said concerning casein:

“With dairy products you’ve got the whole problem of animal protein which is known to contribute to [heart disease], and you have casein, and that’s where Dr. T. Colin Campbell has really gotten four stars — he’s shown absolutely how horrifically powerful casein is as a tumor promoter, not to mention the IGF, which is the “Insulin-like Growth Factor” in milk, which is another tumor promoter.” SOURCE

Dr. T. Colin Campbell, whose name you might recognize from the now famous “China Study” produced some amazing research that found links between animal protein and cancer:

When Campbell and his colleagues looked at the connection between animal protein and late cancer, they discovered they were able to trigger and then shut down the formation of cancerous tumors by adjusting the amount of animal protein. In the study, the lab animals were expected to be at the end of their lives within 100 weeks. All 58 animals with diets consisting of 20 percent proteins were dead at the end of the 100-week period. All 60 at the 5 percent level of protein were living after the 100 weeks. SOURCE

Dr. Campbell has also said:

…the nutrients from animal based foods, especially the protein, promote the development of the cancer whereas the nutrients from plant-based foods, especially the antioxidants, reverse the promotion stage. This is a very promising observation because cancer proceeds forward or backward as a function of the balance of promoting and anti-promoting factors found in the diet, thus consuming anti-promoting plant-based foods tend to keep the cancer from going forward, perhaps even reversing the promotion.

…Our work showed that casein is the most relevant cancer promoter ever discoveredSOURCE

The addictive effects of animal protein are known and skillfully manipulated to bind us to them for profit. In my opinion, I believe that this more than fulfills the Lord’s words in the Word of Wisdom concerning “conspiring men in the last days” and considering the dangerous, carcinogenic effects of animal protein, I would say that we have direct evidence that “evils and designs” are certainly used by the companies that promote these products in our diets.

But what about fish? When asked this question in an interview, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. said this:

“For the question about whether or not you want to eat fish, here I refer to my friend and colleague Dr.John McDougall, a kindred spirit, John has explained it this way: that a piece of muscle, whether with claws with a hoof, whether it flaps a wing, whether it wiggles a fin, all animal muscle is made of animal protein,animal fat, and animal cholesterol, none of what you want. Now you do get some Omega-3s from fish, but you also get a lot of PCBs and mercury, and other things you don’t want. But you can get Omega-3 through flax seed meal, which is what I prefer.” SOURCE

Does the Word of Wisdom preach Vegetarianism or Veganism?

A Vegetarian is defined as “A person who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products, esp. for moral, religious, or health reasons.” and a Vegan is defined as “A person who does not eat or use animal products.”

Now we approach the fine line.

I personally believe that according to scripture, both Vegetarianism and Veganism are not in line with the teachings of the Lord.

Therefore, I would never refer to myself as a Vegetarian or a Vegan or any other such label. I also believe that, according to scripture, the modern practice of consuming animal flesh on a daily, regular basis, while we live in times of prosperity and plenty is in violation of the Lord’s instructions.

I have sought out further instruction from modern prophets on the subject of consuming of meat and there isn’t much detailed information.

They always point back to D&C 89 and almost always mention “sparingly”. It seems that the revelation itself is plain enough to not warrant a more in-depth analysis.

The clear facts are that God has ordained herbs, fruits and grains for the constitution and nature of the bodies of man and that he has also ordained the flesh of animals for the use of man in times of famine, excess hunger and when it becomes necessary in order for survival.

So what does that mean for us today?

Well, it may mean some incredibly difficult dietary changes for each one of us. It’s taken me years, to adjust the eating habits of my family to be more along the lines of what the Lord has revealed and I am still working on it.

It has meant giving up things I used to eat abundantly, things I used to and still do savor. I have a freezer full of beef which I will gratefully maintain in case I ever need it.

However, on my journey, I have discovered a wealth of incredibly delicious and nutritious things to eat that are in line with the principles of the Word of Wisdom.

As I have been feasting upon herbs, fruits, grains and nuts, my tastes have adapted and now crave these items. I’ve dramatically reduced my sugar intake and am continuing to drop weight.

I’m just beginning to realize that these changes have significantly affected my life concerning the promised revelatory treasures of knowledge and hidden knowledge. I’m not completely there yet; I’m still learning about this subject more and more, but I can say that as I have tried to pattern my life closer to the Lord’s instructions, I have been blessed.

I am sensitive to the fact that in many nations around the earth, people do not have very much choice in what they get to eat.

Many of these people live in a state of constant famine and in these cases, I believe that they are fully authorized to utilize the flesh of animals for sustenance.

