By Maneka Gandhi*, Minister for Women & Child Development
I was in Thailand for a week and discovered an amazing number of excellent vegan Thai restaurants. I met a delegation from the Thai Vegetarian Society and was happy to see that all the delegates were successful, thoughtful, businessmen. The most vocal was a Seventh Day Adventist who told me that his Christian faith focused on vegetarianism.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church started in the 1840s and was officially founded in 1863. Over the decades the church expanded from New England, America to become an international organization. Basing its faith and practice on the Bible, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has developed 28 fundamental beliefs. One of its most influential leaders was the Prophetess Ellen G. White who along with her husband, James White, and Joseph Bates, moved the denomination to concentrate on missionary and medical work. Her book “Christ’s Object Lessons” is one of the main texts of the religion.
During the 1890s Adventists spread out to the rest of the world. Now it has 17 million adult baptized members in more than 141,000 congregations in 209 countries.
The Adventist Church operates 348 clinics and dispensaries, medical centres, nursing homes, retirement centres, orphanages and children’s homes. Many churches run feeding and mentoring programmes, children’s clubs and other activities. The Church runs a world-wide system of more than 7,800 schools from kindergarten to graduate professional schools. Internationally, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) helps victims of war, famine, floods, earthquakes.
India has a strong presence. Its headquarters are in Tamil Nadu. Among the other states of India with the Church’s presence are Kerala, Jharkhand, Manipur, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. It has six educational entities and 12 health institutions, one of them being Asian Aid School for the Blind in Bobbili, Andhra Pradesh.
The most interesting part of their faith is that they advocate a vegetarian diet. Prophetess Ellen White claimed to have received a vision on the subject:
“It was at the house of Brother A. Hilliard, at Otsego, Michigan, June 6, 1863, that the great subject of health Reform was opened before me in vision. The Lord presented a general plan before me. I was shown that God would give to His commandment-keeping people a reform diet…”
In the years following the “vision” the Whites and other SDA leaders started advocating vegetarianism in the Church. In 1938 the Church compiled Ellen White’s writings on health into a book entitled Counsels on Diets and Foods, and these quotations are taken from that book:
“Butter and meat stimulate. These have injured the stomach and perverted the taste. The sensitive nerves of the brain have been benumbed and the animal appetite strengthened at the expense of the moral and intellectual faculties. These higher powers, which should control, have been growing weaker, so that eternal things have not been discerned. Paralysis has benumbed the spiritual and devotional.” (p. 48)
“Meat should not be placed before our children. Its influence is to excite and strengthen the lower passions, and has a tendency to deaden the moral powers. Grains and fruits prepared free from grease, and in as natural a condition as possible, should be the food for the tables of all who claim to be preparing for translation to heaven.” (pp. 63-64)
“Flesh meats, butter, cheese, rich pastry, spiced foods, and condiments are freely partaken of by both old and young. These things do their work in deranging the stomach, exciting the nerves and enfeebling the intellect. The blood-making organs cannot convert such things into good blood.” (p. 236)
“When the message comes to those who have not heard the truth, they see that a great reformation must take place in their diet. They see that they must put away flesh food because it creates an appetite for liquor and fills the system with disease. By meat eating the physical, mental and moral powers are weakened. Man is built up from that which he eats.” (p. 268-269)
“Vegetables, fruits, and grains should compose our diet. Not an ounce of flesh meat should enter our stomachs. The eating of flesh is unnatural. We are to return to God’s original purpose in the creation of man.” (p. 380)
“Is it not time that all should aim to dispense with flesh foods? How can those who are seeking to become pure, refined, and holy, that they may have the companionship of heavenly angels, continue to use as food anything that has so harmful an effect on soul and body?” (p. 380)
“Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord, meat eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their diet.” (pp. 380-381)
“Many who are now only half converted on the question of meat eating will go from God’s people to walk no more with them.” (p. 382)
“A diet of flesh meat renders the mind incapable of understanding truth” (p. 382)
“It has been clearly presented to me that God’s people are to take a firm stand against meat eating.” (p. 383)
“Oh, if everyone could discern these matters as they have been presented to me, those who are now so careless, so indifferent in regard to their character building; those who plead for indulgence in a flesh meat diet, would never open their lips in justification of an appetite for the flesh of dead animals. Such a diet contaminates the blood in their veins. It enfeebles keen perception and vigor of thought to the understanding of God and the truth, and a knowledge of themselves” (p. 384)
“The liability to take disease is increased tenfold by meat eating.” (p. 386)
“The meat diet is the serious question. Shall human beings live on the flesh of dead animals? The answer, from the light that God has given is, No, decidedly, No.” (p. 388)
“Those who use flesh meats freely, do not always have an unclouded brain and an active intellect, because the use of the flesh of animals tends to cause a grossness of body, and to benumb the finer sensibilities of the mind.” (p. 389)
“A religious life can be more successfully gained and maintained if meat is discarded, for this diet enfeebles the moral and spiritual nature.” (p. 389)
“But we do say that flesh meat is not the right food for God’s people It animalises human beings.” (p. 390)
“Meat eating deranges the system, beclouds the intellect and blunts the moral sensibilities. We say to you, dear brother and sister, your safest course is to let meat alone.” (p. 391)
“There are those among Seventh-day Adventists who will not heed the light given them in regard to this matter. They make flesh meat a part of their diet. Disease comes upon them. Sick and suffering as a result of their own wrong course, they ask for the prayers of the servants of God. But how can the Lord work in their behalf when they are not willing to do His will, when they refuse to heed His instruction in regard to health reform? … the light on health reform has been coming to the people of God, but many have made it a subject of jest. They have continued to use …flesh meat. Their bodies are full of disease. How can we, I ask, present such ones to the Lord for healing?” (p. 400)
According to the official Seventh Day Adventist Dietetic Association website, SDAs have been vegetarians for over a century. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables constitute the base of their Diet. According to the SDAs, any food or drink you consume should “honor and glorify God.” This means not consuming any foods that have caused suffering.
Are they right? A study of more than 73,000 people of the SDA church published in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the longevity of meat eaters to that of four types of food eaters: vegans, who eat no animal products; lacto-ovo–vegetarians, who consume dairy products and eggs; pesco-vegetarians, who eat fish but rarely meat; and semi-vegetarians, who eat meat no more than once weekly.. The vegetarian groups, on average, had a 12 percent lower risk of dying over the study period compared to meat eaters. Men benefited more than women from the vegetarian diet with an average of 7.3 extra years for men, and 4.42 more years for women.
*About the author: Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is a Member of Parliament and leader of animal welfare movement in India. You may contact her at email@example.com, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org