If you’ve read 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, you know that it’s a story of Lehi and his family making an exodus from Jerusalem to the New World. While traveling through the desert, Nephi tells us, almost with astonishment, that the group is eating mostly raw meat and thriving. The women are strong and healthy, and despite eating only raw meat, they are providing plenty of milk for their children (see 1 Nephi 17:2).
I’ve always chalked it up to God blessing them and making their food–though it be nasty raw muscle meat–taste good and not give them E. coli. God indeed was blessing them in their journey, but it turns out there’s actually an evolutionary reason for why the Lehites did so well on a raw carnivore diet.
Just last week, a paper was published by Researchers at Tel Aviv University showing the evidence that humans have been apex predators for the last 2 million years, and that Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens were “hypercarnivores”. Along with other evidence, the paper specifically points out that the acidity of human stomachs is super high compared to omnivores, which helped our ancestors eat loads of raw meat, even when it was getting old and rife with bacteria (1). In other words: me, you, and your vegan neighbor were created to eat almost exclusively animal meat and organs—even raw.
The Lehites thrived on a raw carnivore diet because humans evolved to be carnivores.
Now, I know that this doesn’t prove the Book of Mormon to be true, but here we have another instance where Joseph Smith was consistent with modern science long before the science came out. If he had written that the Lehites ate only raw plants in the wilderness and thrived, that would be a completely different (and suspect) story—but he didn’t. He said they ate only animals, and they absolutely killed it on this diet (pun intended). And Joseph turned out to be right.
A lot has been written and said about the influence of the Temperance Movement on the revelation of the Word of Wisdom in 1833 (3). The Temperance Movement called for less meat. Vegetarianism was a new thing and gaining traction around that time. I don’t know what Joseph Smith typically ate for dinner, but judging by the apparent restrictions D&C 89 puts on eating the flesh of beasts, one could assume that Joseph would think that eating only meat might be kind of unhealthy. Yet here’s 1 Nephi 17:2, revealed a few years earlier, telling us that such a diet might actually be super healthy. (4)
Remember, the Book of Mormon was published more than 2 decades before Darwin published his ideas about natural selection and the descent of man from earlier hominids (5). Someone believing strictly in Genesis as the origin story of mankind would probably think that a diet of mostly fruit and bread is the healthiest for humans (see Genesis 3:2, 3:19)(6). The evidence of humans being high-trophic carnivores has only been discovered relatively recently that I know of. And that makes Nephi’s record all the more interesting in my mind.
Does anyone out there have more expertise in the historical dietary habits and nutritional beliefs of 1830s people? Please chime in.
Anyways—Here’s to adding plenty of delicious, nutrient-dense nose-to-tail animal products to our plates in an attempt to fill the measure of our creation as humans!
Sources and Notes
- https://www.mormonmatters.org/temperance-movement-and-the-word-of-wisdom/; https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/vn9i5/digest_history_of_the_word_of_wisdom_and_how_it/
- Note that the Book of Mormon writer Enos also records that “many of [the Lamanites] did eat nothing save it was raw meat” (Enos 1:20).
- Book of Mormon published 1830. On the Origin of Species published 1859. The Descent of Man published 1871.
- Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis (a Young Earth Creationist organization that interprets the Bible very literally), wrote on 8 Nov 2014: “Originally, we were given permission to eat plants, but nowhere in Genesis 1 were Adam and Eve told they could eat animals. This makes it clear (and is confirmed by Genesis 9:3) that Adam and Eve were originally vegetarians. However, sin changed all of that. We see examples of animals in the fossil record eating one another, so we know that carnivorous animals developed soon after the Fall. People, however, weren’t given permission to eat meat until after the Flood”. https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/11/08/should-a-bible-museum-serve-only-eden-food/