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Japanese sushi; shrimp cocktail with lettuce; pizza topped with sardines
A diet in which seafood is the only meat[1]
Related Dietary Choices
Associated and similar diets
Diet(Nutrition)#Diet classification table

Pescetarianism, or pescatarianism,[2] (/ˌpɛskəˈtɛəriənɪzəm/) is the practice of adhering to a diet that incorporates seafood as the only source of meat in an otherwise vegetarian diet.[1]


Pescetarian is a neologism formed as a portmanteau of the Italian word pesce ('fish') and the English word vegetarian.[1] The English pronunciation of both pescetarian and its variant pescatarian is /ˌpɛskəˈtɛəriən/, with the same /sk/ sequence present in pescato (Italian: [peˈskaːto]),[3] although pesce is originally pronounced [ˈpeʃʃe], with a /ʃ/ sound.


The first vegetarians in written western history were the Pythagoreans, a title derived from the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, creator of the Pythagorean theorem. Though Pythagoras loaned his name to the meatless diet, some suspect he may have eaten fish as well, which would have made him a not a vegetarian, but a pescatarian by today's standards.[4]

Marcion of Sinope and his followers ate fish but no fowl or red meat.[5] Fish was seen by the Marcionites as a holier kind of food.[6] They consumed bread, fish, honey, milk, and vegetables.[5][7]

The "Hearers" of the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Manichæism lived on a diet of fish, grain, and vegetables.[8] Consumption of land animals was forbidden, based on the Manichaean belief that "fish, being born in and of the waters, and without any sexual connexion on the part of other fishes, are free from the taint which pollutes all animals".[9]

The Christian dualist Cathars sect did not eat cheese, eggs, meat, or milk because these are byproducts of sexual intercourse.[10] They believed that animals were carriers of reincarnated souls, and forbade the killing of all animal life apart from fish,[10][11] which they believed were produced by spontaneous generation.[11]

The Rule of Saint Benedict insisted upon total abstinence of meat from four-footed animals, except in cases of the sick.[12] Benedictine monks thus followed a diet based on vegetables, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, and fish.[13] Paul the Deacon specified that cheese, eggs, and fish were part of a monk's ordinary diet.[13] Benedictine monk Walafrid Strabo commented, "Some salt, bread, leeks, fish and wine; that is our menu."[14]

The Carthusians followed a strict diet that consisted of fish, cheese, eggs, and vegetables, with only bread and water on Fridays.[12]

In the 13th century, Cistercian monks consumed fish and eggs.[15] Ponds were created for fish farming.[15] From the early 14th century, Benedictine and Cistercian monks no longer abstained from consuming meat of four-footed animals.[15][16] In 1336, Pope Benedict XII permitted monks to eat meat four days a week outside of the fast season if it was not served in the refectory.[16]

Jerome recommended an ascetic diet of fish, legumes, and vegetables.[17] Peter the Hermit, a key figure during the First Crusade, was described by an eyewitness as having lived on diet of fish and wine.[18]

The anchorites of England ate a pescetarian diet of fish seasoned with apples and herbs, bean or pea soup and milk, butter and oil.[19][20]

Pescetarians, alongside vegans and vegetarians, were described as people practicing similar dietary principles as those of the Vegetarian Society in 1884.[21][22] Francis William Newman, who was President of the Vegetarian Society from 1873 to 1883, made an associate membership possible for people who were not completely vegetarian like pescetarians.[23]


Plant foods, such as fresh produce, make up most of a pescetarian diet.
Seafoods are part of a pescetarian diet.

In 2018, Ipsos MORI reported 73% of people followed a conventional pattern diet where both meat and non-animal products were regularly consumed, with 14% considered as flexitarians, 5% vegetarians, 3% vegans, and 3% pescetarians.[24] A 2018 poll of 2,000 United Kingdom adults found that 12% of adults adhered to a meat-free diet, with 2% vegan, 6–7% ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and 4% pescetarian.[25]

As a plant-based diet, pescetarianism is similar to many traditional diets emphasizing plant foods as well as seafood.[26][27] Regular fish consumption and decreased red meat consumption are recognized as dietary practices that may promote health.[28][29]

Motivations and rationale[edit]

Sustainability and environmental concerns[edit]

Ecological sustainability and food security are growing concerns. Livestock is the world’s largest user of land, representing some 80% of total agricultural land. Beef consumption is 24% of the world's total intake of meat, but accounts for less than 2% of calories consumed worldwide.[30] The environmental impact and amount of energy needed to feed livestock greatly exceeds its nutritional value.[31][32] People may adopt a pescetarian diet out of desire to lower their dietary carbon footprint.[33][34]

Some pescetarians may regard their diet as a transition to vegetarianism, while others may consider it an ethical compromise,[35] often as a practical necessity to obtain nutrients absent or not easily found in plants.[36] Pescetarianism may be perceived as a more ethical choice because fish and other seafood may not associate pain and fear as more complex animals like mammals do.[37][38]


A common reason for adoption of pescetarianism is perceived health, such as fish consumption increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids which are associated with reduced risk of cerebrovascular disease.[39] Fish and plant food consumption are parts of the Mediterranean diet which is associated with lowered risk of cardiovascular diseases.[40] In one review, pescetarians had relatively low all-cause mortality among dietary groups.[41]

