A conscientious, well-read food lover with many vegan, pescatarian, vegetarian, and ovotarian friends.
Is Fish Meat?
It is a hot debate: Many claim that fish is not meat, while others insist that it is. Many vegetarians eat fish, claiming that fish is not in the same category as meats like beef or pork (the term for this sect is Pescatarian). However, fish is clearly an animal, and their tasty fillets are made of animal protein, a.k.a. meat. So is fish meat, or not?
How Do You Define "Meat"
The whole debate rests squarely on how you define the word "meat." The reason the debate even exists is because people use different definitions. You might use a general definition from a dictionary, the criteria used for the food pyramid, a religious definition, or a scientific assessment.
How Does a Dictionary Define Meat?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary,
- the flesh of an animal when it is used for food:
I don't eat meat.
- Food, nourishment, or sustenance of any kind (archaic).
To summarize: According to most dictionaries, fish is meat, since fish are animals.
Do Religions Think Fish Is Meat?
Most religions put fish and meat in different categories, but they also usually put limits on the ingestion of both meat and fish. Some major religions' views and dietary restrictions on fish are described below.
Muslim: Muslims have strict dietary rules about what is and is not permissible (halal) and do put meat and fish into different categories. There are strict rules about how meat should be handled in order to make it halal, but for fish, no specific butchering or preparation is necessary. If a fish has scales, it is considered halal and requires no special treatment to make it so. Most believe crustaceans are not permissible, since they have an exoskeleton but not scales, and scaleless things like shellfish and octopus are also forbidden.
Jewish: Judaism, with its extremely complex set of dietary guidelines (kashrut), does differentiate between meat and fish, and this differentiation can be seen in its prohibition against eating fish and meat together. A permitted fish must have both fins and scales, so shellfish is not allowed.
Hindu: India is the country that consumes the least amount of meat per capita, but Hindu dietary restrictions vary among the groups. Although their rule against eating beef is universal, the different groups do have different rules about fish. Some eat fish, but since most revered Hindu texts strongly recommend ahimsa—non-violence against all life forms—some follow a strictly lactovegetarian diet: no meat, poultry, or fish.
Christian: Few Christian denominations prohibit the consumption of meat or fish. The Bible makes little differentiation between the two and says you may eat any fish that has fins and scales and any animal that has hooves and chews cud, but although Jesus deemed all foods clean to eat, different denominations interpret the Bible differently. Some teachings say that since Jesus died on a Friday, people should fast that day, and some have interpreted that to mean they should not eat meat from warmblooded animals on Friday . . . which means fish is permitted. That's why many Christians eat fish instead of meat on Friday.
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To summarize: Most religions have different rules for meat and fish, but they all put limits on both—so in that sense, religions traditionally view both meat and fish as foods to be careful about.
How Does the USDA Food Pyramid Classify Meat and Fish?
A look at the evolution of the food pyramid helps us see how views on nutrition have changed over the years.
- In the 1940s, the US had a food wheel instead of a pyramid, and on it, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dried beans, peas, nuts, or peanut butter were all listed as alternative sources for protein.
- When the food pyramid was first published in Sweden in 1974, meat, poultry, fish, beans, and eggs were all viewed as similar sources for protein.
- In 1992, the US published its own, updated interpretation of the food pyramid. On it, meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts were all shown as choices for protein.
- In 2005, a new, updated and simplified model had "meat and beans" as the only choices, although the pictograph also showed illustrations of other protein sources.
- In 2011, the pyramid was replaced with "My Plate," which is even simpler. It recommends a portion of "protein," but no specific sources of protein are described.
To summarize: Since the government started making nutrition recommendations, meat and fish have been in the same category. Since then, the trend has been to view not only meat and fish as the same, but to categorize all protein sources—both animal and vegetable—as equal and interchangeable.
Scientific or Pragmatic Views on Meat and Fish
- Fish swim, fish eat, fish digest, fish see, fish breathe, fish bleed, and fish live. Fish are animals, just like cows or cats or humans.
- Your worldview and desires will most likely shape your beliefs on how fish is classified and defined, but that does not change the fact that fish are animals, and they're made (mostly) of meat.
- Meat of all kinds (cow, pig, fish, etc.) is a concentrated source of proteins, fats, cholesterol, calories, and many vitamins and micronutrients. It contains significant amounts of B complex vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin), iron, and other minerals. It also contains calcium and fiber.
- Meat is mostly an animal's muscle tissue. Most muscle is about 75% water, 20% protein, and 5% fat, proteins, and carbohydrates.
- An apt synonym for "meat" is "protein." Fish meat is very high in protein. This is because the meat is the muscle that the fish uses for movement.
- All muscles are made of protein. Muscles made up of bundles of cells (fibers). Each cell is crowded with filaments made of actin and myosin (two kinds of protein).
- Fish meat is obviously from fish, a living animal. In fact, its meat makes up the majority of this creature, so when you eat fish, you are almost completely consuming the entire animal.
- Fish meat is called "fish," just like how chicken meat is called "chicken." Chicken is a type of poultry, but that word technically refers to a number of different domestic fowl.
- Some think that fish are not red-blooded animals, but they're wrong. Fish have red blood. Some put fish into a different category since they are cold-blooded, but alligators, snakes, and frogs are also cold-blooded, and they're also all made of meat.
- A true vegetarian won't eat animals. If you go to a vegetarian restaurant or purchase a product marked "vegetarian," you would not expect to find any meat from an animal.
Fish is meat. Some might say that this conclusion is too simplistic, but it is really not. The only thing complicated about this matter is trying to classify a meat as something other than meat. It is a protein, and it comes from an animal. That is it, plain and simple. The only reason there is any debate is because people want to avoid thinking that they are eating meat. If you are eating fish, then you are eating meat.
What do you think?
Questions & Answers
Question: What is the name for fish meat? If cow meat is called "beef" and sheep is called "mutton," then what do you call fish?
Answer: Fish meat would also be called "fish." It's just like how chicken meat is called "chicken." I know the rebuttal might be that chicken is called "poultry," but that would technically be incorrect as poultry refers to a number of different domestic fowl. I'm not an etymology expert, so here is a better explanation as to why pork, beef, and mutton got their names: https://www.thedailymeal.com/eat/why-pig-meat-call...
Question: I never considered fish meat because fish are not red-blooded animals. What do you think?
Answer: Fish have red blood. If you watch any fishing shows or go on a fishing vessel, you'll see the blood is most definitely red. I suppose it's possible that you meant "cold-blooded," which fish are. I guess my counter-question to that would be "Do you consider other cold-blooded animals such as alligators, snakes or frogs to be meat?"
Question: Can fish, poultry, meat, and dairy make us fat?
Answer: It's all about calories in and calories out. If you take in more calories than you expend, then you'll gain weight. Fat is just your body's way of storing excess energy. A pound of fat is about 3,500 calories. You cannot create nor destroy energy, only change its form. If you take in the energy, you either have to expend it or store it.