The Persistence of Medical Evangelism in Modern Secular Vegetarianism

Both Count Chocula and Tony the Tiger arose from religiously inspired places like this one, run by Dr. Harvey Kellogg.

Both Count Chocula and Tony the Tiger arose from religiously inspired places like this one, run by Dr. Harvey Kellogg.

My guess is that most folks in Boulder, especially transplants form other cities, have no idea that the favorite local hike, Mt Sanitas, is named for a Seventh Day Adventist Sanitarium established there in the 1860's by cereal magnate and SDA member Dr. Harvey Kellogg, who himself was a follower of Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the supposedly libido reducing graham cracker. Here's a brief history of Sanitas from the local paper.

For these guys, (including Grape Nuts inventor Charles Post) meat eating promoted not only disease but masturbation and other "fevers" that spiritual folk needed to avoid. Conveniently for their business interests, God told them that cereal and other plant based processed foods (Peanut Butter!) were salvation from those idle hands seeking entertainment in the devil's playground.

Modern vegetarianism thus has no early scientific foundation to recommend it as a valid nutritional option. Vegetarianism was and continues to be a product of "medical evangelism." Early nutrition research at Loma Linda University, the SDA college, was discouraged, “if you find the diets of vegetarians are deficient, it will embarrass us.” It is difficult, then, to avoid the conclusion that Adventist nutrition research is probably riddled with bias, the data intentionally or not made to fit the desired end result; especially when you believe God is sponsoring the research. Since much subsequent pro-vegetarian research takes as a point of departure conclusions based on SDA cohorts, the dietetic institutions and nutrition experts promoting plant based diets are either unknowingly, or worse, knowingly-but-covertly, shilling for the SDA in one way, shape, or form.

Take the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND, until recently the American Dietetic Association, the ADA) founded way back in 1916 by Harvey Kellogg acolyte and SDA proselyte Lenna Francis Cooper. While it makes no specific mention of its SDA roots on its website the AND still has an annual prize and lecture dedicated to the memory of Cooper.

Interestingly, the "celebrity nutrition expert" Dr. David Katz, a proponent of plant based diets, is a former recipient of the Cooper Lecture Prize. Even more interesting is that he is a founding member of the True Health Initiative, one of the many lifestyle organizations in business globally which are supported by the SDA or by an affiliate of the SDA. (A member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, THI fails to mention its Loma Linda sponsorship and the sponsorship of several processed grain food companies, albeit once removed.)

Now, if you don't think SDA has a massive influence on pubic health discourse and current dietary mythology ("Breakfast is the most important meal of the day," and "Meat causes cancer," for example are both early SDA dietary slogans), consider the number of hospitals it operates in the USA and if that is not enough, the number of educational institutions it runs globally (in 2016, 8,515 schools with 1.95 million students) it is the largest protestant educational system and the overall the second largest integrated network of schools in the world. In the world! It would be a real challenge to find a popular grain based food anywhere in the world that is not owned by the SDA church. (England: Weet-a-Bix and Australia: Weet-bix, both cereal brands owned by Sanitarium foods, wholly owned by, you guessed it...)

This isn't a knock on religion in general, or the SDA in particular. Nearly all religions proselytize and think they are doing God's work. It's just a heads up. Anti-evolutionists think they are doing God's work too. Adventists think they are doing God's work by promoting vegetarianism. And that's fine, just don't call it science.

If you are a vegetarian or thinking about becoming one, wouldn't you want to know it was invented by religious cereal magnates leveraging their commercial products with the intention, due to their particular religious bias, of making folks sexually moribund? “Grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables constitute the diet chosen for us by our Creator.” (Ellen G. White, "Ministry and Healing")

There is virtually no vegetarian dietary advice that has not been colored, knowingly or unknowingly, by SDA medical evangelism (Wein et al 2014). In the USA, the AND has a monopoly on who can and cannot practice clinical dietetics and is a major proponent of vegetarian diets. In 1988 it produced its official position paper advocating for vegetarianism and it was hardly an unbiased, scientific publication: "Of the nine authors and reviewers of the ADA’s 1988 vegetarian position paper, five were Adventist vegetarians and six took part in Loma Linda University’s First International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition in 1987." (Banta et al 2018) (The Banta article is new, and very enlightening, if not entirely supportive of my positions here.)

So eat what you want, but please, consider the evidence that vegetarianism in the USA and elsewhere was, and still is, informed by religiously biased, not scientifically rigorous, information.

"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. The testimony of examiners is that very few animals are free from disease, and that the practice of eating largely of meat is contracting diseases of all kinds—cancers, tumors, scrofula, tuberculosis, and numbers of other like affections."

Ellen G. White, as revealed to her by God almighty.

Banta, J., Lee, J., Hodgkin, G., Yi, Z., Fanica, A., Sabate, J., … Sabate, J. (2018). The Global Influence of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Diet. Religions, 9(9), 251.

Wein, M., Rajaram, S., Sabate, J., (2014) Preface to the Sixth International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 100 (supp 1), 311-312.

Randy Hauer