I Avoid Eating Meat, but I’m Not a Vegan or Vegetarian

Oct 24, 2017
6 min read

I could have subtitled this post “and other ways I frustrate the people around me.” Haha, but seriously…

If you have ever been around me, you may have observed that I avoid eating meat or hunting (even though I was on a dove hunt with family recently, sans a firearm). It isn’t always that obvious because I try not to make a big deal about it. I try to apply principles to my own circumstances and allow others the liberty to do the same. Sometimes people ask me if I am a vegetarian or a vegan and my response is usually something like, “I try to avoid meat if I don’t need it” and leave it at that.

It’s true that I probably resemble a vegetarian or vegan in many respects and embrace many of their ideas, but these ideologies do not encompass the revelations of the Lord.

The flaw of Veganism is that it forbids the use of animal flesh or products under any circumstance. While I sympathize with the compassion and enjoy the delicious meals that have arisen out of a desire to avoid the use of animal flesh, whoever forbids someone from eating meat is not of God. “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;” (D&C 49:18) God further states that “…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.” (vs.19)

But I think this is where people swing to the other extreme. They see the words “ordained” and “abundance,” and they eat animal flesh abundantly because it is so ordained! I believe that this is also wrong. If you keep reading what follows verse 18 and 19 God says this “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” (vs.21) In the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) the same principles are repeated. It is pleasing to the Lord when we do not need to use animal flesh, but it is ordained for our use under conditions of need such as famine, hunger, or cold.

Again, God has ordained the use of animal flesh for food and raiment but only if or when we NEED it. On the one hand, you cannot force a plant-based diet on someone living in a part of the world where they need to use animal products to survive; even the Savior ate fish in his mortal ministry. On the other hand, when you live in a civilization where you can readily prosper on a plant-based diet, (like most places here in the good ol’ US of A) animal products do not need to be used.

“Why do we feel that we do not have a square meal unless it is based largely on meat. […] 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.” (From that letter to a member quoted above)

Unfortunately, the traditions of men and the power of marketing exert a powerful influence, but we cannot say that we have not been warned.

The Lord himself revealed to the church through Joseph Smith:

“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)

John A. Widtsoe explained:

“The Word of Wisdom does not contain a prohibition against meat eating, but urges its sparing use. Unfortunately, this advice is not generally observed, and man’s health suffers in consequence. Many people eat too much meat; a few do not eat enough.” (The Word of Wisdom, a Modern Interpretation, 1950.)

What many of these modern ideologies such and Vegetarianism, Veganism, and other “isms” lack is the perspective of the Creator. What we as people seem to lack is an understanding of how our traditions and the designs and marketing from industries are also blind to that same perspective. These isms do not recognize that God ordained animals for our in certain circumstances, but modern agriculture has created a massive industry of death to fulfill the desire for flesh even when no need exists.

Contrast a family who goes out in the winter to hunt for food to make up for an unfruitful harvest, with a massive industry that enslaves and slaughters year-round to profit from an increasingly sick and obese population. There is much wisdom in the Word of Wisdom if we will receive it.

I hope that this brief synopsis explains why I tend to avoid meat or hunting where no need exists. It is the principle of NEED that governs my actions; just one simple word to remember in whatever situation I am in.

I have not only survived but thrived on a plant-based diet since October of 2011. After my mission service, I had gained weight, felt sluggish and bloated after most meals, but as I explored the revelations of God, I decided to experiment with these ideas. I have not needed to eat meat save for a few circumstances where I required nourishment, and there were no other options available.

There are many other principles I have not mentioned here that accompany the use of animal life. There is stewardship, compassion, sacrifice, fasting, and also an attitude of avoiding waste which I think is an excellent paradox; here’s a great example of what I mean by that.

On the Zion’s Camp trek, Joseph Smith “exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird or an animal of any kind during my journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.” To further test the brethren, Joseph approaches a group who were watching a squirrel up in a tree. He took one of their guns and shot it dead; it fell to the ground. Orson Hyde walks up to the squirrel and says “We will cook this that nothing may be lost.” Joseph Smith wrote concerning this event “I perceived that the brethren understood what I did it for, and in their practice gave more heed to my precept than to my example which was right.” (DHC, vol. 2, pp. 101–102)

I think Orson seemed to understand that he was teaching a principle about the value of life and not needlessly wasting it.

Consider the following situation: you order a salad, but someone put bacon bits on it, do you pick them out and throw them away or respect the life of the animal and consume them, so they don’t go to waste? When this occurs, I consider the principle of need again but in a slightly different way. While I do not need to consume the animal flesh for myself, it is perhaps needful to eat it in thanksgiving rather than let it go to waste.

