Must we be “teetotalers” to be true vegetarians?

Neither I nor a knowledgeable colleague at the main office of the White Estate could think of a statement from Mrs. White along the lines you have asked about. My colleague, however, referred me to Herbert E. Douglass’s excellent book, Messenger of the Lord, in which Elder Douglass does a good review of Mrs. White’s teachings on health. On page 316, we find the following paragraphs:

In 1894, Ellen White wrote to a non-Adventist active in the temperance cause in Australia who had asked about the Adventist position on being “total abstainers”: “I am happy to assure you that as a denomination we are in the fullest sense total abstainers from the use of spirituous liquors, wine, beer, [fermented] cider, and also tobacco and all other narcotics. . . . All are vegetarians, many abstaining from the use of flesh food, while others use it in only the most moderate degree.” Many of Ellen White’s strongest statements against meat were written after she had renewed her commitment to total abstinence in 1894.

Here we note that for Ellen White a vegetarian was not necessarily a “teetotaler,” that is, a total abstainer, but one who did not eat flesh foods as a habit. Here we have a clear example of the difference between a principle and a policy. Vegetarianism was a policy based upon principle: we should eat the best food obtainable under the circumstances. Principles are clear statements, always true under all circumstances. Policies may change, due to time, place, and circumstances. Policies work out the principles by always doing the best possible under the circumstances. Only the individual’s conscience knows when those decisions of doing “one’s best” have been made (brackets in the original).

If you do not have Douglass’s book, you can access it on the White Estate Web site. On this topic, see chapter 27 especially.