Oysters and Herrings: Did Mrs. White Practice what She Preached on Diet?
By Max Chugg and Dirk Anderson, 2008 (last updated Mar. 2022)
Mrs. White said of her testimonies, "it is God and not an erring mortal who has spoken."1 In a testimony to Elder G.A. Irwin she states that "those who do not accept the light God has given on health reform...can not represent the truth to others".2 From this statement it is clear by her own definition that Mrs. White could not represent the truth to others if she did not follow her own health teachings. We could take this one step further and ask the question: If she ignored the light of heaven on meat eating, and thus according to her own testimony could not "represent the truth to others," then how could she hold the position of church prophet—a role whose sole responsibility is to represent the truth to others?
Mrs. White emphasized that eating meat would destroy not only physical health, but also spiritual life:
Is it not time that all should aim to dispense with flesh foods? How can those who are seeking to become pure, refined, and holy, that they may have the companionship of heavenly angels, continue to use as food anything that has so harmful an effect on soul and body?3
Mrs. White said eating meat had a "harmful" effect upon the soul. In this article, you will discover that all the while Mrs. White was the prophetess of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, she was secretly "harming her soul" by eating meat.
1869 - I've Stopped Eating Meat!
In 1869 Mrs. White wrote:
I have not changed my course a particle since I adopted the health reform. I have not taken one step back since the light from heaven upon this subject first shone upon my pathway. I broke away from everything at once, from meat and butter, and from three meals. ....I left off those things from principle. I took my stand on health reform from principle.4
Mrs. White said she had "not taken one step back." Is that the honest truth? Let us examine the evidence to see just how many steps back she really took...
1873 - How about a little deer and some duck?
Mrs. White claimed to have taken her vegetarian stand prior to 1869, yet four years later we find her eating deer and duck on a trip in the mountains of Colorado:
Our provisions have been very low for some days. Many of our supplies have gone. . . . We expected supplies three days ago certainly, but none has come. Willie went to the lake for water. We heard his gun and found he had shot two ducks. This is really a blessing, for we need something to live upon.5
In reading this report, we find that Willie is on his way down to the lake for water. It seems a little odd that he would be toting a rifle with him on his trip to fetch water. Perhaps he planned to fetch more than just water. Willie returned with two dead ducks. From this we can gather that it is okay to let the health reform principles slide a little when supplies are short. Here is another quote from the same trip:
A young man from Nova Scotia had come in from hunting. He had a quarter of deer. He had traveled 20 miles with this deer upon his back. ... He gave us a small piece of the meat, which we made into broth. Willie shot a duck which came in a time of need, for our supplies were rapidly diminishing.6
What happened to the stand she had made upon principle? Apparently there are exceptions to her health rules, at least for herself. Even though Mrs. White deplored the "laxness" of others when it came to obeying her health reforms, she broke the rules herself:
I was at times placed where I was compelled to eat a little meat... When I could not obtain the food I needed, I have sometimes eaten a little meat...7
1878 - Beef: It's What's for Dinner
Getting ill always provided a convenient excuse to partake of some forbidden item of food. Since Sister White was frequently ill, this provided plenty of opportunity. Once while seasick on a boat trip, Mrs. White partook of some beef stew:
I remained on deck until dark, and then went into the cabin, where the pitching of the boat made me very sick. This was on Monday, and I was unable to sit up from that time until Thursday morning, taking but once during that time a little beef tea and cracker.8
1878 - Venison for Christmas
Perhaps meals on Christmas day are also excluded from the health restrictions. In 1878, we find Sister White enjoying some venison for Christmas:
"I suppose you will be interested to know how we spent Christmas... Christmas morning we all took breakfast together--James Cornell; Florence and Clara, their two girls; Brother and Sister Moore and their three children; Sister Bahler and Etta, a girl living with them; and Sister Daniells, our cook, Father, and myself. We had a quarter of venison cooked, and stuffing. It was as tender as a chicken. We all enjoyed it very much. There is plenty of venison in market."10
1880 - Chicken to go, please...
