The Word of Wisdom: “A Principle with Promise”
We are what we eat (Or even better in German, Man ist, was man isst). This proverb is quite literally true biologically, but also bears social truth–we are who we eat with. Food shapes us physically, spiritually, and socially. The Word of Wisdom is known as the “Lord’s law of health,” as well as creating social distinctions and emphasizing obedience. At the same time, too rarely do members consider the principles behind this requirement past the short list of “don’ts”. In this episode, we will discuss:
- The role of the Word of Wisdom in contemporary Mormonism
- The history of the Word of Wisdom
- The underlying principles of wise stewardship of our bodies, spiritual and physical health, and agency
- Conspiracies. Not really kidding.
- personal perspectives on living the Word of Wisdom–in other words, living well both physically and spiritually
One Time Donation:
Student Reading: D& C 89; D&C 88:124; Daniel 1:8; 1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 1 Corinthians 6:19–20; D&C 59:17–20
Additional Teacher Reading: D&C 49:19–21; 59:15–21; Hebrews 12:1–3; Exodus 12; D&C 10:4; Mosiah 4:27
Look forward to an amazing and potentially life changing conversation with Matt, Liz, Paul and Libby.
Continue the conversation by posting your questions and comments here, in the facebook group, or email me at MormonSundaySchool at gmail.
You can access my Lesson Notes here.
You can access my Reading Notes here.
Resources (lots for you this time!):
- Mormon Matters episode on the Word of Wisdom (which recommends the following additional resources)
- Ensign article on the “Dos” in the Word of Wisdom
- Lester E. Bush, “The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth Century Perspective,” Dialogue, Autumn 1981
- Thomas G. Alexander, “The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement,” Dialogue, Autumn 1981
- Leonard J. Arrington, “An Economic Interpretation of the ‘Word of Wisdom,’” BYU Studies, Winter 1959
- John A. Widtsoe and Leah Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom, A Modern Interpretation
- Alan Hurst, “Of Caffeine and Covenants,” Peculiar People (blog), 19 September 2012
- Heather May, “What Science Says about Mormonism’s Health Code,” Salt Lake Tribune, 1 October 2012
- RationalFaiths series on the Word of Wisdom, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
- Blog post on the development of the Word of Wisdom.
- If you still haven’t gotten enough, here is a 123 page Master’s Thesis on the Word of Wisdom in historical perspective
- Liz’s Green Smoothie website and another excellent site with recipes, and her personal site (all with the good stuff she shared this episode)
- RadioLab episode on sleep
- Radiowest episode on sleep
- Radiowest episode with Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Moss on how the food industry giants have trapped us with addition to salt, sugar, and fat
- Michael Pollan The Omnivore’s Dilemma
- Joel Fuhrman Eat to Live
- T. Colin Campberll The China Study
- Barbara Kingsolver Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
- Robyn O’Brien The Unhealthy Truth
Many thanks to Devin Roth for the beautiful bumper music. Check out his arrangement of hymns and other work at DevinRothMusic!
Thanks to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for his timely and high quality post-production.
I’m not sure if you are planning on tackling Cannabis use in you WOW podcast. If you are, here is a good article, the comments are interesting, especially if you follow the thread started at #86 by GD. I’d love to share some of my own feelings on the matter but I am not ‘out of the closet’ with any extended family members. However, if you have any questions feel free to ask!
My sister-in-law who can’t eat wheat because of health issues (along with her children) view the staff of life statement as in it keeps you alive in times of famine but doesn’t necessarily mean you should be eating all the time. Hard to get rid of wheat out of the diet though for me, although I think it would probably do me some good, get rid of my wheat/sugar gut.
Are you going to talk about the barley … for mild drinks controversy?
After listening to the podcast I just wanted to mention that we should be careful when judging others and their weight and with those with addictions. From what I understand (without much study – but listening to others that have studied it more than me) addictions to drugs and food are both symptoms of an underlying problem. Those that have experienced trauma from when they were young (or even when they were older) can experience strong addiction to drugs/food. That’s why you can get some people smoking cocaine and just quit, the same for smoking, etc – because they might not have experienced these traumas or don’t have the genetic marker that the trauma activates – if that makes sense.
