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In the extensive discussion in the Word of Wisdom about meat and the Lord’s recommendations for its use in our diet, the specific subsets listed under the meat category only specify the flesh “of beasts and of the fowls of the air.” Missing is any reference to the “fish of the waters.”
Fish, a key symbol of Christianity, seems to be considered a staple of ancient and modern diets, as are wheat and other grains.[i] Fish is therefore specifically described in the detailed logic of the Word of Wisdom as outside the scope of the discussion about using meat sparingly.
Giving Heed to Every Word of God
The Doctrine and Covenants admonishes us to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” (D&C 84:44) As we study revelations such as the Word of Wisdom, it is very important to understand specifically what substances and foods are recommended, recommended with conditions, forbidden or not discussed at all.
In the Book of Mormon, Ether described animals that Jared and his brother took with them in their eight submarine-like barges. In Ether’s list were “their flocks,” the “fowls of the air,” the “fish of the waters” and “swarms of bees” (Ether 2:1-3).
Subsets of Meats to be Used Sparingly
In contrast to this list of the various kinds of animals that would provide the Jaredites with food in the land of promise, here is the verse in the Word of Wisdom describing which sets and subsets of animals the Lord included in His discussion of meat in our diet.
“Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;” (D&C 89:12)
Missing is any reference to fish products as a separate subset of the meat category or referring to meat in the generic sense. After listing the subsets of meat He is referring to, the Lord then adds additional conditions on eating meat under the umbrella of being “used sparingly.”
Later in the Lord’s discussion of meat to be used in “times of famine and excess of hunger,” He once again specified in detail the set of animals that He is referring to along with proclaiming grain to be the “staff of life” for both useful animals and man. The set includes “the beasts of the field, and fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;” (D&C 89:14-15) Once again, fish is missing from the list.
Miracle of Two Boats Overflowing with Fish
Luke chapter 5 describes an amazing miracle that happened just before Peter, Andrew, James and John were called to forsake all to follow Jesus in the ministry.
After Jesus had taught the people from Peter’s ship close to shore by the Sea of Galilee as was His custom, the Lord asked Peter to take his ship into the lake and let down the nets to catch fish.
Peter answered: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they [Peter and Andrew] beckoned unto their partners [James and John], which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.” (Luke 5:6-7)[ii]
BYU Professor Kent Brown, of the Maxwell Institute, explained how this overflowing miraculous catch of fish may have also served a larger purpose.
“We might be tempted to think of this haul of fish as modest. However, we do have a model to compare the craft against. In 1986 an ancient boat dating to around the first century was discovered along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. That boat measures 26.5 feet (8.8 meters) x 7.5 feet (2.5 meters), is 4.5 feet (1.25 meters) deep, and consists of a number of different woods in its construction. This craft can carry a very large load of fish. Two boats filled in this manner will supply the needs of the fishermen’s families for months if not a couple of years. Even if Peter’s boat is smaller than this contemporary example, the catch of fish will have been substantial if it nearly sinks his craft and his partners’ as well.[iii]
“The question naturally arises, is the miracle simply an amazing demonstration of Jesus’s enormous powers over the world of nature, or does the catch of fish carry an additional purpose? This question, in my view, brings us face to face with Jesus’s deep compassion and concern for the families of the fishermen. And it is answered by deducing the answer to another question: what do they do with all that fish?”
“Even though Luke writes that the partners ‘brought their ships to land’ and then ‘they forsook all’ (Luke 5:11), we need not think that they promptly beach their craft on the shore, while the miracle is still buzzing in their heads, and walk away from the huge catch of fish. Such an act is senseless waste. And they of all people know the value of a big haul of fish. No, I believe that there is more going on here than meets the eye. Here is where a geographical detail plays a role.”
“The town Taricheae, the fish-salting center on the lake’s western shore, was known to all the fishermen of the day. The effort to row or sail the two loaded boats four-and-one-half miles (7.24 km) along the shore from Capernaum would have cost a little time and effort, and the expense of the salting service, but not much else. With this huge catch of fish preserved by salting, the families of the fishermen would have enough food to eat for months on end, as well as enough to bring to the marketplace in Capernaum–either to trade for other foods or to sell for income.
“As He calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus is calling the breadwinners away from their families, who will struggle for food and income without these men. For the Master ‘who notes the sparrow’s fall’ and causes the rain to descend, and who is always aware of our needs, it is not hard to imagine Him compassionately doing more for these men and their families than meets the eye, as He so often does in our lives. In one stunning, momentous miracle witnessed by men whom Jesus will soon call into the apostleship, the needs of these families are met. The Savior’s love for these men and His appreciation for what they will do in His service extends beyond them to their families. Thus, to me at least, the lesson of the Savior’s love and compassion becomes that much more deep and rich.”
This amazing miracle, involving perhaps several years supply of fish for the four future apostles’ families certainly does not seem to be in the “use meat sparingly” category of food. Rather, fish is a staple, regularly eaten food in the diets of these fishermen called to be fishers of men.
A Few Loaves and Fishes Feeding Multitudes
Further evidence that fish is a staple in the holy land rather than just a limited or occasional addition to the diet “used sparingly” involves the two great miracles where the Lord expanded a few loaves and fishes to feed multitudes of 5,000 and later 4,000 families.