Life is full of such paradoxes. Sometimes these things can be incredibly frustrating, but I relish these experiences. They provide me with an almost constant stream of situations where I get to draw upon my knowledge of the gospel and invite the guidance of the Spirit into my life. I remember the gift of agency and the ability I have to ponder, weigh, and choose. If everything was just black and white, my obedience might become stale and unfruitful.

I’ll admit that there is much I do not understand; I’m only sharing a limited view of my continually evolving perspective. Hopefully, the thoughts I have shared here are helpful to someone else out there on their journey.


  1. Richard J. Nobbe III

    I like to avoid eating healthy foods, but I love the Word of Wisdom.

    • Reminds me of the words “If you love me, keep my commandments.” ;-)

      • Richard J. Nobbe III

        It was more of a joke. : ) Nevertheless, good points.

        • I figured, but many people actually think that way so my response was addressing that mentality. Yeah, people literally think that way.

          • Richard J. Nobbe III

            Yeah, I was being sarcastic all the way, but you pretty much made my point for me! But yeah, it is amazing that people think that way. Now, I wouldn’t be totally honest if I didn’t admit to not being perfect. I probably eat too much meat than I’m supposed to. You know, not every day but most days a week I’ll have a turkey sandwich or something. I hate eating all meat or really strong meats. I don’t eat pork or beef at all. But you know, I’m not adverse to having some salmon now and again. : )

          • I know of a guy who went vegan to lose weight but all he ate was cookies, donuts, and just awful stuff but felt good that he was “meatless.” I would argue that he was better off how he started.

            To me, some things seem complex while others seem simple. A thing can be both but not at the same time, knowledge creates a transition.

            Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

            At first, the Word of Wisdom is a simple thing. You just avoid alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, and drugs and, ta da, you are keeping the Word of Wisdom. Then you study and realize there is a lot more going on there. You may decide to eat less meat at first and try to eat more vegetables. Then you start examining the underlying principles, studying all the food-related instructions God has ever given and everything any general authority has said that is accessible. After considering all these things you come back to simplicity. You begin to understand and you find calm waters. That is until a new bit of knowledge opens up a whole new world to explore and the cycle repeats.

            We are all at different stages on this journey and nobody has a right to judge another person. What we can do is study the word and identify the principles that are evident. Any applications must be considered within the context of the individual. Whatever the applications may be, they still must fall within the bounds of the principles.

            For example, I can say that according to D&C 89 and other scripture, it is not pleasing to God when we take life without need. But I cannot tell another person to put down a hamburger.

  2. Very insightfull, this is a topic I have wondered about and i’ve never gotten to a clear conclusuon, this helps.

  3. disqus_aNyj5DDV1s

    I love this! It goes right along with Dr. Jane Birch’s book Discovering the Word of Wisdom (http://discoveringthewordofwisdom.com/). There’s an entire community of plant-based 6,000+ members in the Discovering the Word of Wisdom Support Group on Facebook.

    • Jane reached out to me a few years ago and sent me her book which I reviewed here. I am aware of her community (I’m a member of the Facebook group although I am rarely on Facebook) and think that their efforts are good in many respects, but I am cautious that it may turn into some kind of “LDS Veganism.”

      I think that is one of the trickiest things to balance, it seems like people are either on one side or the other instead of realizing that the principles in the word of wisdom relating to animal flesh are “need” based and there are other principles we learn from Joseph Smith that pertain to not wasting flesh.

      I have not found the answers for this other than when I am in control of my meals I prefer whole food plant-based meals. If I am in a situation where there are no other options then I eat what I feel best. For example, the other day we ate at a seafood place with my entire family. The best option I could find was a fish sandwich (which ended up not being that good anyway).

      A few weeks before that, I went to a Mediterranean restaurant and ordered a gyro with falafel. Well, they put meat on it too which I did not ask for. What I’ll call Joseph Smith’s “squirrel” principle came to mind. I feel like it would have been wasteful to throw it away or ask for something else, so I ate it with thanksgiving. This is not something a Vegan would do. I’m not interested in using what I eat to be some kind of Pharisaical display. I would rather eat meat in a setting where everyone else was to show respect for the host in those circumstances.

      Those are fairly rare occasions, and in almost all of them I can get by just fine with all the other options available. What I hope to avoid is not the eating of animal flesh in and of itself, it is developing a craving for it where I would consume it out of want versus need.

      In those scenarios I think the core spirit of the word of wisdom is there and in the end, my consumption of animal flesh is still “sparingly.” Overall, I think I have found a good balance over these years that has worked well for me. We’ll see what further light brings in the future.

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