Word of Wisdom/Eat meat sparingly

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Are we violating the Word of Wisdom if we do not eat meat sparingly?

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Question: Do Mormons who do not eat meat "sparingly" violate the Word of Wisdom?

Just as past members struggled as individuals and a group to keep some parts of the Word of Wisdom, it is arguable that some members today likewise struggle

As with the former members, the Lord is merciful and has not yet created a "standard" for meat consumption—each member and his or her conscience settles the matter with him or herself.

With respect to the question of why we do some things (tend to eat lots of meat) but not others (don't drink tea), the reason for that likely has much to do with the concept of following the counsel of living prophets. The current Church Handbook says "hot drinks" means tea and coffee, and it forbids the use of illegal drugs, even though neither "tea" nor illegal drugs are explicitly mentioned in the Word of Wisdom. Like other scriptures, we rely on guidance from living prophets to help us to know how Doctrine and Covenants Section 89 should be applied in our time. With respect to eating meat sparingly, that remains a "word of wisdom," but, unlike refraining from tea, is not mentioned in the current Handbook and has not been publicly mentioned by any General Authorities for many years.

Joseph Fielding Smith made the following statement with regard to eating meat:

While it is ordained that the flesh of animals is for man's food, yet this should be used sparingly. The wording of this revelation is perfectly clear in relation to this subject, but we do not always heed it. [1]

Thus, each member is encouraged to do better, but as in Joseph Smith's day we ought not to attack or dictate to others. If the Lord is displeased with us individually, he can make his will known by revelation. If He is displeased with the Church as a whole, prophetic authority will give the necessary correction.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Members and leaders struggled with its application, and leaders of the Church were clear that while the Lord expected perfect adherence to the Word of Wisdom as an ideal, he was also patient and understanding of everyone—leader and member—who struggled to alter their habits.

In our day, the Word of Wisdom applies in ways in which it did not for Joseph Smith's era—the modern Word of Wisdom forbids a great many other illegal street drugs that received little attention in the 19th century.

Question: Does the Word of Wisdom prohibit the eating of meat except during periods of winter, cold or famine?

"The Word of Wisdom is not a system of vegetarianism. Clearly, meat is permitted"

D&C 89:12. Flesh Is to Be Used Sparingly

“The Word of Wisdom is not a system of vegetarianism. Clearly, meat is permitted [see D&C 42:18]. Naturally, that includes animal products, less subject than meat to putrefactive and other disturbances, such as eggs, milk, and cheese. These products cannot be excluded simply because they are not mentioned specifically. By that token most of our foodstuffs could not be eaten.” (Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 3:156–57.)

D&C 89:13. “Only in Times of Winter, or of Cold, or Famine”

This verse has caused some to ask if meat should be eaten in the summer. Meat has more calories than fruits and vegetables, which some individuals may need fewer of in summer than winter. Also, before fruits and vegetables could be preserved, people often did not have enough other food to eat in winter. Spoiled meat can be fatal if eaten, and in former times meat spoiled more readily in summer than winter. Modern methods of refrigeration now make it possible to preserve meat in any season. The key word with respect to the use of meat is sparingly (D&C 89:12). [2]

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


  1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 148.
  2. Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual: Section 89 The Word of Wisdom off-site