Did Mrs. White Practice what She Preached on Diet?

By Max Chugg and Dirk Anderson

Your Questions Answered

Question 1: Is Fannie Bolton a reliable witness?

In an article at entitled, Ellen White and Vegetarianism: Did She Practice What She Preached, Roger Coon uses a letter from Elder George Starr to attack the character and credibility of Fannie Bolton and refute her claims that she saw Mrs White eating oysters in a restaurant and beefsteak in a carriage. To attack the credibility of her character, he charges her with lying and claims she was insane. Coon writes:

When W. C. White learned of the 1914 letter of Fannie Bolton, he secured a copy of it and sent it to Elder Starr for comment. Starr replied:
I can only say that I regard it as the most absurdly, untruthful lot of rubbish that I have ever seen or read regarding our dear Sister White.

The event simply never occurred. I never saw your mother eat oysters or meat of any kind either in a restaurant or at her own table. Fannie Bolton's statement . . . is a lie of the first order. I never had such an experience and it is too absurd for anyone who ever knew your mother to believe. . . .

I think this entire letter was written by Fannie Bolton in one of her most insane moments. [Fannie spent thirteen months as a mental patient in the Kalamazoo State Hospital 1911-1912 and another three and a half months in the same institution in 1924-25; she died in 1926] . . . .

When we visited Florida in 1928, Mrs. Starr and I were told that at a camp meeting, Fannie Bolton made a public statement that she had lied about Sr. White, and that she repented of it.1

Is it true that Ms. Bolton was liar? Coon omitted an important part of Starr's letter. In the above quote, notice the ellipses highlighted in yellow. Here is the missing part:

Of course you will know how true the story of the 'bloody beefsteak' spread on a brown paper, and carried into the tourist car and cooked by Miss McEnterfer, is. I do not believe that either. I think this entire letter was written by Fannie in one of her most insane moments.2

Starr alleges that the "bloody beefsteak" was a lie cooked up by Ms. Bolton. However, Willie White later admitted purchasing the beefsteak.3 So, Coon removed that part of Starr's letter with ellipses. Why? Because it shows that Ms. Bolton's story was reliable, even though Starr considered it a lie.

In Ms. Bolton's letter, she first describes the oyster incident, and then immediately describes the "bloody beefsteak" incident. So, apparently Coon wants people to believe she was an "insane liar" about the oysters in one sentence, and then suddenly started telling the truth in the next sentence regarding the beefsteak.

Is it so unbelievable that Sister White ate oysters? Both Starr and W.C. White insisted the oyster story was fabricated, and yet the White Estate admits, "THERE IS HOWEVER, EVIDENCE THAT AT ONE POINT IN HER LIFE MRS. WHITE MOST LIKELY ATE SOME OYSTERS."4 Ms. Bolton said the oysters were eaten with vinegar, another item Mrs. White forbid, but it is known that Ellen White privately used vinegar during this time. We may never know for certain whether or not Ms. Bolton was telling the truth, but there are two reasons in favor of the reliability of her story:

  1. The oyster incident certainly fits into the pattern of Mrs. White's lax dietary habits
  2. Other parts of Ms. Bolton's letter have been substantiated by Willie White and other eye-witnesses

Was Ms. Bolton insane? It is beyond the expertise of the authors to evaluate Ms. Bolton's mental condition, but let it suffice to say that during her time with the prophetess, Ms. Bolton certainly saw some things that caused her great consternation. She saw things that were very troubling to her belief system. Regardless, this lady who was later labeled as "insane" was once described by Mrs. White as, "a treasure to me."5 According to Ms. Bolton, she assembled Adventism's most-widely-read book, Steps to Christ. That seems like quite an accomplishment for an "insane" person! Perhaps this is one reason Seventh-day Adventists are loathe to admit that Ms. Bolton, not Ellen White, put Steps to Christ together.

For more info on Fannie Bolton, click here.

Question 2: Forced to eat meat by poverty?

