Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Veganism And The Gospel - by Candice Mattson McDaniel

Deciding to become vegetarian and eventually vegan was not easy. I had only met a few other vegetarians throughout my life, one of whom was a girlfriend of my brother's. I was little at the time, but I remember my bewildered family wondered what to give her for dinner. Growing up, I was sheltered when it came to other ways of eating and I never questioned what I ate on a daily basis.

But as I learned more about how animals are treated in this world, I couldn't go back to living that way again. Knowing I had to change my habits was an uncomfortable feeling. I couldn't keep going down the same path, because it would cause inner turmoil. At first, I went the route of vegetarian by cutting meat out of my diet. After a few months, I decided to become vegan, making the transition to remove all animal products from my daily meals. This transition was stressful because I felt disloyal and that I would somehow be alienated from my family and friends. Growing up in rural Idaho, veganism rubbed off on me as being taboo.

This was probably because my family's traditions are deeply rooted around animals. My mother grew up on a dairy farm and my father raises beef cattle. It is custom in my family to hunt and fish and most of our vacations are centered around fishing. Because I was raised this way, meat was a staple food in my house. It was something readily available.

While I was making this change and told people about my lifestyle choice, one argument I constantly heard was, "The purpose of animals is for our use, Candice." I have always questioned this statement. I do not believe a certain animal was created only to give us their meat or milk. Yet, I had always learned that we had dominion over the animals and they were here for us "to use" because it supposedly says so in the scriptures. So if I don’t believe animals were only created for me to use, does that not make me a Christian? This question was eating away at me, so I started searching.

It was in my online searches for someone — anyone —who thought like I did that I found Christopher Foster, a philosophy instructor at BYU. Foster, a vegetarian, has compiled a PowerPoint lecture titled "Mormonism and Animal Rights — Harmony or Contradiction?" He has presented this at various locations across Utah, including Salt Lake Community College and Brigham Young University. His lecture is packed with quotations and scriptures stressing the need to end useless killing of animals. Foster believes we should "only eat them if we have need." He also states that it is against the basic ethical principle to cause suffering when the benefits do not outweigh the misery caused. "The suffering caused by factory farming (where the vast majority of American meat comes from) is so extreme that the need required in order to balance that out must also be extreme — it would have to be necessary for our lives," says Foster.

The Word of Wisdom seems to agree with this. In Doctrine and Covenants chapter 89, we read in verse 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

Verse 13 expands on the word sparingly by stating:

"And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of
winter, or of cold, or famine."

Even though the Word of Wisdom states to eat it sparingly in times of winter or famine, do we really need to eat meat at all? Doctrine and Covenants 49:21 states:

"And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need."
Industrialization has provided many ways for us to obtain different varieties of foods, including a wide array of fruits and vegetables. As Foster points out in his presentation, "Today, we have ample vegetarian food available year round." There are plenty of alternative protein sources, such as beans, nuts, and seeds. We are blessed to have such an abundant food supply, especially in this country. We definitely don't live in a country of famine.

According to a January 2008 article in The New York Times titled, "Rethinking the Meat Guzzler" by Mark Bittman, Americans, on average, consume nearly double the average of meat than the rest of the world. This is vital when taken into account that, according to the same piece, nearly 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger or malnutrition. The majority of the world’s corn and soy are fed to chickens, pigs and cattle. In her book “Diet for a Small World," Frances Moore Lappe says, "For every 16 pounds of grain and soy fed to beef cattle in the United States we only get 1 pound back in meat on our plates." She then points out, "If we exclude dairy cows, the average ratio of all U.S. livestock is 7 pounds of grain and soy to produce 1 pound of edible food." A similar number was found on the Environmental Health Perspectives website. A Research Review explains that it takes seven pounds and about 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of feedlot beef. When this feed is given to animals instead of people, it is taking away land, food and water that could have been helped to prevent starvation of these suffering people. For me, these statistics raise serious questions about whether we are optimizing what we have been given to better the lives of our fellow beings. Is our exploitation of these resources really justifiable? Do we really consider the damage we are doing to these creatures?"