Mrs. White had still not given up eating meat by 1880. The following is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to her sister Elizabeth while traveling:
"Thursday morning we arose from our births refreshed with sleep. At eight o'clock we took a portion of the pressed chicken food liberally furnished us by the matron of the sanitarium, put the same in a two-quart pail, and placed it on the stove, and thus we had good hot chicken broth and enjoyed our breakfast. The morning was very cold and this hot dish was very palatable. ... We have plenty of room, good food and plenty of it. Sister McComber scalded up the chicken. Will scald the meat tomorrow morning."11
There appears to have been ample food available at the Sanitarium, yet Sister White ate chicken that was furnished by the Matron of the Sanitarium. Then she took the pressed chicken with her on her trip and ate it in the train for breakfast: "We again made a nice hot broth of our pressed chicken."12
Certainly Mrs. White could have planned a vegetarian diet for this trip. This was her fifteenth trip on this route so she knew exactly what to expect. Yet while she indulged in meals of chicken, she advised her followers who were contemplating this journey to "take your lunch baskets with you, well filled with fruits and plainly cooked bread."13 No, they were not permitted to violate the health reform principles and enjoy a little "palatable" chicken. They must follow the health reform and subsist on bread and fruit!
1882 - Oysters and Herrings?
Some find it difficult to believe that Sister White actually ate oysters because her testimonies tell SDAs they should refuse to eat them:
His stronghold seems to be giving way; his hitherto brave heart is growing weak. He is invited to accompany them for a walk, and they lead him to a saloon. Oysters or other refreshments are called for, and he is ashamed to draw away and refuse the treat.14
Mrs. White was still privately eating unclean meat a full thirteen years after her public commitment. In this 1882 excerpt from a letter to her daughter-in-law, Mary Kelsey White, she expresses her fondness for herring and oysters:
Mary, if you can get me a good box of herrings - fresh ones - please do so. These last ones that Willie got are bitter and old. If you can buy cans, say (a) half dozen cans of good tomatoes, please do so. We shall need them. If you can get a few cans of good oysters, get them.15
This letter lends credence to Fannie Bolton's claim below that Ellen White ate Oysters.
1884-1891 - Oysters, Beef Steak, Chicken, Fish, Fowl, and Shrimp
Fannie Bolton was Ellen White's secretary and book author. For seven years she worked closely with Sister White in the United States and in Australia, and even traveled with her. Ms. Bolton reveals the hypocrisy of Mrs. White on diet:
She was pleased with the way I made her sermons over for the press and wished me in her employ. I had several good openings for original writing at the time which would have been more to my taste; but waived everything to go with the “prophet.” I was only a simple hearted girl then with the curls down my back, and had been brought up in a truly spiritual home life and I had no idea of duplicity in this, much less in those I truly believed to be the messengers of God. I left to go with Sr. White on the very day when my brother was to be married. At the depot Sr. White was not with her party, so Eld. Starr hunted around till he found her behind a screen in the restaurant very gratified in eating big white raw oysters with vinegar, pepper and salt. I was overwhelmed by this inconsistency and dumb with horror. Eld. Starr hurried me out and made all sorts of excuses and justifications of Sr. White’s action; yet I kept thinking in my heart, “What does it mean? What has God said? How does she dare eat these abominations?”
While Mrs. White's son, W.C. White, denied Ms. Bolton's oyster story, he did admit to buying a bloody beefsteak which was eaten by Sister White and those with her on the train. He claimed it was eaten because "provisions were low" and "fruit was very expensive." He admitted that when it came to meat, the White family were not "teetotalers" and they ate "flesh meats on long journeys and on camp meeting expeditions."17
1886 - More Meat Whilst Traveling
In 1886, while traveling by sea, Mrs. White complained about the quality of the "meat" served to them by the ship's restaurant, saying it was "dry and tough and tasteless."18 In the same letter she wrote about how excellent the restaurant's tomatoes were. Thus, there were vegetarian alternatives available on the boat.
1887 - What's a campmeeting without chicken?
