This blog is about science–particularly evolution. People who are into science these days generally want you to accept human evolution, but they also want you to do your part in saving the planet by eating less meat, and to be okay with genetically-modified foods (GMOs) and the like because it feeds the world and because of, well, Science!
This blog is also about the gospel, and the Word of Wisdom is a large part of that. You probably know someone who has interpreted the word of wisdom to be the Lord’s promotion of a vegetarian or vegan or plant-based diet. And I admit: D&C 89 certainly appears to do that in some ways.
So my post today is doubly controversial because not only is it going against plant-based followers of the Word of Wisdom, but it also flies in the face of many of those who are dedicated to Science. Maybe it’s even triply controversial because it’s about evolution too. All of this controversy because the Word of Wisdom (WOW) is a revelation from God that I think tells us to eat an animal-based diet because of human evolution. Yes, I did just use the words God and human evolution in the same sentence.
Having gone through my own health journey over the past 5-6 years–which led me to a mostly carnivore or animal-based diet–I listen to podcasts and read about nutrition all the time. It doesn’t make me an expert by any means, but a student of sorts. I didn’t have a ton of time to chase down sources and links for this post like I do in most of my other articles, so I apologize–I’m just kind of paraphrasing info that I’ve heard recently about these things. Take it for what it’s worth. Look into it more if you’re interested.
Health is pretty much all based on human evolution, and the WOW isn’t far off at all. It’s not everyday that you hear somebody invoking the WOW to implore you to eat more red meat, but here I am, so enjoy. Let’s take a look at section 89 and see how it teaches us to eat animal-based.
Section 89 starts off with the Lord saying the WOW is a warning or forewarning “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days”. So, He gave us this revelation in 1833 to warn us in advance and help keep us safe from evil, designing, and “conspiring men” (and women) in the last days. This has animal-based diets written all over it.
One of the grand fundamentals of an animal-based diet is to avoid all industrial, processed foods, including GMOs. All of these foods are harmful to the body, and they pretty much only exist because of conspiring men, to get gain, mula, $. The people behind these products don’t care about your health.
From an evolutionary standpoint, processed foods and GMOs are completely inconsistent with the human body. Our Homo erectus ancestors never pounded packages of gluten-free Oreos or bags of Cool Ranch Doritos, and they never ate soy or corn that was genetically modified to resist glyphosate being sprayed on them. There are conspiring men out there that are trying to sell you things you didn’t evolve to consume. We should take that more seriously than we do. Surprisingly, God warned of this almost 200 years ago.
Alcohol, hot drinks, and tobacco
Most proponents of an animal-based diet generally agree that alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, and tobacco products are harmful for the body and therefore should not be used. That aligns perfectly with the WOW, and I won’t go much into it other than to say that one reason why they’re harmful is that these are products of plants. Plants (herbs) often do have medicinal properties that can be beneficial; but like medication, they always have some kind of side effect. It’s interesting to note that some proponents of the animal-based diet do see the value in using herbs sparingly for medicinal purposes, like the Book of Mormon mentions (Alma 46:40), and like the WOW says about tobacco–these healing herbs “to be used with judgment and skill”. We’ll get more into why plants can be harmful in the next section.
Evolutionarily, it seems there was some eating of fermented fruits deep back in our hominid past, but the fermentation of grains to make alcoholic beverages probably came around closer to the agricultural revolution, around 10,000 years ago. Tea, coffee, beer, and smoking/chewing tobacco, it seems, are all evolutionarily unsound for humans.
Vegetables and Fruits
10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.
Looks like herbs are good for man. Many animal-based enthusiasts do see the value in putting herbs and spices on your meat. And, as we mentioned above, they can be useful as medicine. While D&C 89 doesn’t explicitly say so, I think people typically equate “herbs” with “vegetables” here–so many interpret these verses to mean all vegetables are good for us to eat, which may not be very true. And of course fruits are good to eat too.
But we have two caveats here given to us by the Lord:
The first is that these fruits and vegetables are supposed to be eaten “in the season thereof”. That automatically excludes any processed plant foods, be it canned pineapple, spaghetti sauce, salsa, bagged apple slices, etc. These things need to have preservatives to give them long shelf life, not to mention they probably have BPA and other chemicals seeping into your food from all the cans and plastic containers they come in. Our evolutionary ancestors, on the other hand, had to eat whatever fruit or plants they could when they were available. There was no way to preserve anything for very long until quite recently in human history; and our ancestors didn’t have any semi trucks shipping exotic fruits or nuts from faraway lands to them for consumption. This stresses the importance of eating local foods in season. If you eat like this, choosing things that grow close to you and are in season, you automatically eliminate a lot of bad things from your diet.
