There is power in food to both save bodies and souls. At

least this is what Leah Widtsoe believed. Usually remembered as the

wife of apostle John A. Widtsoe, Leah Widtsoe advocated a strict

interpretation of the Word of Wisdom and defended the connection

between diet and salvation.

Kate Holbrook discussed Widstoe's nutritional theology at the Mormon History Association Conference in a paper titled \"Food Safe: Domestic Science, the Word of Wisdom, and Leah Widtsoe's Campaign to Save

Souls Through Proper Nutrition.\"

\"Twenty-first

century Mormon children learn that obeying the Word of Wisdom will

bless them physically by keeping them healthy and slender and spiritual

because obedience to any law brings blessings. But Widtsoe saw beyond

this view.\"

Holbrook explained Widtsoe's

two-pronged theory: \"well-nourished bodies ably resist sin and healthy

beings were better equipped to fulfill their destinies.\" This first belief

in the power of food was not unique. Holbrook cited various domestic

scientists who \"had been preaching the food-salvation gospel already

for half a century.\" But Holbrook argued that Widtsoe diverged somewhat

from both domestic scientists and LDS theology with this second

belief that \"health was to some extent requisite for Saints to fulfill their earthly destiny.\" Widtsoe's \"distaste for sickness...extended to a sense that illness kept people from the active participation in life, the

experience-gathering that allowed them to realize life's purpose.\"

In an interview given in 1965, when Widtsoe was 91, she described her aversion to sickness: \"Why should people be sick anyway?

Why can't they learn to take care of their bodies and be well?

The

Lord intended it to be so, and gave us the inspired Word of Wisdom only

three years after the restoration of the Gospel in our day.\" When the

interviewer countered that \"some people feel that we are here to gain

experience and have to go through considerable sickness and pain,\"

Widtsoe answered, \"Fiddle! We gain experience in health rather than

sickness.\"

Widtsoe also believed that the Word of Wisdom could be an effective

missionary tool. Holbrook explained that \"she saw the science of

nutrition as a scientific, rational proof of the validity of the Word

of Wisdom....God gave Joseph this health law many decades before science

had proved the habits it outlined were optimal for human physical

flourishing.\" Plus the Word of Wisdom would bring converts \"because

they would see the remarkable health its members enjoyed.\" Widtsoe even

compiled recipes and menu plans into a pamphlet, hoping to share her

nutritional message with all.

In 1937, Widtsoe co-authored (with her husband) the book

The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, which would become the 1938 Priesthood manual of study. In 1943, she would write

How to be Well, which Holbrook described as \"a work

that purported to review cutting-edge scientific information on

nutrition also a cookbook.\" John Widtsoe wrote the forward, and warned \"Those

who do not respect and use these findings by seekers after truth, are

willful offenders of their bodily needs; and of course, sooner or

later, must pay the penalty of their error.\"

Widtsoe

advocated both the Word of Wisdom's dos as well as the don'ts. She

strongly believed in organic farming and said, \"Our food is nasty

now-a-days, chemical fertilized, doped with all kinds of dope

conditioners and heaven knows what chemicals.\"

The

Widtsoes also advocated for the role of mothers in the kitchen. John

Widtsoe wrote \"If (the woman who prepares food) does not comply with

the modern knowledge of nutrition, she becomes an incipient menace to

humanity.\" Leah Widtsoe believed that it was \"imperative that every

food provider should understand her job — there is none greater.\"

Holbrook summarized the Widtsoes strongly believed that \"women could

change the course of their and their families' lives through the Word

of Wisdom.\"

Near the end of her life, in

that same 1965 interview, Widtsoe lamented what she perceived as the

lack of health education at BYU. Widtsoe had even founded the Home

Economics Department in 1897 but decried the health center: \"The name of health center at BYU is a lie. It isn't a health center; it's a sickness center... Our people don't have any better health than the rest of the world.\"

Holbrook

argued that while some of Leah Widtsoe's beliefs have been dismissed,

\"her ideas are not terribly far-fetched. Food-habits do affect health.

The well-fed do feel better than their ill-nourished counterparts.

Fruits and vegetables did have better flavor before the post-war excess

of nitrogen resulted in the development of chemical fertilizer.\"

Holbrook then concluded that Leah Widtsoe truly believed that \"If

people are to follow Christ's advice in looking at fruits as a means of

judging the worth of seeds, then the fruits need to be appealing,

glowing with health, and long-lived.\"