According to Dr. John Kellogg, Mrs. White celebrated her return from Europe in 1887 with "a large baked fish." When she visited the Battle Creek Sanitarium during the next several years, she "always called for meat and usually fried chicken," much to the consternation of Kellogg and the cook who were both vegetarians.19
At the various camp meetings she attended, her lax dietary habits became common knowledge, thanks in no small part to her own children. Kellogg recalled once hearing Edson (J.E.) White standing in front of his mother's tent calling out to a meat wagon that regularly visited the grounds:
"Say, hello there! Have you any fresh fish?"
Years after his mother's death Willie White told of his mother's difficulty in giving up meat. All the while she told other SDA parents to keep meat away from their children so that they would not be corrupted, Willie described his mother's difficulty in finding vegetarian cooks, and of lunch baskets filled with turkey, chicken, and tinned tongue.21
1890 - More Oysters!
According to Leviticus 11:10, anything from the waters without fins or scales is "unclean." In addition, oysters have long been considered an aphrodisiac. Surely James White must have recognized this because in 1870, he lambasted those who ate oysters:
What kinds of edibles command the highest price in the market? Those that stimulate this passion, and because they create impure desires. What mean those oyster stews, and crab parties, and terrapin soups, and squab suppers, wild fowls, cloves, and a host of other like things? Eaten, in many instances in high (?low) life, expressly to beget unhallowed desires! Oh! shame, where is thy blush! Do you want more proof? Behold the fertile South. But particulars are too revolting, both as regards the beastly indulgence of whites with blacks, and the number of rakes [immoral men] and harlots among the latter! Our world is literally FULL of sensuality!23
James blasted those who ate oysters because of their supposed power to stimulate "sensual desires." Yet surprisingly, his own wife fostered a love for these forbidden, unclean creatures. In 1907, SDA physician Dr. Charles Stewart wrote a letter to Mrs. White questioning why she ate oysters:
Three parties, all Seventh-day Adventists, two of them officially connected with the denomination, state for a number of years after you received the light on health reform, that you ate meat and oysters. Two of these persons within the past ninety days told me personally that you ate oysters in their own home, on one occasion as late as 1890. Another stated that he saw you eating oysters in a restaurant.
Mrs. White never responded to Dr. Stewart's letter, nor did she deny the statements of the two men who saw her eating oysters.
1894 - 25 years after her 1869 pledge
It was not until 1894 that Mrs. White finally gave up meat eating at the insistence of a Catholic woman!
I have a large family, which often numbers sixteen. In it there are men who work at the plough, and who fell trees. These have most vigorous exercise, but not a particle of the flesh of animals on our table. Meat has not been used by us since the Brighton (Australia) Campmeeting (January, 1894). It was not my purpose to have it on my table at any time, but urgent pleas were made that such a one was unable to eat this or that, and that his stomach could take care of meat better than it could anything else. Thus I was enticed to place it on my table. The use of cheese also began to creep in, because some like cheese; but I soon controlled that. But when the selfishness of taking the lives of animals to gratify a perverted taste was presented to me by a Catholic woman, kneeling at my feet, I felt ashamed and distressed. I saw it in a new light, and I said, I will no longer patronize the butchers. I will not have the flesh of corpses on my table.25
Apparently her heavenly communications with "angels" were not enough to convince Mrs. White to give up meat. It took a Catholic woman begging her to give up meat on the basis that it was wrong to take the lives of animals! It makes one wonder how much confidence she had in her own visions!
1894 - Switched to fish
In 1896, Ellen White wrote a letter indicating that 25 years after her spirit guides told her it was wrong to eat meat, she finally came to the same conclusion. So what did she do? She switched over to eating fish!
