The Seventh-Day Adventists and Ellen G. White: Diet, Health & Vegetarianism

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

ęCopyright 2004 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

No single group in America has done more to pioneer the use of soyfoods than the Seventh-day Adventists, who advocate a healthful vegetarian diet. Their great contribution has been made both by individuals (such as Dr. J.H. Kellogg, Dr. Harry W. Miller, T.A. Van Gundy, Jethro Kloss, Dorothea Van Gundy Jones, Philip Chen) and by soyfoods-producing companies (including La Sierra Foods, Madison Foods, Loma Linda Foods, and Worthington Foods). All of their work can be traced back to the influence of one remarkable woman, Ellen G. White.

Ellen G. White

A vehicle of God's spirit and truth, and a great inspiration to all who knew her, Ellen G. White is unquestionably one of America's greatest women. A founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and of churches, hospitals, and schools that circle the globe, she was also a pioneering reformer in health and education, a prolific writer and a prophet. A master of the English language, she drafted a million handwritten pages with an ink-dipped pen. Ellen G. White spent her entire life in the service and love of God and of all beings. The historian George Wharton James stated (when??): "This remarkable woman, though almost entirely self educated, has written and published more books and in more languages which circulate to a greater extent, than the written works of any woman in history." Ellen's life was enriched by over 2,000 visions from God, the first in 1844, when she was only 17. During her visions, which generally started with utterance of the word "Glory!" and the appearance to her of great light, and which lasted for 15 to 60 minutes or more, her eyes were open and there was no evidence of breathing. These visions were the primary source of her teaching.

Background and Early Life (1827-63). The Seventh-day Adventist denomination is traceable to the preaching of William Miller of New Hampton, New York, a Baptist layman who preached that, according to his study of the Bible and especially the Book of Daniel, the end of the world would come in the mid-1840s. When the prediction did not come true, the Millerites split into smaller groups. One of these, influenced by visions given to Ellen Harmon, was the precursor of today's Seventh-day Adventist church.

Ellen Harmon was born on 26 November 1827 in Maine. She was a frail child; when she was nine years old, in the third grade, a classmate had thrown a stone which hit her in the face, almost killing her. The injury forced her to forego further schooling. She soon developed a deep interest in Christianity and the Millerite revival, becoming converted in March 1840, at age 12. At age 14 she had two profound dreams of encounters with Jesus. In December 1844, a few months after Miller's prediction of Christ's return failed to occur, Ellen Harmon had her first vision; she was seventeen. In 1846 Ellen married James White, a young schoolteacher who had become a Millerite preacher. She continued to receive visions and revelations, which she felt came from God and Christ; she shared them with the congregation. These heavenly messages became a catalyst for the deeper study of the Bible and for the formation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the early 1860s.

Health Reform from 1863. Ellen White's work and teachings related to health reform had their origin in a 45-minute vision that she received while in prayer with friends on 5 June 1863 in Otsego, Michigan. She was 36 years old and had been a rather heavy meat eater prior to this time. She was shown that people wishing to live a life of the spirit have a sacred duty to attend to their health. They should abstain from tobacco, alcohol, and meat, be temperate in eating and work, and, whenever possible, use natural remedies to heal diseases: water (hydropathy), proper diet, fresh air, exercise, sunshine, and rest.

On Christmas day, 1865 she received a second health vision, guiding her to the establishment of a health reform institute that would care for the sick and teach basic principles of healthful living and preventive medicine. Less than a year later (5 September 1866) the Western Health Reform Institute was opened in Battle Creek, Michigan. Thereafter a number of health institutions were founded. The January 1904 issue of Good Health magazine lists 17 sanitariums in the United States and 9 overseas, plus 29 Adventist-run vegetarian cafes and restaurants throughout America.

Ellen White (and her husband James White) stressed the virtues of a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which could contain small amounts of dairy products and eggs from healthy hens. One of the first to speak out strongly against the health dangers of tobacco and sugar, she also untiringly urged people to give up alcohol and meat. "Sugar," she wrote, "when largely used, is more injurious than meat" (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. II. date??). By the late 1890s Ellen White was very actively encouraging people to abstain from flesh foods, for both health and spiritual reasons. She taught that eating meat changes the disposition by stimulating and strengthening the lower passions, contaminates the blood and weakens the system's ability to resist disease, causes grossness of the body, clouds the fine sensibilities of the mind, enfeebles the moral and spiritual nature, and, in some cases, leads to the transmission of disease by the consumption of the flesh of cancerous or tubercular animals. In 1896 she wrote, "Something must be prepared to take the place of meat, and these foods must be well prepared, so that meat will not be desired" (Unpublished Testimonies, Dec. 20). Unfortunately, like most Americans in the late 1800s, Ellen White was apparently unaware of soybeans or soyfoods, for she never mentioned them in her writings. Yet her call for alternatives to meat played a key role in the subsequent development by Adventists of such foods, first based on gluten, then later on soy. After the turn of the century, Ellen White began to teach Adventists how to make gluten patties and related meat analogs in their home kitchens. She also discouraged the use of vinegar (she believed that it irritates the stomach lining, contains hard-to-digest acetic acid, and that it should be replaced with lemon juice) and vinegar pickles, and of irritating spices such as black pepper (it is the most irritating to the stomach lining and can produce ulcers; it should never be used), white pepper, horseradish, mustard, and sharp cheeses.

Writings on Health. Ellen White's major books on health included Counsels on Health (1890 cit??), Healthful Living (1898, a remarkable compilation of her teachings by David Paulson, MD cit??), Ministry of Healing (1909 cit??), and Counsels on Diet and Foods (1938, a posthumous compilation from her voluminous writings). In these works Ellen White gave the Western world one of its most eloquent, most profound and far reaching statements of the relationship between proper maintenance of the physical body and the pursuit of the spiritual life, an area generally neglected by Christianity. She taught that to violate the natural laws of the body by improper diet and unhealthful living, injures both the body and the spirit. More than a century of nutritional research has, without exception, confirmed the correctness of Ellen White's teachings on diet and health, which are as timely and relevant today as ever.

In 1901 she wrote a most interesting statement on "Manufacture of Health Foods" (in Testimony for the Church, Vol. 7.), warning of potential "trouble as high as mountains" in this area yet praising the work of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (described below). She continued: "The Lord will teach his servants how to make food preparations that are more simple and less expensive . . . In all our plans we should remember that the health food work is the property of God and is not to be made a financial speculation for personal gain. It is God's gift to his people and the profits are to be used for the good of suffering humanity everywhere . . . No one has the right to engage in the manufacture of these foods in any selfish way." Here was a lofty challenge indeed for future generations.

Before Ellen White passed away on 16 July 1915 (at age 87) at her home in St. Helena, California, her vital influence had inspired many. One of these was John Harvey Kellogg.