Does LDS doctrine support a meat-free diet?
A Utah Valley University lecturer made the case that it does during a presentation last week at Utah State University.
Presenting scriptural references and the teachings of prophets and apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Christopher Foster argued for vegetarianism and a lifestyle that causes animals as little harm as possible.
“Far from LDS gospel teaching you to eat animals, we’ll see that it says a lot of things to the exact contrary,” he said.
Foster, who became a vegetarian at 17 and later converted to the LDS faith, first supported vegetarianism with three premises — that raising animals for food causes harm because it leads to suffering and death; it is wrong to cause harm unless benefits outweigh the harm inflicted; and, third, raising animals to eat them does not have benefits that outweigh the harm, he said.
The third premise may not be true if you are a hunter and gatherer or if the survival of your village is at stake, he said, “however, in Logan, Utah, in 2012, you know, those arguments aren’t true or aren’t valid ... You can live healthfully and happily without eating animals and therefore, what’s the benefit?”
Foster, who is a lecturer in integrated studies and philosophy at UVU, said those who disagree with this line of reasoning may say, “they’re just animals,” but he said differences in intelligence or species “are totally irrelevant ... suffering is suffering no matter the shape of your body.”
From a religious perspective, Foster advocated for vegetarianism with words from LDS Church presidents Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Lorenzo Snow, David O. McKay and others, including 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, both the birds in the heavens, beasts on the earth, and the fishes in the streams or seas. They also were commanded to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. It was intended that all creatures should be happy in their several elements. Therefore to take the life of these creatures wantonly is a sin before the Lord.”
Foster also discussed scriptures that teach that animals have souls and will go to heaven.
“The strongest apparently anti-vegetarian scripture of all,” according to Foster, is found in Doctrine and Covenants 49. Reading verses 18 and 19 of that section, Foster said, “‘And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; 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.’ So this seems not only to say that you should eat meat, but it says that you’re wrong to tell someone not to eat meat.”
In response to this, Foster said that, first, he isn’t forbidding anyone to eat meat: “I’m just making an ethical argument and a scriptural argument that it says we shouldn’t kill animals unless necessary for food.”
His second reply to D&C 49 is that people should read the next two verses, which say, “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.”
About these two scriptures, Foster said, “It’s saying the exact same thing I’m saying — that it’s wrong to eat animals unless it’s necessary for survival and I also add that today it’s not necessary for survival.”
Foster also referenced the Word of Wisdom, found in Doctrine and Covenants 89. Verses 12 and 13 say meat should be eaten “sparingly; and it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” Verses 14 and 15 say, “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; And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.”
“Clearly,” Foster added, “the message is sparingly, only in times of winter, cold or famine and then only in times of famine and excess of hunger.”
Foster believes people can see an animal and know it has feelings, that it can experience joy and suffering, and that alone could make someone a vegetarian.
“Why would I want to cause that suffering for as petty a reason as ‘gee, I like the way your flesh tastes,’ you know what I mean? And I’m sorry if I’m being pedantic there, but I think you don’t need to appeal to philosophy, logic or religion to directly know that there’s something wrong with causing that kind of harm unless you have a darn good reason.”
After his presentation, Foster took questions from the audience. When asked why he doesn’t promote veganism, Foster said vegetarianism can be an easier step for people, rather than having to give up eggs and dairy as well. He added that his arguments can support a vegan lifestyle.
Foster, who started Mormons for Animals in 2004, was invited to speak at USU for Earth Week. Roslynn Brain, assistant professor in the College of Natural Resources and a sustainable communities extension specialist, helped organize last week’s events. She said a couple of students in her class are trying to help people “make choices away from mass produced red meat,” so Foster’s presentation went well with their work and Earth Week.