I also understand the Church’s maintaining of vast herds of livestock for the feeding of the needy, perhaps for reasons similar to why Abel was a keeper of flocks. But are WE, justified in partaking of the same where we are literally surrounded by stores where we can purchase any food we want at any time?

The Promise of living the principle

In 2003, at a Church Educational System (CES) Fireside for Young Adults, President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said some extremely significant things concerning the Word of Wisdom:

The “Word of Wisdom [was] given for a principle with promise” (D&C 89:1, 3). But what is the promise? The promise, of course, is personal revelation…Now, the Word of Wisdom is, I think, only incidentally to keep us healthy, if we will observe it. But that matter of physical health is a losing battle. You know, no matter what you do to take care of your body, in due course, it begins to weaken! We are not going to live forever in this life…The point is, if you want to move on spiritually and do as you ought to do in this life, the principle outlined in the Word of Wisdom shows you the requirements. You cannot just toy with it…And so, like it or not! If you are tampering, if there is any mischief, you have got to quit it! It is not that you are going to be a healthy athlete all of your life, and it is not that you are going to avoid old age. It is that you will have the key to revelation. When your body begins to deteriorate, the patterns of revelation will be augmented and magnified. (Boyd K. Packer, The Instrument of Your Mind and the Foundation of Your Character, LINK)

So the Word of Wisdom is only incidentally about health.

The key purpose is to guide us in the management of the constitution and nature of our bodies so they they can be an “instrument of [our] mind”, existing in a state whereby they will not be obstacles to our ability to receive revelation.

President Packer clearly states “the Word of Wisdom shows you the requirements. You cannot just toy with it.”

Are we willing to abide by the principles the Word of Wisdom or will we just do whatever our culture deems as normal?

Remember, the Word of Wisdom (yes, the entire thing) was given to warn and forewarn us “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.”

Verse 20 always seemed a little out of place to me.

And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

I’ve tried to live the Word of Wisdom my entire life and I am always weary when I run, but is this revelation promising that all of God’s people will be track stars?

Perhaps this promise is spiritual. If you take a look at the footnotes for the word “run” and “weary” the context is definitely more spiritual than physical.

The word “run” cross references to Proverbs 4:11-13

I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.

The word “faint” cross references to Proverbs 24:9-10

The thought of foolishness is sin: and the scorner is an abomination to men. If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.

It appears that “running” in the Word of Wisdom context may mean the pace at which you are increasing your observance of gospel principles, while “fainting” has reference to giving in to adversity.

The power of the blessing is in adapting quickly to righteousness while standing strong against adversity.


Why should we think that these evils are limited only to dangerous drugs and not to the very foods that we consume regularly?

Do we not see the rampant cancers, obesity and disease even among members of the church who abstain from illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco?

If we do not change, we will continue to see more of the same. In a world where science is as fickle as the weather when determining what we should or should not eat, the Word of Wisdom is a rock of safety and consistency.

If we have found ourselves in a state where we are not healthy physically or spiritually or worry about our future health, perhaps the best counsel is summed up in the three words offered by the Old Testament prophet Haggai: “Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5)



  • Added Royal Skousen quote, along with commentary on D&C 20 – June 23, 2013
  • Added section “Animal protein as an addictive and carcinogenic substance” – October 11, 2011
  • Added section “Statements from general authorities of the church concerning eating meats” – October 11, 2011
  • Added several quotes to the “Statements from general authorities…” section (Special thanks to Brian from LatterDayConservative.com) – October 11, 2011


  1. I find it interesting that in section 89 that fish is not mentioned as something to eat sparingly as well as fowls NOT of the air, which would mean chickens, turkeys, and other fowl who spend most of their time on the ground. Yes, sugar, caffeine, fats and well, food is addictive!! We should use judgement in our dietary intake, but remember that a man is not defiled for what he eats, but for what he says [Matt. 15:11] I also find it offensive to ask God to bless our refined, sugar and fat filled refreshments to our nourishment. I have also found that sometimes the “Word of Wisdom” has become too much a focus in member’s lives that can create uncharitable attitudes towards others who might not have the self discipline or perspective as theirs.

    • It is true that we do not find detailed lists in section 89. Personally, I interpret the verses to deal with the sanctity of life, so I avoid all flesh when other alternatives are available. I have found that my life and health are very well sustained upon a diet that involves no flesh of living things.

      From time to time, I will partake of it when offered by others out of respect for them and not to waste the flesh of the animal that lost it’s life to prepare the meal. In doing so, I will always offer a private prayer of thanksgiving and respect for its life. In doing so, this has created within me an awareness for the sanctity of all life.

