At nineteen, I was performing in Die Fledermaus in Rome when I was first introduced to the idea of plant-based living. I was having lunch with a colleague, and I noticed that she didn’t eat meat or dairy. Though I didn’t say anything about it at first, I was intrigued. I watched her eat nearly every day over the course of the next two weeks before my curiosity finally got the better of me. At a rehearsal, I blurted out, “Are you a picky eater, or what? Why don’t you eat meat or cheese?” She tilted her head, and asked, “Do you know how meat, cheese, and eggs are produced?” Of course I had no idea whatsoever, and when I told her as much she recommended that I watch Food, Inc. and read about animal agriculture. I told her that I would, but I followed my promise with teasing her about her eating habits. At that point, the maestro’s son, who happened to be listening to the conversation, jumped in and defended her. In his exotic Italian accent, he said, “Look at her skin, her tiny waist. Listen to her beautiful voice – clearly she is doing something right.” I couldn’t argue with him. She was, after all, gorgeous and immensely talented. When I got back from Rome, I watched Food, Inc., Forks Over Knives, and hours of footage from factory farms and slaughterhouses. It changed my entire perspective on life.
For many months, it was difficult for me to cope with the amount of suffering that I witnessed in these films. I had nightmares from the knowledge of the system I had been a part of. It seemed unreal that such atrocious crimes against animals and the environment were happening on such a wide scale and no one seemed to know about it. Almost all of the meat produced in our country comes from factory farms. Inside of factory farms, for example, pigs are routinely kept in gestation crates. The crates are so small that the pigs literally go insane. All they can do is sit down or stand up. They can’t move about—there isn’t any room! They don’t ever get to see the light of day. This is only one example of the many cruelties that happen to animals behind closed doors. I don’t believe that this is what God had in mind when he created the beautiful creatures we share our world with. I have looked in the eyes of animals and seen their souls. They are sentient beings that think, feel, and (according to research) even dream. They want to live. It is my firm belief that we are supposed to extend our compassion to all of God’s creatures.
One day, I went home and told my husband that we were no longer going to have meat in our house. He looked at me, stunned, and asked what I meant. I told him that if he brought meat into the house, I would throw it out, and I meant it. Over the course of a year, we continued to educate ourselves about animal agriculture, animal testing, and the various industries that exploit the animal kingdom.
In addition to documentaries, I took college courses on animals in literature, read U.S. slave narratives, and studied Kantian ethics. The Word of Wisdom even took new life in the context of caring for all of God’s creatures. Now, when I read the Word of Wisdom, I interpret it to mean that we should only eat meat when absolutely necessary and that it actively pleases God when we choose not to eat meat. In verse 13 it states, “It is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” With the abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains available to me year round, why would I ever need to eat meat? With refrigeration, greenhouses, modern farming, and shipping technology, there is an abundance of fresh food year round—hardly a famine if you ask me. In verse 15, the Lord once again emphasizes that the only time we should eat beasts or fowls is “in times of famine and excess of hunger.” When I pointed out verse 13 to my husband, he was surprised he had never noticed the phrase, “It is pleasing unto me that they should not be used . . .” It’s amazing how new knowledge can influence what you notice and how you interpret familiar ideas!
I went plant-based because I could no longer bring myself to support unethical businesses. I had to remove myself from the violent cycle and the commodification of animals. The only way to do that was to become vegan, and I have never once doubted my decision. I know that by being vegan, I am greatly reducing the amount of suffering in the world. I can no longer look at a piece of meat without thinking in vivid detail about how the animal was raised and slaughtered. For me, the health benefits of a plant-based diet are a plus, but they are not my motivation. Yes, my energy levels have increased and I rarely get sick, but ultimately it comes down to looking animals in the eyes and saying, “You are one of God’s creatures, and your life has value. I do not need to harm you, and so I won’t.”
Heather Hernandez is 24 years old. She graduated with honors from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She holds a degree in English and works as a consultant specializing in literature marketing. She enjoys reading, writing, singing, playing the piano, being in nature, and actively spreading awareness about compassionate living. She is a part of the Big Brothers Big Sister program, and she and her little Fatima are best friends.
Heather’s husband, Jeff Hixon, works as a Principal at a smart new ad agency, Digital Performance Marketing Group. While practicing a vegan “Word of Wisdom” diet now for three years, Jeff has seen an increase in energy, a drop in weight, and an overall increase in health and well-being. Jeff and Heather live in Santa Barbara, California with their four rescued rabbits.
You can listen to a fantastic interview of Heather and Jeff on the Mormon Vegetarian podcast, “From Opera to Okra.”