Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Few Ideas To Ponder

One thing that we almost entirely shy away from when discussing the Word of Wisdom, is the ethics of of eating meat. It is a very touchy topic and for whatever reason is emotionally charged. People very quickly make excuses for why they don't eat meat sparingly. "God created the animals for our use." "Moderation in all things." "They didn't have refrigeration when the revelation was given so that is why he said only to eat it in the cold. It just doesn't apply now." Have you heard those arguments? It is certainly an issue we are not keen on discussing in Sunday School.
I used to think, back in high school, that the bumper sticker, "I love animals, they're delicious" was hilarious. I thought vegetarians were crazy hippy weirdo's. Not for any really good reason, it was just what I thought. Obviously my position has evolved quite a bit since then.
I still eat meat. I don't cook with it hardly ever, but I eat it at my parents, and if it is served while I am a guest at someone's home. But lately something bothers me as I chew my meat and swallow it down. A nagging voice at the back of my head asks, as I chew, "is it a time of famine?" I often ask myself, will I be accountable for the life that was taken so I could have roast beef on Sunday, (a beloved family tradition)? I don't know the answer for you, but I am starting to think I know what the answer for me is.
In the August 21, 2009 Time Magazine article "America's Food Crisis and How to Fix It" Bryan Walsh wrote, "Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won't bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He's fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he'll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds (emphasis my own) of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed up so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That's the state of you bacon--circa 2009."
Most of us eating less meat are probably pretty aware of the grim conditions in which animals are raised and the horrible effect our meat appetites are having on the environment. These are important issues that we should consider as we decide just how sparingly we are going to eat meat. I care deeply about my impact on the earth and I care deeply about my support of an inhumane industry. Those reasons are a large part of why I have been motivated to eat less meat. There are, however, animals being raised humanely in ways that do no harm to the planet. What about that? I know that as I've read up on the topic my position has changed. Why? Because, although we like to rationalize the meaning of 'sparingly' the Word of Wisdom seems pretty explicit:
"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."
Furthermore, as I think about Millennial peace, where the lion and the lamb will lie down together without any ire, I can't help thinking that there is significance in such an idyllic vision.
Joseph Smith said:
"In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, "Let them alone -- don't hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose its venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless before the brute creation, and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety." The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger. (Joseph Smith, May 26, 1834, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 71) When I read this quote, I think of Buddhist monks going out of their way to avoid stepping on an ant and can't help but respect their reverence for life and creation.
Follow that with a quote by Joseph F. Smith:
"I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he 'needs' them for food...I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possess life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent men who I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood. They go off hunting deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? 'Just for the fun of it!' I am a firm believer... in the simple words of one of the poets: 'Take not away the life you cannot give, for all things have an equal right to live'. (President Joseph Fielding Smith, Juvenile Instructor 48:309)"
And then there is this quote by Brigham Young:
"Let the people be holy, and the earth under their feet will be holy. Let the people be holy, and filled with the Spirit of God, and every animal and creeping thing will be filled with peace; the soil of the earth will bring forth in its strength, and the fruits thereof will be meat for man. The more purity that exists, the less is the strife; the more kind we are to our animals, the more will peace increase, and the savage nature of the brute creation vanish away. . . Let the whole people . . . be possessed of that spirit and here is the Millennium, and so will it spread over all the world." (Brigham Young, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 333) I think that quote is beautiful. What a powerful concept. By reverence towards the world around us we can usher in a Spirit of peace that could spread across the world!
I know that animals are ordained for the use of man, and I am certainly not trying to condemn anyone. Remember, I used to say, "I love animals, they're delicious." Still, I can't help thinking that I have yet to experience famine in my life. Not once have I known starvation or lack of food.
Knowing that the majority of animals are raised in unspeakably horrific conditions (not to mention the horrid working conditions in factory farms/slaughterhouses) I think we should be talking more about the ethics of eating meat and justifying our eating of meat a little less. I believe God values all life and expects us to be good stewards of this precious planet and of all his creatures, great and small.
In all honesty, I'm not all the way there yet. I'm still not exactly sure what eating meat sparingly means to me, but I know it is a journey I am on, and these are some of the ideas I have been pondering lately. I know this could be controversial, but I think it is an important discussion to have. You may disagree, but at least give it a little prayer, thought, and study. Let the Spirit guide and see where it leads.


