Japanese nigiri-sushi. Many cultures offer pescetarian-friendly cuisine.

Pescetarianism /ˌpɛskəˈtɛəriənɪzm/ (also spelled pescatarianism)[1] is the practice of following a diet that includes fish or other seafood, but not the flesh of other animals. Most pescetarians maintain a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with the addition of fish and shellfish.


"Pescetarian" or "pescatarian" is a neologism formed as a portmanteau of the Italian word pesce ("fish") and the English word "vegetarian".[2][3][4][5][6][7][8] The English pronunciation of both "pescetarian" and "pescatarian" is /ˌpɛskˈtɛəriən/, with the same [sk] sound present in pescato (Italian: [peˈskaːto],[9][10] 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,[5][6] 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".[5]



Similarly to vegetarians, some pescetarians adopt the diet on the basis of ethics,[11] since it is believed by some scientists and others that fish do not feel pain, at least in a way that is directly comparable to pain perception in humans or other animals, often citing the lack of the underlying neural structures in fish, behavioral evidence, or evolutionary considerations. However, the capacity of fish to experience pain in a similar way to other animals remains a highly controversial scientific question, without a clear consensus.

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.[12] Therefore, the environmental impact and the amount of energy needed to feed a cow, a chicken or a pig greatly exceeds its nutritional value.[12] 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.[12]

Other pescetarians might regard their diet as a transition to vegetarianism, an ethical compromise, or a practical necessity to obtain nutrients absent or not easily found in plants.[13] They argued that they have to eat "some kind of meat", and fish is the most ethical meat source compared to chicken or mammals.[12]

Health considerations

Further information: Mercury in fish

One commonly cited reason is that of health,[14] 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,[15][16] choline and carnitine.[17] Eating certain kinds of fish raises HDL levels,[18][19] and some fish are a convenient source of omega-3 fatty acids,[20] and have numerous health benefits in one food variety.[21] 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.[22]

Concerns have been raised about consuming some fish varieties containing toxins such as mercury and PCBs,[23] though it is possible to select fish that contain little or no mercury and moderate the consumption of mercury-containing fish.[24][25]

Abstinence in religion


Pescetarianism (provided the fish is ruled kosher – i.e., fish with fins and scales, and usually caught without bloodshed) conforms to Jewish dietary laws, as kosher fish is "parve" – neither 'milk' nor 'meat'. In Sephardic Jewish homes, fish is never served with foods made with milk products. All non-fish seafood is non-kosher.

A member of the Liberal Judaism synagogue in Manchester founded The Pescetarian Society in 2015 [26] to represent the interests of pescetarianism.

Roman Catholicism

Adhering to a diet closely resembling pescetarianism is a form of penance among Roman Catholics. Such an approach is mandatory of Catholics on all Fridays of the year, except in places such as the United States of America, where the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops made the practice optional but recommended. It is still mandatory on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent, and some Traditionalist Catholics choose to abstain from meat during the entire 40-day Lenten season, as was common practice in earlier times.[27]

Orthodox Christian and Byzantine Catholic usages

Eastern Orthodox Christians consume a variation of a pescetarian diet (allowing shellfish and mollusks without fish directly) on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, as well as during Great Lent and the Nativity Fast[28] (which in fact allows fish many days of the fast) and certain other fasting periods.[29] Western Rite Orthodox are slightly more lax, requiring a stricter fasting period (single meal per day) but allowing a typical pescetarian diet as cited above.[30] During fasting periods, dairy (whether eggs or milk-based product) is prohibited. In general, an Orthodox Christian diet uses a variation on pescetarianism approximately half the liturgical year.[31] These usages are described in the Typikon, or Ustav, of each local Orthodox Church.

By contrast, Byzantine Rite Catholic Churches such as the Ruthenian Catholic Church have a set minimum of requirements for fasting, which includes eating fish, and an ideal fast described in Eastern Canon Law as permitting only shellfish, but not fish or other meat.[32] Fasting periods vary widely; some churches, such as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, have abbreviated the fast to start on December 10, following the Feast of the Conception by Saint Anne, reducing the fast to 15 days.[33] The Melkite Greek Catholic Church permits meat on Saturdays, Sundays, and certain feasts, all of which are not treated as fast days. The Melkite Church describes three levels of fasting: The Law – "That which is required", The Tradition – "That which the devout follow", and Customary Compromises.[34]

In general, Eastern Christian (whether Orthodox or Catholic) monks eat no meat, but outside the aforementioned fasting periods, will consume dairy (except Wednesdays and Fridays, and in some cases Mondays).


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.[35] 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.[36] The latter also eat meat on special occasions.

Comparisons to other diets

Pescetarianism is similar to many traditional diets emphasizing fish as well as fruits, vegetables and grains. Many coastal populations tend to eat this way and these features characterize the traditional Mediterranean diet and the diets of many parts of Asia, Northern Europe, and the Caribbean. These traditional diets tend to also include meat although it is peripheral. In common with some vegetarians, pescetarians often eat eggs and/or dairy products, in addition to fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains.

Pescetarians are sometimes described as vegetarian or pesco-vegetarian, but vegetarians commonly do not consider the pescetarian diet to be vegetarian. For example, the Vegetarian Society, which initiated popular use of the term vegetarian as early as 1847, does not consider pescetarianism to be a vegetarian diet.[37] The definitions of vegetarian in mainstream dictionaries sometimes include fish in the diet.[38] The Pescetarian Society evolved separately from The Vegetarian Society to better represent the lifestyle and interests of pesco-vegetarians.[26]

List of notable pescetarians

See also


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External links

Look up pescetarian in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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