Written by Scot Oppenlander, Truman Burgess and Katie Card
How would BYU-Idaho students react if the Honor Code prohibited the consumption of caffeine?
While not explicitly stated in the Honor Code, BYU-I appears to disapprove of students consuming caffeine. The school sends an implicit message about its views of caffeine by refusing to sell any caffeinated products on campus. This isn’t just avoidance of highly caffeinated energy drinks; BYU-I doesn’t sell common, lowly caffeinated sodas like Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper.
We at Scroll believe that BYU-Idaho should sell caffeinated drinks.
The school’s refusal to sell any caffeinated beverages spreads misinformation about the Word of Wisdom and caffeine’s relationship with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By selling caffeinated drinks, BYU-I would take responsibility for its reflection of Church policies while also tailoring its drink services to match their consumer preferences.
Caffeine and the Church: A complicated past
Over the last decade, Church leadership has been remarkably silent regarding its stance on the Word of Wisdom’s specific relationship with caffeine. This has not always been the case.
Throughout the 20th century, Church leaders and Church-edited magazine writers actively wrote against caffeine consumption.
In the 1958 edition of Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s popular book Mormon Doctrine, the apostle claims that cola beverages have no place in full observance of the Word of Wisdom:
“Certainly, the partaking of cola drinks, though not included within the measuring standard here set out, is in violation of the spirit of the Word of Wisdom.”
In a 1975 New Era article, Elder H. Burke Peterson of the Presidency of the Seventy took a scriptural approach to oppose caffeine. He compared modern-day youth avoiding caffeine to Daniel refusing King Nebuchadnezzar’s food and drink that conflicted with the Law of Moses. Peterson then took the words “wholesome” and “prudence” from the Word of Wisdom in Doctrine and Covenants 89 and directly applied them to caffeine.
“We know that cola drinks contain the drug caffeine,” Peterson wrote. “We know caffeine is not wholesome nor prudent for the use of our bodies. It is only sound judgment to conclude that cola drinks and any others that contain caffeine or other harmful ingredients should not be used.”
A 1990 Liahona article titled “Caffeine — The Subtle Addiction” by Church writer Clifford J. Stratton holds nothing back in attacking caffeine consumption, as seen in the article’s first sentence:
“Coffee and the caffeine it contains plays a major role in dozens of diseases in the United States, from the number one killer, heart disease, to the number one physical complaint, chronic fatigue.”
Currently, the Church’s official policy does not claim caffeine as a substance the Word of Wisdom outright prohibits. In fact, nowhere in the Word of Wisdom is caffeine even mentioned. Instead, the Church advises “members to avoid substances that impair judgment or are harmful or highly addictive, whether legal or illegal.”
Although many Church members choose not to drink caffeine, it is important to not apply personal interpretation as a strict commandment for the entire Church. This view obstructs the importance of agency and individual choice.
James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said in a 2007 First Presidency Message, “Our agency, given us through the plan of our Father, is the great alternative to Satan’s plan of force. With this sublime gift, we can grow, improve, progress, and seek perfection.”
In a 2016 general conference address, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then a member of the First Presidency, joked about his implied consumption of caffeine while learning how to use a computer.
“It took a great deal of time, repetition, patience; no small amount of hope and faith; lots of reassurance from my wife; and many liters of a diet soda that shall remain nameless.”
Even though the quote doesn’t explicitly mention caffeine, it is heavily implied as there are very few non-caffeinated diet soda options. What would Elder Bruce R. McConkie say today if he heard a fellow apostle joke over the pulpit about drinking a caffeinated soda?
How do modern Latter-day Saints make sense of the Church’s complicated past policies and vague present views of caffeine and the Word of Wisdom?
It’s a complicated and confusing task.
BYU-Idaho, however, does not make it any easier. BYU-I sends a message to all students that the school — and by relationship, the Church and its theology — view caffeine as an addictive drug to be avoided, right alongside tobacco and alcohol.
Caffeine vs. ice cream
In a Scroll interview in 2015, Todd Huchendorf, director of BYU-I Food Services, stated that the University’s refusal to sell caffeinated products is due to the school wanting to do what’s in the best interest of its students. He implied that BYU-I doesn’t sell caffeine because caffeine is unhealthy.
“I believe that it is for the better that we don’t sell these drinks on campus,” Huchendorf said. “The effects of taking in caffeine are not healthy.”
This would be a valid argument if the rest of campus food products matched a similar goal for healthy food options. However, it’s rare to find a healthy snack in vending machines around campus. The University Store sells a plethora of candy and pastries. The cafe in the Hyrum Manwaring Center advertises and sells ice cream and chocolate desserts.
Why does Food Services do this? It’s simple: their consumers — BYU-I students — like to purchase unhealthy food and drinks.
Of course, the school does sell healthy products as well. But the diversity of food products that range from healthy to seriously unhealthy doesn’t match the reasoning for the school not selling caffeine due to its unhealthiness.
