I WAS too busy to get a proper meal before the football the
other night; so I had a burger on the way into the ground, and then
a steak pie at half-time. I know, I know: it all illustrates how
far I am away from becoming a demitarian.
The word "demitarian" has been coined by Professor Mark Sutton,
who is the lead author of a UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
study,Our Nutrient World: The challenge to produce more food and
energy with less pollution, which was published on Monday. The
Professor's motivation is environmental. Modern farming practices
are destroying the natural world, and the most destructive of these
involve diverting vast quantities of grain into consumption by the
animals that we kill for meat or farm for dairy products.
A call for everyone to give up eating meat is likely to fall on
deaf ears, the Professor has decided; so he is suggesting that we
should all eat half as much meat as previously - thus becoming
I like the idea of this. Since 80 per cent of the nitrogen and
phosphorus used in farming goes on meat production, a demi-diet
will lessen the demand for the amounts of fertilisers, pesticides,
and herbicides, which UNEP says are causing "a web of water and air
pollution that is damaging human health", creating dead zones in
the seas, killing fish, threatening bees, and releasing more
harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It will also be
better for our individual health.
My problem is that whenever I am presented with a vegetarian
meal, I look at the imaginatively prepared fare on my plate, and
think: "Where's the meat?" So the idea of there being meat, but
less of it, may be the answer. At a recent UN dinner, the chef used
two-thirds less meat, but used more vegetables to make up for it,
and only ten per cent of the guests complained.
The modern lust for cheap meat is what has landed us in the
present horse-beef meat scandal, in which horse from a Romanian
abattoir went via a Cypriot trader to a French meat company, and
then a French food-processing company, before landing on British
supermarket shelves. Since then, the hyper-regulated Germans have
also been drawn in. And now the world's biggest food company,
Nestlé, is withdrawing pasta meals in Italy, Spain, and France.
Chicken and pork apparently cause less environmental damage
because chicken, in particular, grows quickly, and its manure is
more easily recycled. But there are welfare questions with both
chicken and pork. Although fish is healthier, there is the problem
of over-fishing and excess nutrients in fish-farming. So lentils
and chickpeas beckon. The trouble with these is that they take
longer to prepare, and life always seems so busy.
Perhaps the answer lies outside the food itself, and in our
hectic lifestyle. The campaign to "give up busyness for Lent" (www.notbusy.co.uk; News,
15 February) suggests that we modern Westerners are addicted to
doing one thing after another, with as little down time as
possible. This distorts our perception, makes us feel
self-important, gives us a specious excuse for being impatient and
rude, and, most perversely of all, burns us out with unnecessarily
frenetic activity. The campaign acknowledges that we all have
pressures, demands, and deadlines. But it says that we should not
let them eat into our souls.
Its main alternative is that we should set aside specific time
each day in which to do nothing other than let time pass in the
wilderness, where we lose ourselves and get found by God. Those of
us who do not like the idea of doing nothing could perhaps use the
time to chop vegetables and put them on with the lentils for a
long slow stew.