Pescetarianism (; also spelled pescatarianism) is the practice of following a diet that includes fish or other seafood, but not the flesh of other animals.
Those on pescetarian or pollotarian diets may define meat only as mammalian flesh and may identify with vegetarianism. Most pescetarians maintain a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with the addition of fish and shellfish, described as "fish but no other meat". The common use association between such diets and vegetarianism has led groups such as the Vegetarian Society to state that diets containing these ingredients are not vegetarian.
"Pescetarian" or "pescatarian" is a neologism formed as a portmanteau of the Latin word piscis ("fish") and the English word "vegetarian". The English pronunciation of both "pescetarian" and "pescatarian" is , with the same [sk] sound present in pescato (Italian: [peˈskaːto], derived from piscatus, the perfect passive participle of the Latin verb piscor meaning "to fish"), though not in the word pesce (Italian: [ˈpeʃʃe]).
Pesce in turn derives from the Latin piscis, which has the form pisci- when it serves as a prefix, as it often does in scholarly terms (e.g. "pisciculture", "piscivore"). A piscivore, a type of carnivore, subsists on a diet primarily of fish, whereas a pescetarian eats plant derivatives as well as fish. A similar term for the latter is "vegequarian".
The Merriam-Webster dictionary dates the origin of the term pescatarian to 1993 and defines it as: "one whose diet includes fish but no other meat".
Some pescetarians adopt their diet because of the inefficiency of other meat sources. For example, in the United States most cattle, chickens and pork were not free-range and fed with grains specifically grown for their food. Therefore, the environmental impact and the amount of energy needed to feed a cow, a chicken or a pig greatly exceeds its nutritional value. Such pescetarians might prefer to eat wild-caught fish, as opposed to farmed carnivorous fish that require food input of other fish. They might use guides such as the Seafood Watch to determine the sustainability of their seafood source.
Other pescetarians might regard their diet as a transition to vegetarianism, an ethical compromise (ethical pescetarianism), or a practical necessity to obtain nutrients absent or not easily found in plants.
Furthermore, pescetarianism may be percived as more ethical because fish, along with certain other animals such as insects, may not associate pain and fear as more complex animals like mammals do. Researchers find that unlike humans, fish do not have the neuro-physiological capacity for a conscious awareness of pain. Fish do not possess a neocortex, which is the first indicator of doubt regarding whether they have pain-awareness. In other words, certain nerve fibres in mammals (known as c-nociceptors) involved in the sensation of intense experiences of pain are not present in primitive cartilaginous fish. In many bony fish, some do contain traces, such as in sharks and rays, yet there is a complete lack of development in these fibres. To test this, painkillers such as morphine that are effective for humans were given to fish and were either ineffective or were only effective in astronomically high doses that would have meant immediate death from shock. In this respect, although fish do of course show reactions to injuries and other interventions, the physiological prerequisites for the conscious experience of pain is not present. This, in combination with the pharmacological data, has supported the notion that fish have absolutely no awareness of pain in human or biological terms.
One commonly cited reason is that of health, based on findings that red meat is detrimental to health in many cases due to non-lean red meats containing high amounts of saturated fats, choline and carnitine. Eating certain kinds of fish raises HDL levels, and some fish are a convenient source of omega-3 fatty acids, and have numerous health benefits in one food variety.
A 1999 meta-analysis of five studies comparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian mortality rates in Western countries found that in comparison with regular meat-eaters, mortality from ischemic heart disease was 34% lower in pescetarians, 34% lower in ovo-lacto vegetarians, 26% lower in vegans and 20% lower in occasional meat-eaters.
Concerns have been raised about consuming some fish varieties containing toxins such as mercury and PCBs, though it is possible to select fish that contain little or no mercury and moderate the consumption of mercury-containing fish.
Abstinence in religion
Pescetarianism (provided the fish is ruled kosher – i.e., fish with fins and scales, and usually caught without bloodshed, as well as having no worms or insects inside; cut with a kosher knife and cooked in kosher utensils) conforms to Jewish dietary laws, as kosher fish is "pareve" (or "parve") – neither 'milk' nor 'meat'. In some Sephardic Jewish homes, fish is never served with foods made with milk products. All non-fish seafood is non-kosher.. Mammalian 'fish' such as dolphins and whales, as well as Elasmobranchii such as sharks and stingrays, are not kosher because they have dermal denticles and not bony-fish scales. The definition of a fish in Judaism is broader (sea-life) than the common usage of the term 'fish' (non-mammals).
In 2015, a member of the Liberal Judaism synagogue in Manchester founded The Pescetarian Society.
By tradition, most Hindu Brahmin communities follow a strict lacto-vegetarian diet. However, there are a number of Brahmin sub-groups that allow fish eating. These include the Goud Saraswat Brahmin community from Coastal South-Western India. This community regards seafood in general as vegetables from the sea. They refrain from eating any land-based animals. Other Hindu communities who consume seafood in great quantity are the Maithili Brahmin and the Bengali Brahmin. The latter also eat meat on special occasions. Among the northeast Indian Hindus of Assam, Tripura, and Manipur, it is common for pescatarians to include poultry in their diets.
Muslims aren't vegetarians, but their meat has to be Halal, killed in a certain way. If they are taking food from somewhere that doesn't serve Halal food, they take their food on a pescetarian diet, since they are allowed to eat fish.
Comparisons to other diets
Pescetarianism is similar to many traditional diets emphasizing fish as well as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, edible fungi, legumes, bread etc. Many coastal populations tend to eat this way. In common with some vegetarians, pescetarians often eat eggs, dairy products and packaged foods in addition to fruits, vegetables and grains.
Pescetarians are sometimes described as vegetarian or pesco-vegetarian, but vegetarians commonly do not consider the pescetarian diet to be vegetarian. The Vegetarian Society – whose members historically did not object to the consumption of "eggs, milk or fish" – now does not consider pescetarianism to be a vegetarian diet. Despite this, definitions of vegetarian in mainstream dictionaries sometimes include fish in the diet. The Pescetarian Society evolved separately from The Vegetarian Society to better represent the lifestyle and interests of pescetarians.
List of notable pescetarians
- Semi-vegetarianism – other forms of semi-vegetarianism that include occasional meat consumption
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