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.\"
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
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?
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
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.\"
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.\"
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
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.\"
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.\"