Animals are like children in a sense that they are innocent and under our dominion," Foster said. "Everyone knows deep down that kindness to animals is necessary." He believes kindness to animals is spiritually, environmentally and ethically essential. "There are literally billions raised and killed in the most brutal ways for our appetite preferences and their suffering is as real as ours. We are hypocrites for ignoring them and thereby causing their misery," he says. We are clearly not showing compassion for animals by killing them when it isn’t necessary.

Many church leaders have expressed their feelings on this topic, basing their beliefs on the scriptures. One slide in Foster’s presentation includes this quote from Joseph Fielding Smith:
"There is no inference in the scriptures that it is the privilege of men to
slay birds or beasts or to catch fish wantonly. The Lord gave life to every
creature… Therefore to take the life of these creatures wantonly is a sin before
the Lord."

It is a fundamental belief in Christianity that God gave man dominion over animals. In Genesis chapter one, we read that God created the earth and the creatures upon it, and more specifically in verse 28, we hear:
"…God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,
and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of
the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."

But what is the extent of our dominion?"

Adam’s dominion was a charge to see to it that all went well with God’s creatures; it was not a license to exterminate them," Hugh Nibley said in the book "Kindness to Animals and Caring for the Earth" by Richard D. Stratton. This quotation, along with others, seems to suggest there is righteous and unrighteous dominion that can be practiced over the earth.

One slide on Foster’s presentation discusses unrighteous dominion by using a quote from the February 1912 edition of the Juvenile Instructor. In this citation, Joseph F. Smith points out, "The dominion the Lord gave man over the brute creation has been, to a very large extent, used selfishly, thoughtlessly, cruelly." Foster also adds: "We are utterly indifferent to the suffering we cause to so many beings. This is about as unrighteous as dominion gets."

In my research it was surprising to find that Joseph Smith was an advocate of kindness and respect to animals. Gerald E. Jones includes a story about Joseph Smith in his article "The Gospel and Animals" in the August 1972 edition of the Ensign. During the Zion’s Camp expedition in summer 1834, Joseph Smith tells the story of how they found three rattlesnakes in their tent. Some brethren were about to kill them but Joseph Smith said, "Let them alone — don’t hurt them!" and instructed the brethren to take them across the creek. He also explicitly told them not to kill another creature unless it was absolutely required to prevent them from starving to death.

Another prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, expressed his beliefs on the unnecessary killing of animals in the October 1978 LDS Conference by stating:
"And not less with reference to the killing of innocent birds is the
wildlife of our country that live upon vermin that are indeed enemies to the
farmer and mankind. It is not only wicked to destroy them, it is a shame, in my
opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life but
to the life of all animals."

I had believed this all my life, but never quite made the connection between the animals that died and the food I ate. The turning point was one weekend when I went home to visit my parents. I went with my nieces to see the newborn calves in my father’s pasture. One calf, full of curiosity, cautiously came up and stood in front of my nieces and me. He stood there for a few moments, staring and sniffing. My eyes welled up with tears because I knew this calf, innocent and pure, was only born to die.

Although it’s easy to only blame the meat industry for what happens to livestock, it is important to know unnecessary killing and abuse of animals exists in every animal industry. For example, the veal industry is directly tied to the dairy industry. A USDA Fact Sheet entitled "Veal from Farm to Table" states, "Male dairy calves are used in the veal industry. Dairy cows must give birth to continue producing milk, but male dairy calves are of little or no value to the dairy farmer." The calf is taken away from its mother so the cow can be milked. Continuous pregnancies play a heavy role on the health of the cow and if its production levels drop below profit, the cow is slaughtered.

