Title: Discovering the Word of Wisdom
Author: Jane Birch
Publisher: Fresh Awakenings
Reviewed by Jaymie Reynolds for the Association for Mormon Letters
We live in a time when new diets and food fads abound. It seems that people change eating styles as often as they change wardrobes. As individuals are becoming more passionate about their food, they are also becoming more vocal. There is a wealth of information available to those who want to know more. It is into this arena that Jane Birch steps with her new book, “Discovering the Word of Wisdom.” In what she herself labels a book of “surprising insights from a whole food, plant-based perspective,” Birch seeks to add a new voice to the current food debate.
Birch begins her book as she began her own food journey — by explaining the path that has led to her food choices and, ultimately, to her desire to share how those choices have changed her own life. Suffering chronic pain as a result of a congenital condition, Birch stumbled upon lifestyle changes that seemed to her both shocking and heaven sent. As she adjusted her diet to eliminate meats and incorporate a plant-based perspective, she began to notice improvement in her overall health.
Because these ideals are a subject about which Birch is deeply passionate, she has taken the time to thoroughly research and support the information that she presents. She does not focus simply on her own thoughts, but gives frequent examples in the testimonials of “Real Mormons — Real Stories.” She also shares many quotes from non-Mormons as well as from early leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These quotes highlight the need to spare humans and animals from a diet of animal consumption. As Birch says in her book, “Vegetarianism is obviously not a Mormon doctrine. We do not believe humans should never consume meat under any circumstance. Church leaders do not preach veganism from the pulpit. … On the other hand, mandatory meat consumption is also not part of our religion. There is absolutely no prohibition against Latter-day Saints adopting a plant-based diet or enthusiastically encouraging others to do so, though of course it is not our prerogative to command others to abstain from meats.”
In addition to the specific text of her book, Birch has packed this text with several appendices (in fact, those appendices and additional resources occupy more space than the main text). Each of these appendices offers different information including tips on how to begin and maintain a plant-based diet and outside sources to better educate individuals on such a lifestyle choice.
While Birch does acknowledge the other side of the argument, namely those who would be meat eaters, she makes it abundantly clear that she feels such a lifestyle is both unhealthy and inaccurate. Although she is seeking to educate the masses, her content is by nature such that it will most likely appeal to a niche market of like-minded individuals. She offers a lot of information that adds to the current climate of food conversation, but she may find that some readers are turned off by the presentation of it. Comments by the author such as “the interesting fact in my story is that it took people who are not members of the LDS Church, who know nothing about the Word of Wisdom to help me discover a whole new way of thinking about the verses in Section 89” and chapter titles like “Why Doesn’t the Church Tell Us?” may well be seen as red flags to some church members trying to stay firmly in the middle of the path to salvation. The content in this book adds perspective to the current debate, but may still be seen as some to be extreme.
Birch writes well and expresses her thoughts clearly. This book feels shorter than it is and is an easy, informative read for any wishing to explore an additional facet of the current battle to decide what best graces the human table. Those who are seeking a Latter-day Saint perspective on how veganism and plant-based diets tie into the Word of Wisdom will find this to be a helpful resource.