      While it is true that man is not defiled by what he eats, man IS defiled by principles that are not in accordance with truth. If a man indulges in mind-altering drugs, he is spiritually impaired. Not following the Lord’s council on the Word of Wisdom will also hinder our receiving of “great treasures of knowledge”.

      Like you, I also find it ridiculous to “bless” donuts ;) Instead of “blessing” food, we make it a practice to offer our gratitude for the food. We are blessed when we partake of meals that are in accordance to the proper constitution of life. That said, we find it perfectly acceptable to enjoy things like ice cream and chocolate from time to time ;)

      I also agree that we should not judge others based on their interpretations of the Word of Wisdom; that being said, there are interpretations clearly against the simple principles outlined.

      I hope that it is clear that I didn’t write this article to judge others. I wrote it to record some of the insights I had about the subject and to explore some facets of the principles that I thought would be good to explore.

      • Re: “In doing so, I will always offer a private prayer of thanksgiving and respect for its life. In doing so, this has created within me an awareness for the sanctity of all life.”

        A good practice. If I am not mistaken, some cultures, including American Indians, have ceremonies in which gratitude is expressed to the animals whose lives provided sustenance.

        • In most Latter-day Saint prayers I tend to hear something like “bless the food that it may nourish and strengthen our bodies.” I’m not sure where this came from, maybe back from the pioneers when they were having to eat horrible things along the Mormon trail to survive and they needed God to literally bless the food. ;-)

          Personally, I tend to eat pretty healthy stuff. I eat a mostly plant-based diet with fresh foods that I prepare myself. God has already blessed it and it will already nourish me without having to ask. I don’t ask God every morning to bless my legs that they will help me walk, because as of now they work perfectly fine.

          Instead, I have found it more appropriate to express my gratitude for such things. To consider the blessing of having the availability of certain ingredients that may be exotic to the area. When you think about it, it’s quite amazing how many options we have for food in our day.

          I try not to be nitpicky and judge other’s prayers, but it causes me to reflect on my own and how I express myself when I talk to God. Anyway, I think that when consuming flesh, it would be nice if we expressed thanks for the lives of the animals. It pleases God when we use them sparingly, but when we don’t, I think it is still pleasing to God to at least show appreciation and respect.

          I think there is a kind of stigma of appearing like some kind of animal extremist to even offer such a prayer, almost like you are trying to make people feel guilty for what they are eating. Kind of a shame, because even among people that eat meat, you’ll see tremendous acts of compassion towards animals.

          A few years ago I was in Florida and some baby turtles hatched that evening and made their way down to the water. People lined up and made a corridor with their feet so that each turtle could make it to the water alive. These people were fierce about protecting these little reptiles and showed such compassion. Then afterwards I heard a guy say something to the effect of, “Alright, now let’s go get some steak!” It seemed like such an odd thing to me.

          I was the same way once, though. I was very hesitant to think through the implications of taking that contradiction seriously. It bugged me for years until I decided to seriously look into it and do whatever was right regardless of my preferences. This article came out of that search and I have more to say about it in a future post. My views continue to evolve, but I can’t see anything wrong with showing appreciation in prayer for the lives that we feel we need to take to either satisfy our tastebuds or nourish our bodies.

          • I’m glad to hear that you will be writing more on the subject.
            May I recommend that you investigate and offer thoughts on the recent report by the World Health Organization that all hot drinks (those over 149 degrees) may pose a cancer risk. The report backed off previous negative statements about coffee and tea and said coffee consumed at temperatures below 149 degrees may reduce the risk of liver cancer. I’m not a coffee or tea drinker, but I found the report intriguing in light of the fact that Joseph Smith referred only to “hot” drinks in Section 89.

          • “9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.”

            It’s interesting to think that this verse might be only referring to temperature. But then what about soup? I mean 150° is really hot, and I typically don’t like drinking anything super hot or super cold. Then again, the Lord doesn’t really like lukewarm things either, remember and revelation where he says if something isn’t hot or cold he spews it out of his mouth. It’s really quite a paradox. I don’t see the word of wisdom as a guidebook but more as a principal based guide. instead of listing every single possible thing that we should or should not eat, there are principles there that we can apply to our individual situations. Many people are so afraid to do wrong that they want some other person to validate their interpretation, one instead an answer from God through prayer should be sufficient to guide their actions.

            We are so focused on staying away from tea and coffee, that we consume massive amounts of sugar, animal flesh, chemicals, preservatives, and other substances without giving it a second thought.