The second caveat is the last bit of verse 11: “all these [plant foods] to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.” The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, which more closely reflects the original language of the WOW, says something very interesting about prudence. It’s so relevant to an animal-based diet that I’m just going to leave the whole paragraph here (my emphasis):
“Prudence implies caution in deliberating and consulting on the most suitable means to accomplish valuable purposes, and the exercise of sagacity in discerning and selecting them. prudence differs from wisdom in this, that prudence implies more caution and reserve than wisdom, or is exercised more in foreseeing and avoiding evil, than in devising and executing that which is good. It is sometimes mere caution or circumspection.”
Here we see that to the people in the early 1830s, the word prudence implied caution in order to avoid evil and danger. Why is that important? Well, the Lord told us to have prudence in selecting the herbs and fruits we eat, so this implies that some plants are evil and dangerous?? I hate to break it to you, but yes, plants are trying to kill you.
Evolutionarily, plants don’t want to be eaten. They can’t run away, and they can’t grow horns, claws, or teeth, so they grow toxic. An important part of an animal-based diet is to select the least-toxic plant foods. In short, the most toxic parts of a plant are its leaves (because it needs them to collect sunlight), its stems (because it’s vital for the plant to survive), and its seeds (because they’re its babies). You might have heard that kale and almonds are superfoods, but one’s a leaf and the other’s a seed, so you decide if they’re right for you… with prudence, of course. (Also, coffee = seed; tea = leaf; beer = seed; tobacco = leaf; vegetable oil = long-out-of-season seed)
The least-toxic parts of a plant are its fruits. The plant actually wants you to eat its fruit, and so that’s why evolution made fruits delicious and not toxic—so you (and other animals) would eat a plant’s sweet fruit, digest it, and poop out the seeds (with natural fertilizer) for the next generation to grow. If you can, you want to eat the parts of the fruit without seeds (because they don’t want to be chewed).
So yes, eat herbs, vegetables, and fruits especially, but do so with prudence by eating only the least-toxic ones. And for goodness sake, be thankful about 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.
So animal-based and the WOW have matched up pretty nicely so far. But what about meat? The WOW tells us to be vegetarian, right? The meat part of the WOW is open for a lot of nuance and interpretation. Obviously, as I stated at the start, I’m here to persuade you to use the WOW to eat more meat, especially red meat. But how am I going to pull this one off? It clearly says “sparingly” and only in the winter or famine. Are we breaking the WOW if we eat animals in the heat of the summer? I don’t think so. We, as humans, evolved to eat meat. We look the way we do precisely because our progenitors hunted and ate other animals. It’s in our DNA. Science has shown that our human ancestors were hyper-carnivorous hunter-gathers, preferring mostly meat, and eating plant foods as fallback. Heck, even the Book of Mormon supports this since the Lehites travelling the desert thrived on an exclusively raw meat diet. Because of this, I don’t know why God would put verses 12 and 13 in there, but here are some things to consider:
- For a long time, the comma in verse 13 after used wasn’t there, which radically alters its meaning, so there’s that. However, it does appear from historical accounts that people interpreted the WOW as recommendation to limit meat consumption from the start, so maybe that’s not super helpful.
- It’s not the clearest passage, but is verse 12 referring to only “the fowls of the air” when it says sparingly? Birds were always harder to hunt than large prey, so early humans likely ate less of them. As red meat consumption in the US has declined since Joseph Smith’s time, poultry consumption has skyrocketed, yet we’re sicker than people were back then. Is it partly because we’re not eating chicken sparingly? Plus, when you eat chicken nuggets, there are multiple chickens that had to die for that meal; but you can eat the meat from one cow over a period of months. If the sparingly was added to save animal lives, it makes more sense to be applied only to fowls, not all beasts.
- If it means for us to kill animals for meat sparingly, then beef is the way to go.
- Maybe it’s only talking about wild animals that we need to eat sparingly?