Two years ago  I came to the conclusion that there was danger in using the flesh of dead animals, and since then I have not used meat at all. It is never placed on my table. I use fish when I can get it. We can get beautiful fish from the saltwater lake near here. I use neither tea nor coffee. As I labor against these things, I cannot but practice that which I know to be best for health, and my family are all in perfect harmony with me. You see, my dear niece, that I am telling you matters just as they are.26
In 1895, she wrote to Willie asking him to "please get us dried codfish and dried fish of any description" for her and her workmen.27
Mrs. White and butter
It was noted at the top of this page that Mrs. White said she gave up eating butter in 1869. In a letter to her son written May 25, 1869, Mrs. White encourages Edson to follow her "strict" example in giving up meat and butter:
We have in diet been strict to follow the light the Lord has given us. You are acquainted with that light, and we trust you will have the fear of the Lord continually before you and will respect the light He has given and be no less strict than we have been. We have advised you not to eat butter or meat. We have not had it on our table. ... All know that we do not put butter on our table. If they see you, our son, eat the things we have condemned, you weaken our influence and lower yourself in their estimation.28
She further stated in 1870:
No butter or flesh-meats of any kind come on my table.29
In 1872, she bore positive testimony against it:
We bear positive testimony against...butter...30
In 1874, it appears Mrs. White and James finally entirely stopped using butter. She wrote the following to her son Willie:
Your father and I have dropped milk, cream, butter, sugar, and meat entirely since we came to California.31
But did she really drop it entirely? In 1895, she mentions using butter "for cooking purposes":
We purchase butter for cooking purposes from dairies where the cows are in healthy condition, and have good pasture.32
By 1901, it seems that God had changed His mind on butter, because Sister White sent out a testimony taking butter off the banned list:
When the time comes that it is no longer safe to use milk, cream, butter, and eggs, God will reveal this... No extremes in health reform are to be advocated. The question of using milk and butter and eggs will work out its own problem. At present we have no burden on this line.33
Perhaps that time came in 1903—34 years after she supposedly received instruction to stop eating butter—because Mrs. White claimed she had finally stopped eating butter:
As for myself, I have settled the butter question. I do not use it.34
Despite that claim, it appears she was eating butter again the very next year in 1904. E.S. Ballenger, a former SDA minister, wrote of Mrs. White contradicting her 1872 testimony against butter:
Mrs. White did not follow her own testimonies. She ate butter at my table 32 years after giving this definite instruction...35
Seventh-day Adventist president A.G. Daniels, who knew Mrs. White for over 40 years, stated in 1919:
I have eaten pounds of butter at her table myself, and dozens of eggs. I could not explain that in her own family if I believe that she believed those were the Lord's own words to the world.36
Did Mrs. White believe her own testimonies?
After reviewing this evidence it is now painfully obvious Mrs. White failed to follow the very health principles that she claimed to have received from God and insisted others follow. Her health practices were clearly not in line with her health teachings. She either chose to disobey the instruction of God, or perhaps she did not follow her testimonies because they did not come from God at all, but from the writings of other health reformers.
There can be no doubt Mrs. White claimed her insight on meat came straight from her visions:
It was at the house of Brother A. Hilliard, at Otsego, Michigan, June 6, 1863, that the great subject of health reform was opened before me in vision.37
The following statements leave no doubt about her stance on meat-eating:
I do not preach one thing and practice another. I do not present to my hearers rules of life for them to follow while I make an exception in my own case...38
Mrs. White even went so far as to condemn those who ate meat as being unfit for God's service:
No man should be set apart as a teacher of the people while his own teaching or example contradicts the testimony God has given His servants to bear in regard to diet . . . His disregard of health reform unfits him to stand as the Lord's messenger...40
Jesus had something to say about hypocrites who placed burdensome requirements on others while not obeying those requirements themselves:
...for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers (Matthew 23:3-4 KJV).
In the Didache, an early Christian document believed to have been written around the first century A.D., the author advises early Christians on how to identify a false prophet:
If any prophet teaches the truth, yet does not practice what he teaches, he is a false prophet.44
More Ellen White Quotes on Meat-eating
If ever there was a time when the diet should be of the most simple kind, it is now. Meat should not be placed before our children. Its influence is to excite and strengthen the lower passions, and has a tendency to deaden the moral powers. Grains and fruits prepared free from grease, and in as natural a condition as possible, should be the food for the tables of all who claim to be preparing for translation to heaven.45
QUESTION: If God cannot let His Holy Spirit rest upon those who do not observe strict temperance in their dietetic habits, was Ellen White really the "Spirit of Prophecy" for 25 years while she was eating meat and butter?