Rather than originating solely for student health reasons, BYU-I’s policy seems to stem from Church guidance away from caffeine throughout the 20th century. Given such a long history of Church leaders opposing caffeine, is it any wonder that a Church-ran school reflects the it’s former beliefs?
The responsibility now falls on BYU-I to reflect current Church policies, not those of the past.
BYU took such a change when they began selling caffeinated sodas in 2017. According to a USA Today article, BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins stated the school’s change in policy “was not made for financial reasons” but due to an increase in student preferences and requests for caffeine on campus.
BYU-I students definitely share a similar preference for caffeine.
Soda shop success
Dotted around BYU-I approved housing complexes, several soda shops exist by primarily selling energy drinks and caffeinated sodas. Scroll interviewed employees at Pick Me Up and BarberPop Shop to get their perspectives on BYU-I students’ drink preferences.
Madi Escobar, an employee at Pick Me Up, serves soda to students walking to and from massive housing apartments like Northpoint and Cedars. Despite the store’s consistent busyness, Escobar’s grin shines through the store’s walk-by service window as she hands out 44 oz sodas. A massive fridge full of energy drinks stands illuminated behind her.
Given her full-time employment at Pick Me Up, she has a unique perspective of BYU-I students’ intake of caffeinated products.
“Probably a good 85% of drinks we sell are caffeinated,” Escobar said.
Escobar claimed that Pick Me Up’s central location on the way to BYU-I’s library and gym leads many students to stop by to refuel for studying and working out. By recently opening its new location in between multiple high-capacity apartments and directly across the street from campus, Pick Me Up has capitalized on BYU-I’s lack of caffeine products.
Just one block away from Pick Me Up, BarberPop Shop provides a wide arsenal of soda combinations and energy drinks. Its interior is suave and classic, relying on slick restaurant design and appealing graphics across the walls. The largest two graphics are the establishment’s menus, one titled “Energy,” the other, “Soda.”
Employee and soda-tender Brooke Ricks pokes her head above the tall bar. She wears a crisp, white dress shirt and tie, and her friendly demeanor significantly warms the store’s clean-cut atmosphere. Although a high school student, Ricks spends day after day filling orders for custom-made sodas. Almost all of her customers are students.
“I’d say (caffeine) is in almost every drink,” Ricks said. “Probably 90% of drinks we sell have caffeine.”
Ricks views caffeine as a helpful ingredient that BYU-I students should use wisely.
“With all their exams and homework, a lot of people come in here after a long day of homework and a long day of classes for a bit of caffeine to wake them up a bit,” Ricks said. “I think they profit from it, but I also see where some people get a little too energetic and get distracted. I also see that side of it.”
Students and cultural caffeine
BYU-I students spoke to Scroll about their opinions of BYU-I’s caffeine ban.
“Well, I don’t like it,” said Kyle Samojla, a freshman studying finance. “I have to walk a far distance to get caffeinated products when I’m on campus.”
Samojla is an active man, burning through a full load of courses while still working out twice a day. He’s from inner-city Chicago, where caffeine in multiple forms is an integral part of the city’s culture.
“(BYU-I’s caffeine ban) feels kind of wrong for people who have different backgrounds growing up,” Samojla said. “You’re taking away experiences they had in the past that shaped who they were in a different way from people from Utah or Idaho who are used to not having caffeine.”
Caprice Whitney, a sophomore majoring in interdisciplinary studies, doesn’t drink caffeine due to not liking carbonation. She claims she doesn’t see any problems with caffeine as long as people drink it responsibly. Whitney didn’t realize BYU-I doesn’t sell caffeinated products.
“I’m shocked,” Whitney said. “I’m really confused why that’s a thing. It’s not in the Word of Wisdom, and we have agency, so why does the school have to put a damper on that? It just doesn’t make sense.”
Ryan Buttars, BYU-I’s Managing Director of Auxiliary Services, answered some of Scroll‘s questions about BYU-I’s relationship with caffeine.
“Caffeine has always been a controversial thing on campus,” Buttars said. “It’s true that it’s not good for your body. It’s also true that many of the things sold on campus aren’t good for the body. We’ve actually started a few proposals in the past to expand the Food Services offering to include caffeinated beverages but have not gained approval.”
Despite the Food Service’s complications with caffeine, Buttars described how hard Food Services works to keep students happy with campus food and drink products.
“(No) one truly knows what all goes into running that department,” Buttars said. “Sincerely, those people deserve a great deal of gratitude.”
We at Scroll acknowledge and thank Food Services for its wide range of delicious food options available on campus. This editorial is not meant to criticize Food Services’s diligence or care for student health.
The dilemma is that BYU-I’s caffeine policy does not align with current Church teachings. As an extremely religious university, BYU-I’s refusal to sell caffeinated products paired with the Church’s complicated history opposing caffeine conveys misinformation about the Word of Wisdom to members and non-members alike.
We believe we act on behalf of thousands of BYU-I students by once again requesting BYU-I to redact its caffeine ban.