In the same booklet, Roger Coon makes this excuse for the Whites eating meat:

When the Whites traveled, they were largely dependent upon the hospitality of fellow church members. These people were usually poor, their diet consisting almost entirely of flesh food. Fruits and vegetables, even when available, could be had only seasonally.6

Perhaps during the first ten to fifteen years of their marriage the Whites dealt with poverty, but by the time the health reform vision arrived, the days of poverty had passed. Ellen White was not one of those Seventh-day Adventists for whom vegetarianism was made difficult by poverty. She traveled frequently, mostly in first class, and at a time when travel for most was considered an unaffordable luxury. Her traveling companions included a personal nurse, and, as Coon admits, a cook. If she could afford these expenses, then certainly she could afford obtaining vegetarian food! (For more information on Ellen White's wealth, click here)

Question 3: Forced to eat meat in "remote" areas?

In the same booklet, Roger Coon makes this excuse:

There were also times when one or both of the Whites spent time in isolated and remote geographical regions, such as the mountains of Colorado, where one had to “live off the land”; they had to learn to hunt and fish, or else go hungry.7

When the Whites were “living off the land” in the mountains of Colorado, it was by choice, not necessity. They planned the trip and knew what they were getting into. Knowing that their food supplies were short, they were not compelled to continue with their trip. The consumption of duck, fish, venison, etc., was by deliberate choice, definitely not in response to any unforeseen or unforeseeable emergency. (For further study, see Hypocrisy in the Rockies)

Question 4: Can you prove Sister White said she never ate meat again?

Some have concluded Mrs. White was a liar and a hypocrite because she ate meat while telling others not to. The White Estate has attempted to cover up Ellen White’s apparent inability to heed her own counsel and give up eating meat. On their web site they pose their own question and answer:

Did Ellen White eat any meat after her health-reform vision in 1863? What about that 1858 "pork" testimony?

Ellen White did not claim that after her 1863 health vision she never again ate meat.8

Even if this were true, it would not alleviate Ellen White from the criticism that she was hypocritical. She privately ate meat and butter while telling others not to, and that can rightly be called hypocritical. It would be even worse if she ate meat and denied doing so. That would be lying. Is the White Estate telling the truth that she never claimed to have ceased entirely from eating meat? Six years after her health reform vision, in an 1868 testimony discussing a family backslidden on the health reform, Mrs. White presents herself as an example of how the reform should be observed. She claimed to...

...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 first shone upon my pathway. ...I took my stand on health reform from principle.9

This statement refutes the claim by the White Estate that she never claimed to have stopped eating meat. She specifically claimed to have adopted the health reform, which included refraining from eating meat. She said she had not taken even a single step back since that day, implying to the reader that she was diligently refraining from eating meat. In addition, when writing to a member backsliding on health reform in 1905, and urging him to stop eating meat, Mrs. White writes:

When I used flesh meat, I had frequent fainting fits, and it became more and more difficult to revive me. When light was given me regarding this, I at once stopped using flesh meat. ... I discarded butter and lived chiefly on bread and fruit. I did not relish my food, but I did not go back; for the light given me was that animal food is a cause of disease.10

Once again, she affirms that she immediately stopped eating flesh meat, as well as butter, and did not go back to eating meat or butter. Finally, near the end of her life, in 1908, Mrs. White wrote:

It is reported by some that I have not lived up to the principles of health reform, as I have advocated them with my pen. But I can say that so far as my knowledge goes, I have not departed from those principles.11

Once again, Mrs. White is specifically addressing claims that she failed to follow the health principles she advocated to others, which included refraining from meat eating. Once again, she denies departing from those principles. Therefore, there is evidence she claimed to be following the health principles, which included vegetarianism, and she denied ever departing from those principles from the day she adopted them.

Question 4: Was vegetarian food difficult or impossible to obtain?

The White Estate web site makes the excuse that at times, one must either eat meat or starve:

In a day without refrigeration, when obtaining fresh fruit and vegetables depended on where one lived and the time of the year, when meat substitutes were rarely obtainable before the introduction of peanut butter and dry-cereals (mid-1890s), on some occasions one either ate meat or nothing at all.12

If the above statement is true, then Mrs. White should be chastized for admonishing her followers, "meat should not be placed before our children" and their prayers do not reach heaven when they place meat "upon their tables".13 If meat should never be placed before children, and if "on some occasions one either ate meat or nothing at all," then one can only conclude that the prophetess was advocating that children be fed nothing if the only food available was meat!