The main reason why milk is consumed is to get the calcium our body needs. However, milk is not the best and only way to get that calcium. According to an article entitled "Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones?" published by the Harvard School of Public Health: "Milk is actually one of many sources of calcium — dark leafy green vegetables and some types of legumes are among other sources…" To me, it makes sense to get calcium from plant sources, where the cows get theirs.

The same goes for egg-laying chickens. Little regard is taken for the lives of birds in this industry. A fact sheet on the American Egg Board's website states: "As the hen ages, egg quality declines and, at about 18 to 20 months of age, molting occurs and egg production ceases. While some flocks are sold for slaughter at this point, replacement is costly. A fairly common practice is to place the flock into a controlled molt." Controlled or induced molting is the artificial practice of the industry to force chickens to lose feathers and weight in hopes of producing more eggs. An article entitled "Induced Molting of Commercial Layers" by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service gives very specific outlines for this practice. The article states: "To cause the birds to stop laying abruptly, they should be 'conditioned' by exposing them to constant light (24 hours per day) for seven days before withdrawing feed." In order to lose weight, feed is taken away for up to two weeks. In addition to this, most chickens are confined to small areas and cages. These artificial practices are very stressful and damaging to the birds. Since they are being used as production plants, we should always be mindful of their health and well-being.

We have always been taught that we, as members of the LDS church, need to take care of the beautiful earth we have been given. Stratton's book includes one of my favorite thoughts by Ezra Taft Benson on this subject. Benson says: "Whatever mortal reasons there are to be concerned about [the] environment, there are eternal reasons, too, for us to be thoughtful stewards.” President Brigham Young said: 'Not one particle of all that comprises this vast creation of God is our own. Everything we have has been bestowed upon us for our action, to see what we would do with it — whether we would use it for eternal life and exaltation, or for eternal death and degradation.'" Kindness to animals and taking care of our earth are one in the same; damage one and you damage the other.

Going back to the article by Bittman, referring to large animal production plants, it states: "These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world's tropical rain forests."

Senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization official Henning Steinfeld confirms this in an article entitled "Livestock a Major Threat to Environment" released by the United Nations. Steinfeld states: "'Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems."

Harvesting livestock is not the only practice that damages the environment. Overfishing is a serious threat to the ecosystems of the world's oceans. According to the United Nations article "Overfishing: a threat to marine diversity," one in five people are dependent on fish as their primary source of protein. UN agencies state this is damaging because aquaculture, the stocking and farming of aquatic organisms, is increasing more swiftly than other food producing sectors. “According to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate, over 70% of the world's fish species are either fully exploited or depleted," the article states.

On an individual level, we might not harm the environment much by eating animal products. However, collectively, we are doing serious harm. Foster offers a quotation by Brigham Young that says, "If we maltreat our animals, or each other, the spirit within us, our traditions, and the Bible, all agree in declaring it is wrong." As children of our Heavenly Father, we know it is our sacred stewardship to protect what He has so abundantly blessed us with. We should not be selfish; but I believe we should be grateful for everything that He gives us. I see veganism as a means to be thankful for these blessings and to make sure that others can do the same.

Ovid the poet, in the book "Metamorphoses," once rhymed:
"Take not away the life you cannot give, for all things have an equal right to
"I couldn’t agree more.

1 comment:

Jansartsy said...

My friend told me about The LDS Left site and emailed me the link to your article. I'm ever so glad she did.

I am an animal communicator, portrait artist and riding instructor-horse trainer. The Lord and his creation have opened me up to intelligence and light that comes packaged in innumerable forms. I've been undone, humbled, inspired, instructed by mice, hamsters, horses and everyone in between.

Once, as an answer to prayer, the Lord felt to me the rapport and reverence He exchanges with His Creation. I understood a little better how sacred all life is to Father in Heaven and His Son. Would that we, His spirit children, were more open to intuiting the eternal and lovely nature, the sanctity of our Earth and all her inhabitants.

Thanks again for your article. I think I'll feel at home on this site.

Janet Goldman Merrill