Pescetarianism is one of the oldest recorded diets in the world, even if the term has only been around for about 25 years. For instance, the ancient Vedic Indians, the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans all espoused a vegetable-based diet that occasionally included fish. Medieval Christian monks also abstained from eating any meat but fish.
When the Vegetarian Society was founded in the UK in 1847, fish was still on the menu. This is largely thanks to Catholicism’s influence on European history and culture, as fish was not considered to be a type of meat by the Church. These days, the Society states that vegetarians don’t eat fish.
Whether for ethical or practical reasons, the history of vegetarianism and pescetarianism are closely linked. But most modern vegetarians and vegans deny that the pescatarian diet fits within their definitions. All that considered, it seems fair to ask: What are the rules of being a pescatarian?
Something Smells Fishy
On the surface, it is simple enough. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition is ‘a diet [that] includes fish but no other meat’. But, as with almost every modern diet, it really depends on whom you ask.
It’s worth noting that the term pescatarian, also spelled pescetarian, was apparently coined in 1993. It is a combination of the Italian word for fish, pesce, and the well-known term vegetarian. There are many other, slightly less popular terms used for the same concept. For example, some people prefer to identify as pescatarian – a word which takes its root from the Latin word for fish, pisces.
With there being so much discussion about the name alone, it’s not hard to see that there might be some disagreement as to the rules of the practice.
Pescetarianism vs. Vegetarianism: The Current Schools of Thought
Vegetarianism and pescetarianism used to be essentially the same thing. But opinions have diverged and the groups themselves have diversified. Just as there are different approaches to being vegetarian and vegan, there are many categories that pescatarians can fit into.
In the purely scientific sense, the practice is often called pesco-vegetarianism, pulling apart the portmanteau and lumping the diet together with vegetarianism. This is something that contemporary vegetarians often object to, stating that they don’t eat any animal flesh at all.
In practical terms, many pescatarians avoid eating meat and poultry, though they will still eat eggs and dairy products, like most vegetarians. So, it is relatively accurate to say that the average pescatarian is essentially an ovo-lacto vegetarian who also eats seafood.
You also get people who follow a diet closer to veganism, in that they don’t eat any other animal products at all. In other words, they avoid eggs or dairy but they will add fish to their diet in order to meet certain nutritional demands. There is even a term for this, which is growing in popularity: seaganism.
Don’t Tuna Out the Benefits
What you can take away from this is that there are no real hard and fast rules for being a pescatarian. There are a few different paths that you can follow. It can depend on what your reasons are for following a pescatarian diet, such as moral, religious, or health-based motivations.
In terms of the health benefits, the biggest draw for vegetarians to add fish to their diet is the presence of omega-3 rich fatty acids in oily fish such as tuna and salmon.
These fatty acids have been linked to reduced risk factors for heart disease, and they can help with depression and anxiety. They also help fight Alzheimer’s, reduce the risk of cancer, and have many other potential benefits. So, if you are considering changing your diet to move away from eating meat, it might be worth considering going pescatarian.
Pescatarians eat fresh and canned fish alike, and most of them also eat shellfish and shrimp. These foods are protein-rich and low in calories, so they are a good option for anyone trying to lose weight.
On the other hand, there are some health concerns you should keep in mind before you take up the pescatarian lifestyle.
Some fish have high levels of mercury, and eating them too often can lead to complications. Avoiding swordfish, bluefish, shark, or king mackerel is a good way to avoid consuming too much mercury. It’s especially important to be mindful of this during pregnancy.
Eel Meat Again, Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When
The popularity of pescetarianism was often determined by the political or religious conditions in a region. Here is a fascinating example.
One of the longest-lasting pescatarian traditions belongs to the Japanese. In 763, during the Nara period, the Emperor declared that seafood was allowed to be eaten, though consuming wild animals and livestock was still illegal.
For the next 1,200 years, the people of Japan maintained a mostly vegetarian diet, with fish and shellfish reserved for special occasions. This diet is attributed to the spread of Mahayana Buddhism from China to Japan.
But this changed in the mid-1800s, during the Meiji Restoration, when Japan opened up to Western trade. Emperor Meiji ate meat publicly for the first time, and so made it acceptable for the people to eat it again. These days, the amount of meat eaten by the average Japanese person has increased significantly. But seafood is still popular and it is the basis of many traditional dishes.
Keep Clam, and Carry On
Pescatarianism has been around for thousands of years, and it used to be essentially the same thing as being a vegetarian. These days, vegetarians take pains to distinguish themselves from pescatarians, as they maintain that fish is a type of meat, and vegetarians don’t eat meat.
What are the rules of being a pescatarian? Basically, to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, while also adding fish and other seafood to the menu. But really, it is about your health and what works for you morally.
If you are happy eating eggs and dairy along with your fish, then you can. If you’d rather eat nothing but vegetables and fish, that works too, especially if you’re willing to take supplements. Keep in mind that trends change, and the most important consideration is your health and wellbeing.