- Ben Bikman (of BYU) has pointed out that we modern people are essentially in a state of continual winter because we’re so sedentary. It could be the middle of June, but we sit around our climate-controlled house like it’s the middle of winter outside with nothing to do on our frozen farm. Maybe we need more meat because we don’t move as much as we should?
- As you get older, people say you enter the winter of your life. It’s also harder to absorb protein as you age, so the older you get, the more animal protein you need to eat. Get your grandpa some steak, people!
- Look around. We’re all sick and overweight and we eat lots of nutritionless bread and potato chips. We’re in a nutritional famine. Red meat is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. If our bodies are experiencing famine, we need more meat. This applied to me in my sickest state a few years ago, and I’m sure it applies to most people eating the Standard American Diet.
What about fat? Is animal fat a part of the beast’s “flesh”? Fat is important to eat. What about organ meats? They’re super healthy. What about bone broth? What about milk? Cheese? Eggs? Many plant-based WOW proponents would have you stop eating dairy and eggs too, but the WOW says nothing about those. Many people have an evolved gene that allows them to eat and benefit much from dairy products. I know I felt way better after adding raw milk into my life. My ancestors must have evolved a trait to thrive on raw milk (back then all milk was raw, as it should be).
I clearly still have a lot of questions about verses 12 and 13, but I know we evolved to eat meat; and I feel much better when I eat a lot of it. My main WOW justification is that I think I’m in a famine nutritionally. Also, there’s power in eating nose-to-tail, or eating all the edible parts of an animal. That’s what our evolutionary ancestors did. I would bet when people see meat restriction in the WOW, they only think of muscle meat, but you can get nutrition from an animal’s organs, bones, and connective tissues too. When you do this, you aren’t wasting life, but using all of it to save your own (JST Gen 9:9-11).
14 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;
15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.
The animal-based diet has you avoid grains for the most part, especially refined grains. Evolutionarily, our ancestors didn’t eat much grain because it was hard to do so. Humans really started eating it more when agriculture took off, but before that it was rare. They ate it sparingly. And grains are seeds, which we know are toxic.
While most people take verse 15 to be a rehashing of verse 13, I take a different approach. I don’t think God was redundantly telling us in v. 15 that animals were only supposed to be eaten in famine. I think He was saying that grains are only supposed to be eaten in times of famine or hunger. Dr. Paul Saladino has a theory that grains send a signal to your body that there’s a famine, and it’s time to store body fat to increase chances of survival. We even have an example of this from the Old Testament where the Egyptians handed out grains to survive a bad famine (Gen 41). Grains last forever on the shelf, and therefore they’re perfect as a survival fallback food. Maybe that’s why it’s called the “staff of life” here–think of a staff that a limping person uses to get by. It’s a support but not the ideal solution.
Our society has taken a radically different approach however. You can’t hardly buy any premade food anywhere without it having a grain of some sort in it. The now-debunked food pyramid we grew up with has grains as the bottom, most-recommended food group. Refined grains are a major driver of metabolic disease, and we can probably thank the government’s erroneous recommendations for a lot of that.
I love bread. I still eat bread, but it’s homemade, organic, fermented sourdough bread (water, salt, yeast starter, flour) that’s made easier to digest than conventional bread. Sourdough bread is the type of bread our ancestors (and Joseph Smith) would’ve been eating. There was no pre-sliced, manufactured, wrapped-in-plastic sandwich bread for people to eat back in the day. Modern industrial bread is loaded with industrially-isolated minerals and chemicals and even vegetable oils sometimes. What the heck? If I ask for bread, give me some bread, not a stone or a chemical cake-like concoction that nobody could have made or eaten before the industrial revolution.
And then of course, the WOW ends with a promise. First, we’re promised health in our navels–eliminating processed foods and sugar and vegetable oils dramatically improves gut health; and red meat is probably the least inflammatory food on the planet. Check. Second, we’re promised marrow in our bones–animal foods such as raw dairy and bone broth help to build strong bones better than any processed cereal fortified with calcium. Check. Fourth, we’re promised wisdom and treasures of knowledge–I think these are more personal, spiritual things, but I know that I’ve gained a lot of nutritional wisdom by considering how I evolved and eating more like my ancestors did. Check. Fifth, we’re promised to be able to run and walk without weariness or fainting–we evolved to be obligatory bipeds and to walk a lot and run a bit. It’s good for us to move, and when we are healthy walking is easy and natural. And then sixth, we’re promised that the destroying angel shall pass by us and not slay us–this could be spiritual, but also eliminating processed foods from our diets significantly boosts our immune systems. In a world where contagious sicknesses are going around, it’s good to know that focusing on eating animal-based foods and selecting the safest fruits and plants can help you stay safe and healthy.