1. Ellen G. White, Testimonies vol. 5, p. 682.
2. E.G. White, Testimony to Elders Irwin, Prescott, Waggoner, and Jones, February 21, 1899.
3. E.G. White, Ministry of Healing, p. 317.
4. E.G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 2, pp. 371-372.
5. E.G. White, Manuscript 12, 1873, p. 3. Published in Manuscript Releases, vol. 7, p. 346.
6. E.G. White, Manuscript 11, 1873. Released by the Ellen G. White Estate Washington, D.C. April 11, 1985. Published in Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, p. 353.
7. E.G. White, Manuscript Release 852, p. 2.
8. E.G. White, The Signs of the Times, July 18, 1878.
9. E.G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 2, p. 487 (1871).
10. E.G. White, Manuscript Releases Vol. 14, p. 318-319, written December 26, 1878, from Denison, Texas, to "Dear Family at Battle Creek--Willie, Mary, Aunt Mary, Edith, Addie and May, and Brother and Sister Sawyer."
11. E.G. White, Letter 6a, 1880. Published in Manuscript Releases, Vol. 11, pp. 142, 147.
12. E.G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 20, p. 302.
13. E.G. White, Review & Herald, June 17, 1880 para. 19.
14. E.G. White, Testimonies Vol. 4, p. 435.
15. E.G. White, Letter 16, 1882, dated May 31, 1882, from Healdsburg, California. Also found in MR852 - Manuscript Release No. 852: The Development of Adventist Thinking on Clean and Unclean Meats (1981), compiled by Ronald Graybill.
16. Fannie Bolton to Mrs. E. C. Slawson, Dec. 30, 1914, as published in Fannie Bolton Story (Ellen G. White Estate, 2018), 108-109.
17. W. C. White to G. B. Starr, August 24, 1933, as published in Fannie Bolton Story (Ellen G. White Estate, 2018), 120.
18. E.G. White to "her children," Letter 84a, Sept 16, 1866. Released by the White Estate in 2014.
19. Ronald Numbers, Prophetess of Health, p. 171.
20. J.H. Kellogg letter to Ballenger, Jan. 9, 1936.
21. Numbers, p. 172.
23. James White, A Solemn Appeal, "Evils and Remedy".
24. Dr. Charles Stewart letter to Ellen G. White, May 8, 1907.
25. E.G. White, Spalding and Magan, p. 38.
26. E.G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, p. 330; Letter 128, 1896.
27. E.G. White, Letter 149, 1895.
28. E.G. White, Letter 5, 1869, Manuscript Releases Vol. 14, p. 312.
29. E.G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 2, p. 487.
30. E.G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 3, p. 21.
31. E.G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, p. 322.
32. E.G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods p. 488.
33. E.G. White, Counsels on Diets and Foods, p. 353.
34. E.G. White, Letter 45, 1903, Counsels on Diets and Foods, p. 350.
35. E.S. Ballenger, Gathering Call, June 1944, p. 28.
36. A.G. Danniels, Minutes of the 1919 Bible and History Teachers Conference, August 1, 1919. (http://www.sdanet.org/atissue/books/1919bc/0801-1919bc.htm)
37. E.G. White, Review & Herald, Oct. 8, 1867; Counsels on Diets and Foods, p. 481.
38. E.G. White, Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 305.
39. E.G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 468.
40. E.G. White, Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 378.
41. E.G. White, Manuscript 24, 1902.
42. E.G. White, Letter 152, 1901.
43. E.G. White, Manuscript 133, 1902. Spalding and Magan, p. 211.
44. Didache, 11:10.
45. E.G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 2, p. 352.
46. E.G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 2, p. 362, 1870.
47. E.G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 9, p. 153.
48. E.G. White, Manuscript 8, 1882, published in Counsels on Diet and Foods (1938), 55.
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