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Demitarianism is the practice of making a conscious effort to reduce meat consumption largely for environmental reasons. The term was devised in October 2009 in Barsac, France at the combined workshop of Nitrogen in Europe (NinE) and Biodiversity in European Grasslands: Impacts of Nitrogen (BEGIN) where they developed “The Barsac Declaration: Environmental Sustainability and the Demitarian Diet”. The declaration was developed due to the implication of large scale animal farming as a primary contributor to disruptions in the nitrogen cycle and the subsequent effects on air, land, water, climate and biodiversity. Overconsumption of meat is also considered to contribute to various health ailments which can be mitigated with reduced meat consumption. Demitarians are committed not only to the environment but to a healthy diet.
The term demi is from the Latin dimedius meaning half. The Demitarian diet is to literally “half” the standard portion of meat products that would be consumed in a regular meal. This portion is to be replaced with a correspondingly larger portion of vegetables or other food products. The diet also allows for the practice of not eating meat on certain days but is not to be confused with “Flexitarians”. Flexitarians eat a predominantly vegetarian diet, are not opposed to eating meat occasionally but do not have the same unifying environmental reasons for reduction in consumption as Demitarians.
Environmental Effects – Nitrogen Pollution
As the human population increases and more of the world develops, consumption of animal products increases and the associated nitrogen pollution poses substantial threats to the environment. Nitrogen has been used in synthetic fertilizers since the 1900s causing significant alterations to the global nitrogen cycle. Since then, humans have more than doubled the amount of Nitrogen in the biosphere, releasing more Nitrogen than all other natural processes combined. This overabundance of Nitrogen flows freely through the globe causing many environmental effects before becoming neutralized.
Approximately 85% of crops produced are used for feed for food animals which is significantly less efficient than if the crops were used to feed humans directly. Animal wastes are used to fertilize their own feed crops thus intensifying Nitrogen concentrations. Cereal crops are often solely fertilized with Nitrogen leading to declines in organic soil matter and significant Nitrogen leeching. Leeched Nitrogen finds its way into aquatic systems causing algal blooms, acidification and even eutrophication leading to fish kills and further losses in biodiversity. Nitrogen that finds its way into the air combines with other greenhouse gases forming ozone and particulate matter which is harmful to human health and contributes to climate change.
As per the “European Nitrogen Assessment”, the single most important thing we can do to minimize these effects is reduce per capita meat consumption.
Average Meat Consumption Stats
Demitarians consider meat to be an important source of protein and other key nutrients as well as an important dietary tradition and societal norm. However, it is recognized that primarily in developed countries meat consumption has gone beyond the healthy requirement and has entered into the realms of excess and overindulgence.
The average North American consumes 121 kg of meat per year or 331 g of meat per day. The average European consumes 91 kg of meat per year or 249 g of meat per day. In China, 54 kg per year of meat is consumed per year or 147 g per day. Africans consume 14 kg of meat per year or 38 g per day. Average global consumption is 39 kg per year denoting North Americans consume over three times the global average. Not considering any other sources of protein a person would typically eat in the same day, the average North American eats enough meat to support a 223 lb person and Europeans eat enough meat to support 168 lbs. Whereas Chinese people eat enough to support 99 lbs of body weight and Africans eat only enough meat to support 25 lbs.
Health Effects and Benefits
Meat has been linked to the development of colorectal cancer and increased tumor development in patients with pancreatic cancer. There are correlations between lung cancer and consumption of sausage and ham in female non-smokers. The consumption of fried or well done meat has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer. The additional saturated fats from meats have been proven to increase incidences of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and hypertension.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables not only reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancers but also helps to maintain healthy blood pressure and proper bowel function. Diets high in vegetable consumption are associated with lower body weights than diets high in saturated fat and excess protein. Eating fruits and vegetables also helps prevent bone loss and the developing of kidney stones. A well balanced diet also contributes to healthy hair, skin, nails and improved mood.
Reduction of meat consumption and an increase in the consumption of whole and natural foods helps to support a healthy immune system and reduces the risk of disease.
For many, the choice to eat meat is a matter of ethics, religion and personal responsibility and for some it’s a right. Vegetarians contend that any argument to cut back on meat is an argument to quit meat altogether. Demitarians can be seen as “sitting on the fence” and not being fully invested in the environmental cause. However, any effort to reduce consumption of animal products should be viewed as a step in the right direction.
Meat has been an important aspect of the modern way of life for many people in developed countries and many are reluctant to give it up “cold turkey”. The Demitarian Diet is an effort to bring conscious awareness to where meat comes from and how it is produced. The ability to purchase meat is a luxury, Demitarian diet is a way to bring awareness to the effect that luxury has on the planet and our ability to negate that effect through our habits and personal choices.
- Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent (2013-02-18). "Halve meat consumption, scientists urge rich world | Environment". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- “The Barsac Declaration: Environmental Sustainability and the Demitarian Diet”, 2009 http://www.nine-esf.org/sites/nine-esf.org/files/Barsac%20Declaration%20V5.pdf
- "demi- - definition of demi- by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- “The European Nitrogen Assessment, Summary for policy makers” Mark Sutton, Cambridge University 2011 pages xxiv-xxx http://www.nine-esf.org/sites/nine-esf.org/files/ena_doc/ENA_pdfs/ENA_policy%20summary.pdf
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. 2009 http://faostat.fao.org/
- “Protein: How Much Do You Need?” Laura Dolson, October 4, 2011 http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/nutrition/a/protein.htm (min daily requirement of protein = body weight x .37)
- “List of High-Protein Foods and Amount of Protein in Each” Laura Dolson, July 8, 2009 http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/highproteinfood.htm (1 oz of meat has 7 grams of protein) 331 g per day/28 grams per ounce x 7 grams of protein per ounce/.37 = 223 lbs 249 g per day/28 grams per ounce x 7 grams of protein per ounce/.37 = 168 lbs 147 g per day/28 grams per ounce x 7 grams of protein per ounce/.37 = 99 lbs 38 g per day/28 grams per ounce x 7 grams of protein per ounce/.37 = 25 lbs
- “Saturated Fat and Beef Fat as Related to Human Health”, Ellin Doyle, Ph.D., Food Research Institute, University of Wisconsin, February 2004, pages 2–4 & 17 http://fri.wisc.edu/docs/pdf/satfat.pdf
- “Why is it Important to Eat Vegetables?” USDA, accessed January 2013, www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-why.html
- "Should people become vegetarian?". Vegetarian.procon.org. Retrieved 2013-04-29.