Why do people think fish is meat?

Why is fish not considered meat?


I suspect this is a question that it is impossible to give a definitive answer to.

In reality, it's likely a mix of religion, culture, and confusion.

I think most of the time it comes down to "fish isn't meat because when I was growing up I was told it wasn't meat" or something like that.

In terms of etymology, "meat" originally just meant "food" and as such could be used for any kind of food. This carries over to modern usage to some extent - we sometimes talk about flesh of fruits / vegetables to describe the insides of them, for example coconut.

Personally, I use flesh to describe animal meat regardless of its origin. I don't consider the meat / fish deviation to be sensible or useful.

RE: fish and vegetarianism,

Fish is not vegetarian.

Phew, I'm glad we were able to sort that out.

There is one accepted meaning for the word and it precludes eating fish. There are a lot of people who eat fish who are otherwise vegetarians * which is perfectly fine, but it is a misuse of the word. At the end of the day, we all eat what we like to eat, but it can be difficult to group so many variations together. This confuses others and ultimately creates inconvenience for vegetarians.

Oh language ...

* Though this is probably not true. If you eat fish, when obviously not for moral reasons, you are less likely to exclude animal products in some of the darker places, such as in wine, cheese, or processed goods.


Vegetarians can eat wine, cheese, etc.; They do not eat meat from animals, but they often eat animal by-products. You think of vegans who don't eat anything that comes from animals.


@ Yamikuronue: It's not just about that , animal products too eat . Some do not wear leather shoes.


There are lots different attitudes to "vegetarians". You assume that your definition applies to all people, but it doesn't. We have since coined terms for the different types of vegetarians (e.g. pesketeer in this case, ovo-lacto for those who eat eggs and dairy products), but the general category of "non-meat-eaters" is used as such by most people considered 'vegetarian', although it is a rather fuzzy grouping. (The ovo-lacto pesketeer in the office next door even calls herself a "vegetarian")


@ Joe: I didn't mean what I said to accept that. We all use words in different ways, but despite this accepted definition of the word vegetarian - vegsoc.org/definition. I would like to refer to myself as a unicorn, but that doesn't change the meaning of the word. For the scope of this website (i.e. not getting into a debate about semantics and how they change over time), I think it is reasonable to say that there are authorities on this matter that have a definition and we should accept what they say.


@ Niall: They even get right to the point ... "The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as: ..." which is effectively saying that there is more than one possible definition. They define vegan as a subset of vegetarianism, but I've heard arguments that cruelty free meat (i.e. roadkill from wildlife) is acceptable for some vegans as they would prefer not to waste it.


This probably doesn't answer the main question in the title, but in the body of the question you mention:

A friend of mine calls herself a vegetarian. I thought a vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat, or more explicitly: someone who avoids dishes that contain parts of something that has a central nervous system or is called an "animal". But she eats fish.

I recently read something (might have been a blog, might have been an online publication) explaining why the person called himself a vegetarian and would still eat fish:

  • Because it was easier than explaining all of their can / no-eat items.

Many people are unfamiliar with the term "pescatarian" and when inviting someone to a dinner party it is easier to just say "I am a vegetarian" than "I am a lacto-ovo pescetarian" and take the time to explain what it means. If you are making vegetarian food, you can eat it ... you don't need to know the full ontology of different types of vegetarianism.


People ate fish as "non-meat" long before the vegetarian society was founded. Religion, especially Christianity, has also been influenced by this cultural "flaw". In Japan, where Christianity was only introduced in the mid-16th century, fish was already considered meatless by the dominant religions of Japan, Zen Buddhism and Shintoism. To this day, fish and seafood are considered "non-meat" by many cultures. Hopefully this helps


Long before Christianity, Jews also viewed fish as "no meat". (To stay kosher, the two cannot be eaten together)


Your answer assumes that vegetarian society would consider fish to be vegetarian. You'd disagree pretty much. vegsoc.org/fish#.VA3U4fldVCM


Who said anything about the "vegetarian society"? And what, if anything, is your claim to authority on this matter? I'm pretty sure Buddhism predates "vegetarian society" many centuries (possibly millennia).

Ross Ridge

@Aaronut I'm not sure who you're addressing, but it was Danidee in his answer above who first mentioned the Vegetarian Society. My reading of his answer is that he assumed Niall's use of the definition of the word they popularized by that organization and preemptively opposed it. (And not all of them assume they would consider fish vegetarian.)

Bryan Turner

Deuteronomy 14: 3-20 of the New International Version Bible lists all animals that are considered “CLEAN” to eat. For Bible followers at least, fish is good and shrimp is bad because God said so. I've heard that one of the reasons fish are allowed on Fridays during Lent is because fish don't get the breath of life through their noses, which means they're not considered live animals. Other cultures might have similar ideas. In terms of vegetarianism, my grandmother is a vegetarian who eats fish, poultry, beef, and a little bit of pork. I think everyone has their own set of rules for their diet

Stephie ♦

Maybe your MIL should brush up on her definition of "vegetarian"? There is a newly coined term "flexitarian" to describe people who only eat meat occasionally while eating like vegetarians most of the time.

Sean Hart

In fact, the Catholic Church's abstention from the meat doctrine was written in Latin and referred to as "carnis". This applies specifically to warm-blooded animals, which is why fish is considered OK.

Catija ♦

@SeanHart Maybe you should work this out as an answer (pun intended) ... I know this already has an accepted answer, but (personally) I think this is better.


At one time, various Christian sects did not consider fasting to be animal meat. In order to find a solution and still eat animal protein, these sects developed an artificially convenient redefinition of meat. This new definition says that fish and meat are separate entities so that they can fast and still eat fish.

Stephie ♦

Hello and welcome to the site! Just a small note: we are not a fleeting chat forum where we type "full speed ahead and grammar will be entered". We tend to keep the questions and answers for future reference - these SE sites are evolving into knowledge bases. To make reading easier, we ask our dear contributors to use correct spelling and grammar, at least to the best of our ability. Nobody is going to berate you for the occasional glitch (least of all me, the queen of typos!) But we expect you to try ... with luck, other members will catch the leftover typos ^ _ ^ Thanks for participating!


Not just grammar, but is your space bar broken?