Childhood trauma can be caused from molestation, school, church, authoritarian parents, a bad friend. I’ve heard stories of women who get obese because they were raped and thought that gaining weight would make them undesirable. So, I guess my whole point was. Some people might need more than, “Hey, your fat, lose weight!” But actually need, “Hey, your weight is showing that you have an emotional need that hasn’t been met why don’t we set up an appointment when a competent psychologist that can help you get through your past and help you to become the best you that there is.”
Anyways, great podcast. My wife was vegan when I married her – I’ve since corrupted her and she now eats meat/dairy/eggs with me. We probably eat maybe a pound a week for the whole family. But it gets us those vitamin B12s. Dr. Cousens (sp) says for vegans to make sure you take B12 vitamins, but I think I prefer the “natural way.” 🙂 I agree with the sentiment that our diet should mainly be fruits and vegetables, especially more and more vegetables as we age.
Dr. Cousens, in his book, talked about Joseph Smith and 25 of his closest friends would do all fruit diets when they wanted to have more clarity of mind etc. He didn’t reference where he got that from and I haven’t seen it anywhere else, so, I’m not confident that that was true. It would be interesting if it were though – from an historical point of view.
I should have read through my comment before posting. We eat 1 pound of meat each week between the whole family during a normal week – is what I meant to say.
ha ha! I followed the ensign link and got stuck not even 2 paragraphs in… “The fact that the Word of Wisdom is a commandment is the reason we should obey it…” Love that…leaving aside the fact that verse 2 still clearly states “to be sent by greeting, not by commandment or constraint…” We believe in modern revelation, so if it is to be a commandment, let’s get this verse taken out!
That aside, I loved the podcast. I’ve been constantly thinking about it (the WoW) for some time now. Personally I disagree that drinking coffee or tea is explicitly against the word of wisdom. Sure it’s against the “church’s” official interpretation thereof, but not the principle itself. And we know that the church doesn’t always take the correct stand on things. I can’t wait for the day when as a church we mature enough to get rid of the WoW as a temple recommend requirement and go back to teaching it as a principle with inherent physical blessings, and leave aside all the judging.
Thanks for this podcast!
The vegetarian argument about not killing animals is a hollow argument. What about the Eco systems that are destroyed and all the animals that use to live there when land is clear cut for mono crops? Many animals are even killed when the crops are harvested by machinery.
The big problem I see with the WOW is the letting go of our responsibility for our own health. We let others who are in no way qualified to tell us how to live our life. The information is out there, and I am always amazed by the power of marketing and group think.
Jared Anderson says:
Certainly agree on your last point! I wasn’t making the ethical argument about not killing animals; that is a far more complex issue. I was making a textual argument about what JST Gen. 9 says and what other passages strongly imply.
Jared, did you say in the podcast that you had included a couple of podcasts on sleep? I can’t see them in any of your notes. And thanks for all the wonderful lessons!
Jared Anderson says:
Great catch Priscilla! I will add them into my lesson notes. In the meantime here they are:
Oh, Jared. This was such a frustrating episode for me to listen too. I’ve been listening for a while, and was much looking forward to your take on the WOW. But the class discussion section drove me absolutely crazy. Notwithstanding the many attempts to say, “I’m not trying to say X” you and your guests were, and repeatedly. It was frustrating to hear people trying put themselves in such a superior position morally, when they’re simply in a superior position financially. Does anyone really think that the poor obese people of the world simply want to be that way, or that they are so uninformed they’re unaware a Big Mac isn’t health food? No, their diets are driven by their economic situation. Producing enough locally grown, organic, nutrient rich, non GMO, non mono-culture, untouched by pesticide/herbicide, perfectly balanced food at a price that can feed the growing world population all while reducing environmental footprints of farms, etc…. Sure… simple. We would all be doing that if it weren’t for those darn “conspiring men” at Monsanto & co. Or, perhaps it actually is difficult to produce all that food, so individual famers, ranchers, gardeners, and companies do the best they can to provide as much food as they can sell to a hungry world population.
