Understanding Ellen White


A “great meat eater”: The years leading up to the 1863 health vision

Ellen White did not address the subject of vegetarianism prior to her major vision on health in 1863. According to her own record, she did not possess great health in her teenage and young adult years during the 1840s and 1850s. Thus being “weak and feeble” and “subject to frequent fainting spells,” she saw meat as a necessary article of food for her health. 2 Writing of her experience, she stated: I have thought for years that I was dependent upon a meat diet for strength. . . . It has been very difficult for me to go from one meal to another without suffering from faintness at the stomach, and dizziness of the head. . . . Eating meat removed for the time these faint feelings. I therefore decided that meat was indispensable in my case. 3 UEGW 199.3

In 1901, she reflected again how meat was “her principle article of diet” during those early years of her life. 4 It is not surprising, therefore, that Ellen White described herself as being a “great meat eater” 5 UEGW 200.1

Her first visions addressing issues of health and healthful living during the 1840s and 1850s did not deal with questions of meat eating. In 1848, for example, she was shown the injurious effects of tobacco, tea, and coffee and advised believers to give them up. 6 On February 12, 1854, she reported receiving another vision that dealt in part with issues of bodily cleanliness, temperance, control of appetites, and the harmful effects of the use of “rich food” (or spices). 7 UEGW 200.2

It seems that Ellen White’s only reference to meat eating prior to her major 1863 vision on health was her rebuke of the Haskell family for agitating the question of abstinence from eating pork among Sabbatarian believers in the late 1850s. She wrote: UEGW 200.3

I saw that your views concerning swine’s flesh would prove no injury if you have them to yourselves; but in your judgment and opinion you have made this question a test, and your actions have plainly shown your faith in this matter. If God requires His people to abstain from swine’s flesh, He will convict them on the matter. . . . If it is the duty of the church to abstain from swine’s flesh, God will discover it to more than two or three. He will teach His church their duty. 8 UEGW 200.4

Note that Ellen White neither condoned nor condemned the eating of pork at that time. She was, however, against Haskell’s belief to make abstinence from pork a test of church fellowship based on the testimony of “two or three.” Another who must be included among the “two or three” would be Joseph Bates, who became a vegetarian before the 1844 disappointment. It should also be noted that there was a robust health reform movement in America that was advocating vegetarianism before Ellen White’s visions. UEGW 200.5

James White, in line with his wife’s position, also defended the eating of “swine flesh,” believing that it was not condemned in the New Testament. 9 Furthermore, he noted that Sabbatarians had much greater work to do than to deal with such questions (of meat eating) that would “only distract the flock of God, and lead the minds of the brethren from the importance of the present work of God among the remnant”10 UEGW 200.6

In the early 1860s, however, Ellen White’s position on meat eating would change. After her vision in 1863, she understood the importance of diet and began to promote vegetarianism. Though not the first to advocate vegetarian-ism, she helped Seventh-day Adventists to see the importance of health and to become advocates of healthful living and a vegetarian diet. UEGW 201.1