In reality, in the 19th century, there was plenty of vegetarian food available in the United States, Europe, and Australia, during the entire year. Sure, it took a little planning to make sure one had the proper provisions during the winter, but it could be accomplished by anyone sincerely desiring to be a vegetarian.

To say that meat was the only food item available because of lack of refrigeration is purely nonsense. For example, grain for bread was available year-around. Many items, such as beans, rice, and potatoes can be stored for long periods without refrigeration. Cucumbers and beets were preserved thru pickling. Apple sauce, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables were canned and preserved in sealed containers. Grapes, plums and other fruits were preserved by drying them. Nuts were roasted and had a long shelf life. Meat substitutes may not have been available, but Graham crackers were popular among vegetarians.

The American Vegetarian Society was founded in 1850—long before Seventh-day Adventists stopped eating meat. The Reverend William Metcalfe and Sylvester Graham, along with many of their followers, were total vegetarians long before SDAs joined the bandwagon. How did they survive? Even earlier, the Sabbath-keeping Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania, during the 18th century, survived for nearly a century on a one-meal-a-day vegetarian diet.14 During the middle ages in Europe, there were a number of vegetarian groups:

Many ancient heretics, such as the Encratites, the Ebionites, and the Eustathians, considered abstention from meat-eating an essential part of their asceticism. Medieval heretics, such as the Bogomils and the Cathars, also despised the consumption of meat.15

Even earlier, there were ancient Greeks, such as Pythagoras and some of his followers, who abstained from meat. For thousands of years, untold thousands of Buddhists in China and Hindus in India have survived on a vegetarian diet. Many people, from various cultures, throughout the last two thousand years have lived on a vegetarian diet. Meat costs much more to produce than vegetarian food, and over the ages, many impoverished people have lived on a near total vegetarian diet. They did not do this by starving themselves. They did it by planning ahead, storing food for the off-seasons, and by taking advantage of the abundant variety of vegetarian food sources available throughout much of the year.

See also


1. Roger Coon, Ellen White and Vegetarianism: Did She Practice What She Preached?, (Pacific Press, 1986), p. 5.

2. G. B. Starr letter to W. C. White, August 20, 1933, as quoted in The Fannie Bolton Story, p. 1.

3. W. C. White letter to G. B. Starr, Aug. 24, 1933, as quoted in The Fannie Bolton Story, p. 119.

4. Editorial comment made by the White Estate (unnamed author) found in Manuscript Release No. 852: The Development of Adventist Thinking on Clean and Unclean Meats, p. 2.

5. Ellen G. White, Letter 25, 1888, p. 4. (To Bro. Haskell and Bro. and Sr. Ings, February 13, 1888).

6. Coon, p. 12.

7. Ibid.

8. Ellen White Estate (unnamed author), "Questions and Answers About Ellen G. White", http://www.whiteestate.org/issues/faq-egw.html#faq-section-a7 (as of Dec. 10, 2008).

9. Ellen G. White, Testimonies vol. 2 (1868), pp. 371–372. On page 63 of the same book, she advises another family: "We say to you, dear brother and sister, your safest course is to let meat alone."

10. Ellen White Estate (unnamed author), "Questions and Answers About Ellen G. White", http://www.whiteestate.org/issues/faq-egw.html#faq-section-a7 (as of Dec. 10, 2008).

11. E.G. White, Letter 208 to Brother and Sister Hale, July 20, 1905. Letter was not released by the White Estate until 2014.

12. E.G. White, Letter 50, Feb. 5, 1908. Also found in Counsels on Diet, 491, 492.

13. E.G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 2, p. 352, p. 362, 1870.

14. Wikipedia, "Ephrata Cloister", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephrata_Cloister, as of Dec. 10, 2008.

15. Wikipedia, "History of Vegetarianism", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_vegetarianism, as of Dec. 10, 2008.

Category: Contradictions
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