  1. I think that sparingly doesn't mean to not eat meat. God is not opposed to us killing and eating meat but we should do so with reverence. We will be held accountable for what we kill (even if it was not our hand that killed it, such as store bought meat) - JST Genesis 9:11 "...and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands." Part of that reverence is not wasting or using animals unwisely. One example of not wasting would be to buy a whole chicken, eat the meat and use the bones for broth. Things like that show more reverence. In Genesis 3:21 God sets the example of how we use animals for more than just meat: "Unto Adam and to his wife did the Lord make coats of skins, and clothed them."

    My family of four eats very little meat - about one chicken a month and fish a few times a month. Then we use the bones of the chicken to make broth, which we use in many other dishes. When we do cook and eat a chicken we make it last for at least 3 meals - pot pie, soup, sandwiches... - in addition to the first night when we just eat some of the chicken as the main dish. If we had the means to raise and slaughter our own meat, we would but we wouldn't eat more than we do now.

    Also, when the church teaches people in third world countries to be more self-sufficient they teach fruit and vegetable gardening as well as how to raise small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs as a meat source.

  2. this is a good discussion to have and I want to chime in. I will write more tonight....

    I had a discussion about this with our Sunday School teacher a few weeks ago. It was pretty lively.

  3. You have given such great quotes by Joseph Smith. I love backing thoughts up with scripture and with quotes from our modern day prophets. I think it is important for us to look there for counsel, insight and example.

    Nicole, you are completely right when you say that God is not against us eating meat. On Monday I will share with you some scriptures that mention this specifically. These are scriptures that my Sunday School teacher pointed out to me. I am glad he did. It is an important thing for us to know that this Earth was created for Man and we are to enjoy it and use it as He commands.

    But do so with reverence and Thanksgiving. Nicole, I think you give a great example of using your chicken with prudence and Thanksgiving. We, as a society have gotten so far removed from the source of our food that I think we often times forget where it comes from!

    Can you imagine being a church activity and in the opening prayer we say, 'And we thank thee for the pigs, who gave their life so that we may enjoy this Christmas Ham". That would be weird. But it wouldn't be wrong.

    Since I have studied the WofW I definitely have increased my reverence and gratitude for animals. I think we have to be careful of two things when we have made a stronger commitment to the WofW. We need to be careful not to get too fanatical and we need to be aware of pride.

    I think the term "quiet example" was given as a name for a former prophet that didn't eat meat (gosh, which one was it again?). He didn't preach it or shame people, he lived his own life in accordance to his convictions and let his example speak for itself.

    This is not to say that we don't talk about it. I think it is important. That is why I started this blog. This ISN'T talked about in church and it is nice to have an outlet and to seek out like minds.

    I have more to say but I will save it for my own posts....

    Anna, thanks again for the quotes. I love collecting quotes about the WofW.

  4. And I think about the millennium a lot when I think about WofW. I really feel that it is a preparatory dietary code. That could be a post in and of itself. It is mentioned that it is for the weakest of Saints, what does that tell us? Something stronger is coming! If we can get this under control we will be more prepared for what is ahead.

  5. I also think that everyone, through study and prayer is going to arrive at a different conclusion which is TOTALLY fine. The important part is to give these things thought and prayer. And amen to "quiet example". I have an uncle that for years didn't eat meat, and no one really knew, because he didn't hit people over the head with it.
    I WOULD LOVE some other people to give their thoughts about "except in time of famine and cold". I am aware of other scriptures, saying meat is ordained for man, but how do you get around the strict language in Section 89?

  6. I can talk about that one day. At least share some of my thoughts on why the Lord says this. I have a few things I have figured out....

  7. Great thoughts and some great quotes. I've also had a lively discussion with a Gospel Doctrine teacher on a WofW lesson--and on only my 2nd week of church in that new ward...maybe not the best introduction. Anyway. I agree that I believe that the counsel is to not abstain from meat completely, but to eat in moderation and sparingly. I've encountered many who point to Section 49 as justification for eating meat. Indeed, 49:19 says "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" But, I think that it's important to remember the context in which that section was given: as a response to Leman Copley and others who were still holding to the Shaker teachings of complete meat abstension.

    I'm so grateful for counsel of moderation and sparingly. Whether that's one chicken a month, or using 3 pieces of bacon to season the soup for an entire meal, the counsel is ultimately to be prudent and wise stewards of our own bodies and of the Earth. And I've definitely had friends who've publicly prayed giving thanks for both the animal who gave it's life for our meal and for the farmer willing to raise it.

    It's interesting that it's such a "touchy" subject for so many and that people feel that they have to both either justify why they eat meat or why they don't. But it is...I know that in discussions with others I've been both a bully about not eating meat as well as apologetic about it.

  8. Anna, I too would love a discussion on your follow up question about "except in times of famine and cold". I'm working on the "sparingly" part, but keep wondering where, in the end, I need to settle.


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