Other considerations[edit]

Concerns have been raised about consuming some fish varieties containing toxins such as mercury and PCBs,[42] although it is possible to select fish that contain little or no mercury and moderate the consumption of mercury-containing fish.[43]

Abstinence in religion[edit]


In both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, pescetarianism is referred to as a form of abstinence. During fast periods, Eastern Orthodox and Catholics often abstain from meat, dairy, and fish, but on holidays that occur on fast days (for example, 15 August on a Wednesday or Friday), fish is allowed, while meat and dairy remain forbidden.[44]


Pescetarianism (provided the fish is ruled kosher) conforms to Jewish dietary laws, as kosher fish is "pareve"—neither "milk" nor "meat". In essence, aquatic animals such as mammals like dolphins and whales are not kosher, nor are cartilaginous fish such as sharks and rays, since they all have dermal denticles and not bony-fish scales.[citation needed] In 2015, members of the Liberal Judaism synagogue in Manchester founded The Pescetarian Society, citing pescetarianism as originally a Jewish diet, and pescetarianism as a form of vegetarianism.[45]


By tradition, most Hindu Brahmin communities follow a strict lacto-vegetarian diet. However, there are Brahmin sub-groups allowing the consumption of fish, such as the Goud Saraswat Brahmin community of coastal south-western India.[46] This community regards seafood in general as "vegetables from the sea", and refrains from eating land-based animals. Other Hindu Brahmin communities who consume seafood are the Maithili Brahmin, Viswa Brahmin, and the Bengali Brahmin.[47] The Bengali Brahmins consume fish and are known to cook it daily.[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Definition of Pescatarian by Merriam-Webster". Merriam-Webster.
  2. ^ Luna, Taryn (1 July 2015). "Legal Sea Foods launches 'Pescatarianism' ad campaign". The Boston Globe.
  3. ^ "Pescato: significato e definizione". la Repubblica.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b May, Gerhard; Greschat, Katharina. (2013). Marcion und seine kirchengeschichtliche Wirkung / Marcion and His Impact on Church History. De Gruyter. pp. 213-216. ISBN 978-3110175998
  6. ^ Fontaine, Petrus Franciscus Maria. (1994). Gnostic Dualism in Asia Minor During the First Centuries, A.D. II. Brill Academic Publishing. p. 84. ISBN 978-90-50-63346-8
  7. ^ Tyson, Joseph B. (2006). Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle. University of South Carolina Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-57003-650-7
  8. ^ Spencer, Colin. (2002). Vegetarianism: A History. Four Walls Eight Windows. pp. 135–136. ISBN 1-56858-238-2
  9. ^ "Asceticism". Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911.
  10. ^ a b Preece, Rod. (2008). Sins of the Flesh: A History of Ethical Vegetarian Thought. UBC Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-7748-15093
  11. ^ a b Johnston, William M. (2000). Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. p. 252. ISBN 978-1-57958-090-2
  12. ^ a b Keevill, Graham; Aston, Mick; Hall, Teresa. (2017). Monastic Archaeology. Oxbow Books. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-78570-567-0
  13. ^ a b Butler, Edward Cuthbert. (1919). Benedictine Monachism: Studies in Benedictine Life and Rule. London: Longmans, Green. p. 44
  14. ^ Riché, Pierre. (1978). Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 171. ISBN 0-8122-1096-4
  15. ^ a b c Barber, Bruno. (2004). The Cistercian Abbey of St Mary Stratford Langthorne, Essex. Museum of London Archaeology Service. p. 158. ISBN 978-1901992380
  16. ^ a b Kerr, Julie. (2006). Life in the Medieval Cloister. Continuum. pp. 48-50. ISBN 978-1847251619
  17. ^ Shaw, Teresa M. (1998). The Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity. Fortress Press. p. 112. ISBN 0-8006-2765-2
  18. ^ Claster, Jill N. (2009). Sacred Violence: The European Crusades to the Middle East, 1095-1396. University of Toronto Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-4426-0058-4
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  21. ^ "International Health Exhibition". The Medical Times and Gazette. 24 May 1884. Retrieved 18 May 2019. There are two kinds of Vegetarians—one an extreme form, the members of which eat no animal food whatever; and a less extreme sect, who do not object to eggs, milk, or fish. The Vegetarian Society ... belongs to the latter more moderate division
  22. ^ Yeh, Hsin-Yi. (2013). "Boundaries, Entities, and Modern Vegetarianism: Examining the Emergence of the First Vegetarian Organization". Qualitative Inquiry. 19: 298–309. Moreover, at the early phase of vegetarianism, while some adherents avoided eating flesh of land animals and birds, they ate fish (Newman, 1874)
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  42. ^ Committee on the Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury, Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, National Research Council, Council, National Research; Studies, Division on Earth Life; Sciences, Commission on Life; Toxicology, Board on Environmental Studies and; Methylmercury, Committee on the Toxicological Effects of (2000). Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury. ISBN 978-0-309-07140-6.
  43. ^ "Experts Say Consumers Can Eat Around Toxins In Fish". ScienceDaily. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  44. ^ "The Fasting Rule of the Orthodox Church".
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