12 January 2005


One of my readers, Peg Kaplan, asked what “demi-vegetarian” means. Good question, Peg! I’ll be happy to explain. I got the term from R. M. Hare, who used it in the title of an essay: “Why I Am Only a Demi-Vegetarian,” chap. 15 in his Essays on Bioethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 219-35. According to Hare (who says he did not invent the term), a demi-vegetarian is “someone who, while not being a full vegetarian, let alone vegan, eats little meat, and is careful what kinds of meat he (or she) eats” (pages 224-5). Hare wrote that he and his wife ate little or no meat at home (except when hosting guests whom they knew—or guessed—would not like a vegetarian meal) and occasionally ate meat in restaurants when there was “no obvious alternative” (page 225).

The prefix “demi” means half, or, in this context, imperfect. So a demi-vegetarian is someone who is imperfectly vegetarian. We might say “almost vegetarian.” As in the case of vegetarianism proper, the regimen can be for dietary or moral reasons, or both.

Now to my own diet. I learned when I was 15 years old that I was allergic to dairy products. Since then (1972), I’ve consumed no milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, or yogurt. I gave up red meat (beef, pork, lamb, venison, &c) in 1981, nearly a quarter of a century ago. That left only turkey, chicken, fish, and eggs in my diet, as far as animal products go. I gave up turkey in 1982, leaving chicken, fish, and eggs. That’s where it stood for many years. Finally, a couple of years ago, I gave up chicken, although if something I buy (such as ramen) is made with chicken stock, I will eat it. Also two years ago, I began buying eggs from free-roaming hens. So, for about two years, the only animal products I’ve consumed are fish (sardines, for example, but also frozen fish) and free-range eggs. It would be dishonest of me to call myself a vegetarian, and I never have, at least without immediately qualifying what I mean. I’m almost a vegetarian. I’m a demi-vegetarian.

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