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. Prior to the vision, she believed that she "was dependent upon a meat diet for strength." Because of her weak physical condition, especially for her tendency to faint when weak and dizzy, she thought that meat was "indispensable." In fact, at that time she was "a great meat eater"; flesh meat was her "principal article of diet."
But she complied with advancing light. She cut meat out of her "bill of fare" immediately, and it was no longer a regular part of her diet. She practiced the general principles she taught others, such as that one must use the best food available under the circumstances. When away from home, either while traveling or camping in austere conditions, decades before convenience foods were invented, finding an adequate diet was often difficult. Not always able to obtain the best, for whatever reason, she at times settled for the good--the best under the circumstances.
Ellen White was not dogmatic regarding meat eating. In 1895 she noted, "I have never felt that it was my duty to say that no one should taste of meat under any circumstances. To say this . . . would be carrying matters to extremes. I have never felt that it was my duty to make sweeping assertions. What I have said I have said under a sense of duty, but I have been guarded in my statements, because I did not want to give occasion for anyone to be conscience for another" (Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp.462, 463).
In modern attempts to understand history, too frequently the past is judged by the present, most often unknowingly. Individuals of the past must be judged in the context of their circumstances, not ours. 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. In our day, in most circumstances meat eating is rarely a necessity.
While in Australia, she came to the place where she "absolutely banished meat from my table." For a time, she had allowed some meat to be served to workers and family members. From that time on (January 1894) it was understood "that whether I am at home or abroad, nothing of this kind is to be used in my family, or come upon my table" (ibid., p. 488). Many of Ellen White's strongest statements against meat were written after she had renewed her commitment to total abstinence in 1894.
Ellen White's major health visions of 1863 and 1865 encompassed all features of the health reform message that she emphasized until her death. Changes in certain emphases through the years only refined those principles, they did not add or subtract from them. As time passes, even prophets must take time to assimilate revealed principles--time for theory to become practice in their own lives. She constantly advocated the principle, in practice as well as in teaching, that everyone who is committed to truth will move from the bad to the good, from the good to the better, from the better to the best. Such was her experience.
What about her apparent reversal on the question of eating pork? In 1858 she wrote to the Haskells (Brother and Sister A) on a number of items, rebuking them for insisting that pork-eating should be made a "test question": "I saw that your views concerning swine's flesh would prove no injury if you have them to yourselves; but in your judgment and opinion you have made this question a test. . . . If God requires His people to abstain from swine's flesh, He will convict them on the matter. . . . If it is the duty of the church to abstain from swine's flesh, God will discover it to more than two or three. He will teach His church their duty" (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, pp. 206, 207).
In the health reform vision of June 6, 1863, a broad array of health principles was revealed. The next year she published a fifty-page chapter entitled "Health" in Spiritual Gifts, volume 4. In reference to swine's flesh she said: "God never designed the swine to be eaten under any circumstances" (p. 124), and in her later books she continued to emphasize the injurious consequences of eating swine's flesh.
How does one account for this change in Ellen White's views between 1858 and 1863?
First, she had received no light from God on swine's flesh before 1863. Her vision in 1858 did not inform her as to the rightness or wrongness of eating pork. Rather, it reproved this brother for creating division among Adventists by making the issue a test question at that time. Second, she left open the possibility that if pork-eating ought to be discarded by God's people, He would, in His own time, "teach his church their duty." When the vision did come, nearly five years later, the whole church saw the issue clearly and never again was there division regarding this issue.
[Adapted from Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord: the Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1998), pp. 157, 158, 312-319.]
For additional information about Ellen White's dietary practices see, Ellen White and Vegetarianism.