Anyway, that’s my controversial interpretation. We evolved to eat lots of animal meat and the least-toxic plant foods. This is consistent with the WOW, and I believe that God might have structured the revelation to reflect our evolutionary past.
Sources and Notes
- Dr. Paul Saladino, CarnivoreMD: https://www.youtube.com/c/PaulSaladinoMD/videos
- Ben Bikman: https://lifesciences.byu.edu/directory/benjamin-bikman
- Brian Sanders, Food Lies: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7Hxh2arR-Eh_ijFFJfoRKQ
6 thoughts on “Controversial Interpretation: The Word of Wisdom Promotes a Carnivore Diet”
Thank you for sharing this! I, too, have had some of the same thoughts as I’ve tried to interpret this section of the word of wisdom. A few years ago, I decided to try going vegetarian because of this section of scripture, hoping to find health benefits. It did not help my health at all (and I’ve been seriously ill for 5+ years), even though I was eating “clean” vegetarian.
6 months ago, I started the carnivore diet and have seen many health benefits from it so far! I’m so thankful to have found this way of eating and plan to continue meat-based for the rest of my life. I order my food from a farm that pastured raises all of their animals. It feels good to know where my food is coming from (and to not support awful industries like the seed oil industry or factory farming). I also make an effort to eat more “nose to tail” for nutritional benefits, but also to honor the animals life.
You couldn’t be more spot on that we are in a “nutritional famine”. It’s horrifying, and sad how many don’t realize it. Beef/ruminant meats are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet!
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Rachael, thanks for sharing your story! My health took a sharp decline about 6 years ago, and nothing I tried seemed to help too much until I cut out all processed foods and stopped worrying about eating vegetables. That, coupled with introducing raw milk and focusing on animal-based foods gave me so much healing. That’s what helped me (not the weeks I tried going vegan or eating as much salad as possible, etc). I’m not perfect at the animal based now, but I still feel great compared to how I felt in 2016-2019.
And amen to all you said about factory farming and seed oils! I’ve grown a new love for regenerative farming and beef in general. No, I don’t know exactly how to reconcile the word of Wisdom with this diet and its large quantities of meat—but I think the main point of the revelation is to warn us of evil and conspiring men in the last days and to focus on real, whole foods; and animal based has helped me so much, I can only give credit to God for leading me to it… It’s kind of funny that a long rabbit hole study into evolution seemed to help me find physical healing.
Anyway, sorry for the long comment. Thanks for reading and reaching out.
I find your perspective to be compelling…cross reference to D&C Section 49 vs 17-19 that indicate that the beast and fowls are for food and rainment…
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Thanks for your comment and for bringing up D&C 49. It’s a revelation from the Lord, as is section 89, so it seems weird that God would tell us that the beasts and fowls are for us to eat in abundance, but then turn around and advise us to not eat them unless it’s winter. I know I’ve found lots of healing from not shying away from animal foods.
That comma in D&C 89:13 not being there makes more sense for it to align with many other scriptures. In the old testament, Daniel and the Jews didn’t eat the kings meat because it had been sacrificed to idols(contrary to religious beliefs and practices)…not necessarily because it was meat…the Jews would and did eat kosher meats (cud chewing, cloven hoof animals). Why would God make the animals to have all the bioavailable nutrients we need if he didn’t intend for us to eat them? Just don’t drink the blood…😁
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Yeah I’m beginning to think that there was never meant to be a comma there. If I remember correctly, it does appear that maybe Hyrum Smith interpreted the revelation to advise less meat consumption—but maybe he was interpreting it wrong?
Interesting info on Daniel. I didn’t know that before.
And you ask a very good question. I think God did intend for us to eat them and benefit from them in abundance. Thankfully the beef cow can supply enough nutrient-dense food for several months if not longer. Sounds like “sparingly” to me (in the sense that only one life had to be taken to sustain you for a very long time). Now, eating chicken everyday is another story. And if we all start eating crickets, the sparing that the Lord calls for goes completely out the window.