The feeding of the 5,000 involved expanding five loaves and two fishes into an excellent meal. “When they were filled” twelve baskets of leftover food was gathered to emphasize and memorialize the magnitude of this miracle. (John 6:10-13)[iv]
The feeding of the 4,000 involved expanding seven loaves and a few fishes into a good filling meal. “So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat [food] that was left seven baskets. (Mark 8:4-9)
Whole grain loaves of bread are clearly fundamental staples of their diet and these miracles include fish right alongside bread, part of their basic fundamental diet.
Fish: The Most Healthy Meat?
The web site of the State of Washington explains the benefits of fish in our diets.
“Fish is a low-fat high quality protein. Fish is filled with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as D and B2 (riboflavin). Fish is rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week as part of a healthy diet. Fish is packed with protein, vitamins, and nutrients that can lower blood pressure and help reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.”
“Eating fish is an important source of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients keep our heart and brain healthy. Two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 fatty acids so we must get them through the food we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in every kind of fish, but are especially high in fatty fish. Some good choices are salmon, trout, sardines, herring, canned mackerel, canned light tuna, and oysters.”
“Fish is an important cultural icon in Washington State that defines a recreational as well as a spiritual way of life in the Pacific Northwest. Fish is not only an important source of nutrition, the act of catching, preparing, and eating fish are important cultural and family practices as well. To Native American Indian Tribes of Washington, fish, especially salmon, are an integral part of their lives, and serve as a symbol of their prosperity, culture, and heritage.”[v]
Major Fish Eating Country and Its Life Expectancy
Japan is the leading major country in consumption of fish. In Japan, each individual consumes 166 grams per day of fish products. The United States, by contrast, consumes 66 grams of fish per day per person. Japan consumes two and a half times as much fish per person as the US.[vi]
Japan is also the number one major country in life expectancy at 85 years. The United States is number 43 with a life expectancy of 80 years.[vii]
Word of Wisdom Guided Diets?
By paying careful attention to the logic of what, if any, recommendations are made for fish, as well as the practice of excluding milk products and eggs from various modern diets, we can better judge if a popular diet really is following the counsel of the Word of Wisdom.
Various popular vegetarian and vegan diets are promoted as Word of Wisdom diets when they really go far afield from what the Word of Wisdom actually recommends with often amazing specificity and precision. We are also blessed with counsel by modern prophets and apostles, the most recent prophets the most important, as we strive to qualify for the great blessings listed for obedience to this great revelation, the Word of Wisdom. [viii]
“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.” (D&C 89:18-21)
[i] “St. Peter’s Fish (musht) sea of galilee,” traverlerfolio.com
“Fishing in the Bible and Ancient Near East,” thewikibible.com.
“The first of these fish is the Musht which means comb in Arabic which would describe the spiny dorsal fin. The most famous of this group is the Tilapia Galilea, also know as the St. Peter’s Fish (more later about this fish). The Musht is and was one of the most popular fish to be consumed as there flat shape makes them ideal for the frying pan. They also have few small bones and an easily removable spine. These characteristics make this type of fish the primary fish of the Sea of Galilee. As the water cools for the winter the Musht is the only large fish that schools and moves to the shallow shoals (this will become important later). Another small detail that becomes more important is the diet of the Musht as its sole diet consists of plankton.:
“Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior,” welcomehomeoc.com.
[ii] “Miraculous Catch,” wordpress.com.
[iii] S. Kent Brown, “The Savior’s Compassion,” Ensign, March 2011.
“The Savior’s miracle of the fishes testifies of the great power He commanded over nature. It may also have been a great act of compassion.”
“Musht, St Peter’s Fish in Sea of Galilee,” See the Holy Land.
[iv] “Loaves and Fishes,” hopewellonline.org.
[v] “Health Benefits of Fish,” Washington State Department of Health,
Biing.com search: eagle catching salmon
“The Benefits of Eating Fish,” “EDF Seafood Selector,” seafood.edf.org.
“Why is Eating Fish Healthy?”
“Fish is a high-protein, low-fat food that provides a range of health benefits. White-fleshed fish, in particular, is lower in fat than any other source of animal protein, and oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, or the “good” fats. Since the human body can’t make significant amounts of these essential nutrients, fish are an important part of the diet. Also, fish are low in the “bad” fats commonly found in red meat, called omega-6 fatty acids.
“Health Benefits of Eating Fish,” naturalfoodbenefits.com.
“The reason why fish is such an important source of nutrition is that it both provides substances necessary for the human body and also reduces the risk of various diseases. For example, it has been revealed that when fish—which acts as a shield in terms of health with the omega-3 acid it contains—is consumed on a regular basis, it reduces the risk of heart disease and strengthens the immune system.”
[vi] “Food Consumption – Fish, Seafood,” World Date Atlas.
[vii] “Life Expectancy at Birth,” The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency,
[viii] Ronald P. Millett, “Eggs, Milk Cows and Goats: Word of Wisdom and Vegetarian Diets,” Meridian Magazine, June 23, 2015.
“The most restrictive vegetarian diet, the vegan diet, that eliminates animal products, including eggs and dairy products, is not recommended in the Word of Wisdom nor endorsed by General Authorities. Current average life expectancy and heart disease data support the assertion that a diet that prohibits eating these animal products is not warranted.”