“I’m not trying to scare anyone” – but sugar activates the same centers of the brain as cocaine does… – ya, it’s called the pleasure center. Lots of things do that too. Like sex, or bungee jumping, or reading a book you find enjoyable. Heaven forbid anyone engage in those activities, because surely they are the physiologic equivalent to snorting crack.
As a recently graduated MD, and soon to be pediatrician, I’m horrified by the nation’s (and world’s) obesity problem. I’m furious with the subsidization by the government which worsens said epidemic. But almost all of the discussion I heard completely missed the point, made hollow or wrong-headed arguments, and made me shake my head in frustration.
Here’s hoping we see a return to the great work I’ve heard in other past episodes.
Jared Anderson says:
Sincere thanks for the comment. If you want to write up some additional information that balances out or corrects what we presented, I would appreciate that. Perhaps I could even read your comment as an update in the recorded podcast. All of us working together can make this podcast better.
Emily Sullivan says:
I enjoyed the podcast, thank you for all your work on this one Jared. I have a question about green tea: I’ve done some cursory research on the church’s official stance on drinking green tea, and haven’t found much more than conjecture. I know it’s culturally perceived as “against the WOW”, but can’t find anything to support it. The same goes with iced tea. I was surprised to discover, as an adult, that iced tea is on the “bad” WOW list. I had never heard that growing up in the mission field–always associated WOW with coffee and black tea. Any thoughts or official church statements on green tea or iced tea?
Jared Anderson says:
Per the usual approach, the Church defines restrictions in a limited, general way and then leaves specifics up to individual interpretation. I asked one of my friends who works for the Church and he says he has never heard anything against green tea, that black tea is the usual prohibition.
When I was in my teens my father came home in tears from a temple worthiness interview he was conducting An elderly woman who was a convert wanted to go to the temple but couldn’t because she enjoyed her cup of green tea every morning. The stake we were in was VERY strict and my father could not issue her a recommend. He vented his frustration that his wife and daughters could guzzle soda by the caseloads and be temple worthy but this poor lady was considered unworthy. It still makes me sad because when the WOW is enforced with such zealousness, good people miss out on wonderful blessings.
Byron Elton says:
Nice job … my wife and I listened to the whole podcast driving from Santa Barbara to Orange County, it made the drive very easy. A couple of observations … the first just a pet peeve … it is “wreaking” havoc, not “wrecking” havoc. Just my Canadian coming out :-). Additionally, while I understand the desire to be sensitive to the meat eaters out there, is there any scripture or doctrine more clear than Section 89? My wife and I went plant based more than 25 years ago and the older I get the less concerned I am with soft pedaling perhaps one of the most straight forward, scientifically supported doctrines in the restored gospel. Having said that, I subscribe to the “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” approach. I am not responsible for other people’s choices but I will not apologize for my own. Our recent gospel doctrine class on the WOW was predictably disappointing with a concerted effort to sanitize the discussion of any discussing beyond alcohol and tobacco. I suppose that was for our benefit but I welcome an intelligent discussion. It seems that the only question to be answered these days is, “can you be a vegetarian and still be an active member of the church?” Rather like, “can you be a Democrat …?” I look forward to a modern day Lorenzo Snow or Joseph F. Smith stepping forward and teaching the full beauty and power of this amazing revelation.
Jason Hale says:
Jared, you only talk about the ‘evil, and conspiring men,” when talking about food engineering, but there is an interesting TED talk, https://www.ted.com/search?q=the+case+for+engineering+our+food
Also there is an article http://ideas.ted.com/what-genetic-engineering-and-organic-farming-have-in-common/
I just thought to include the good side to balance out the bad.
Jared Anderson says:
Thanks! Yeah, if I were doing this again I would rail more against the processed foods industry. 🙂
Jason Hale says:
Jared, you mention that you’re a vegetarian, if you do make an updated WOW episode, and promote a vegetarian diet, you should mention the potential pitfall of malnutrition, like not getting enough protein. I watched a daytime program of doctors talking about that, and just being smart about what you eat, and what it does, and doesn’t do to you.