          • Amanda Bates Loewer

            Regarding lukewarm, I feel that verse is a metaphor to our beliefs. Be certain of what you believe, don’t be wishy washy. Be black or white. Choose one side.

            I have read in the past that drinking or eating anything of extreme temperatures is not good for our bodies. Drinking cold water shocks our systems. Drinking hot drinks probably does the same. It is interesting to hear that it could cause liver cancer…

          • Amanda Bates Loewer

            Can you include a link to this report? I’ve searched for it and can’t find it.

          • I don’t have a link, but the article I read on Google was titled: World Health Organization Says Very Hot Drinks May Cause Cancer

            The report came out in June 2016 and was issued by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). I hope that helps.

  2. Thank you for this well-written and thorough post! I have recently been impressed that I need to help my family eat less meat; this has been very difficult for my husband, who grew up on a beef ranch, and is used to eating meat every meal. I am hoping he will read what you have written with an open mind and heart because it really is so clear that we have been instructed to eat meat sparingly.

    • My wife and I are both from Texas and BBQ is something that is almost religious to us ;) so I get you. My wife’s family comes from dairy farmers so eating meat was a huge part of our life.

      Sometimes it can be a little tricky when we are with family and out of respect for tradition I will have a little brisket or other meat because I don’t want to seem self-righteous or disrespect where others are on their spiritual journeys.

      If we go out to restaurants or our family is on its own, we just eat whatever looks healthy and doesn’t have meat. When family asks if I am a vegetarian, I say “no” because I am not. I believe that meat is perfectly fine to eat but only under the circumstances the Lord has outlined. If I can live without eating meat, I will live without it, if not, I will eat it – it’s that simple.

      I think too often people become “meatless crusaders” and I think it is inappropriate to be so heavy-handed in that respect.

      What I have learned in my own life is that it isn’t necessarily the meat I would crave but the flavors and textures associated with it. So my wife and I have experimented over time and found wonderful recipes and ways of enjoying a lot of the old foods we used eat but just modified and even improved by avoiding meat.

      We still eat sandwiches, tacos, breakfast burritos, eggs, hamburgers and a whole host of other things that are really delicious and healthy.

      So my advice is to not just change things all overnight. But little by little, take a look at what you are eating and find ways to swap ingredients or sides for healthier options. Work in new recipes that are out there online and try cultural foods like Indian dishes that have a ton of meatless options.

      Just slowly introduce new, delicious things into your diet. I’d say over a period of three years we really found a complete change in diet over that time. We have a freezer full of beef from my wife’s family dairy farm for emergencies but other than that, we have no meat in our refrigerator. You’ll find eggs, almond milk, some cheeses and black bean hamburger patties (Costco). We even had some meatless sausage in our breakfast tacos this morning and I honestly can’t tell the difference. When surrounded by so many options and alternatives, I don’t really see the need to eat meat in the type of society we have today.

  3. Thank you for such a well written article. Your thoughts echo many of my own. I have one thought to add about the words “with thanksgiving.”
    As I have researched and educated myself about plant based diets, it’s hard to not see the documentaries showing Industrialized Farms/Chicken Farms/Beef lots. It’s heartbreaking. It’s so far opposite from eating animals “with thanksgiving” that it is abhorrent.
    If one chooses to eat flesh, it would be wise to consider the source of which the animal was raised, and it’s life taken.

    • You would really like this article then: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1972/08/the-gospel-and-animals?lang=eng, I’ve been meaning to post it here on the site and probably will here shortly.

      I agree with you and think that one of the primary, if not THE primary reason for the limitations on flesh in the Word of Wisdom is respect and reverence for life. It is pretty horrific how some of these animals are treated. I’ve raised all kinds of animals as pets and I’ve grown up eating all kinds of animals as well without giving it any thought until I began to think about it more.

      I think there is a connection between how we regard life and our ability to receive revelation. David O. McKay said “a true Latter-day Saint is kind to animals, is kind to every created thing, for God created all.”

  4. WOW!!! This was my thoughts to a T!! I completely agree with everything you mentioned. Now to change my ways and get my family on board. It’s going to be a challenge. Thank you for your article!

    • I would just advise you to be patient and remember the principles in D&C 121. Persuasion is better than force, people need time to wrap their minds around certain things. As people come to understand doctrine through the Spirit, they change their actions.

      Trust what the Spirit chooses to reveal to them at a given time. We are not all at the same place when it comes to understanding doctrines and principles, I know that I have a long way to go myself.

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