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Sushi Kanagawa Japan (2013).JPG
Shrimp cocktail lemons lettuce seafood.jpg
Pizza Hot Sardines 02.jpg
Japanese sushi; shrimp cocktail with lettuce; pizza topped with sardines
A diet in which seafood is the only meat
Related Dietary Choices
Related diets
Diet classification table
Comparison of selected special diets (view template)
Plants Dairy Eggs Seafood Poultry All other animals
Pesce-pollotarianism Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Pollotarianism Yes Yes Yes No Yes No
Pescetarianism Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Lacto-ovo vegetarianism Yes Yes Yes No No No
Ovo vegetarianism Yes No Yes No No No
Lacto vegetarianism Yes Yes No No No No
Veganism Yes No No No No No

Pescetarianism /ˌpɛskəˈtɛəriənɪzəm/ (sometimes spelled pescatarianism)[1] is the practice of eating vegetarian foods but still including seafood in one's diet. Around 3% of humans are pescetarian.


"Pescetarian" is a neologism formed as a portmanteau of the Italian word "pesce" ("fish") and the English word "vegetarian".[2] The term was coined in the United States c. 1990.[3][4] The English-language pronunciation of both "pescetarian" and its variant "pescatarian" is /ˌpɛskəˈtɛəriən/ with the same /sk/ sequence present in pescato (Italian: [peˈskaːto]),[5] although pesce is originally pronounced [ˈpeʃʃe] with a /ʃ/ sound. "Pesco-vegetarian" is a synonymous term that is seldom used outside of scholarly literature but it did sometimes appear in other American publications/literature since at least 1980.[6][7]


Early history[edit]

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 not a vegetarian but a pescatarian by today's standards.[8]

In 675, the consumption of livestock and wild animals was banned in Japan by Emperor Tenmu, due to the influence of Buddhism.[9] Subsequently, in the year 737 of the Nara period, the Emperor Seimu approved the eating of fish and shellfish. During the twelve hundred years from the Nara period to the Meiji Restoration in the latter half of the 19th century, Japanese people ate vegetarian-style meals, and on special occasions, seafood was served.[10]

Marcion of Sinope and his followers ate fish but no fowl or red meat.[11] Fish was seen by the Marcionites as a holier kind of food.[12] They consumed bread, fish, honey, milk, and vegetables.[11][13]

The "Hearers" of the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Manichæism lived on a diet of fish, grain, and vegetables.[14] 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".[15]

The Christian dualist Cathars sect did not eat cheese, eggs, the flesh of terrestrial animals, or milk because these are byproducts of sexual intercourse.[16] They believed that animals were carriers of reincarnated souls, and forbade the killing of all animal life apart from fish,[16][17] which they believed were produced by spontaneous generation.[17] Though they were incorrect about spontaneous generation, most fish species aren’t a product of sexual intercourse; they are produced by the female spawning eggs that are fertilized externally, with the male inseminating the eggs after they’re laid.

The Rule of Saint Benedict insisted upon total abstinence of meat from four-footed animals, except in cases of the sick.[18] Benedictine monks thus followed a diet based on vegetables, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, and fish.[19] Paul the Deacon specified that cheese, eggs, and fish were part of a monk's ordinary diet.[19] Benedictine monk Walafrid Strabo commented, "Some salt, bread, leeks, fish and wine; that is our menu."[20]

The Carthusians followed a strict diet that consisted of fish, cheese, eggs, and vegetables, with only bread and water on Fridays.[18]

In the 13th century, Cistercian monks consumed fish and eggs.[21] Ponds were created for fish farming.[21] From the early 14th century, Benedictine and Cistercian monks no longer abstained from consuming meat of four-footed animals.[21][22] 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.[22]

Jerome recommended an ascetic diet of fish, legumes, and vegetables.[23] Peter the Hermit, a key figure during the First Crusade, was described by an eyewitness as having lived on diet of fish and wine.[24]

The anchorites of England ate a pescetarian diet of fish seasoned with apples and herbs, bean or pea soup and milk, butter and oil.[25][26]

19th century to present[edit]

Pescetarians, alongside vegans and vegetarians, were described as people practicing similar dietary principles as those of the Vegetarian Society in 1884.[27][28] 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.[29] Eventually in the 1890s Newman himself switched from following a ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet to a pescetarian diet, with the rationale that fish; do not waste land space, are plentiful due to high reproduction rates, do not care for their young and have no parental feelings to violate and can be captured and slaughtered in ways that inflict minimal pain.[30]

In 2016, Amy Cramer and Lisa McComsey authored the book Seagan Eating which promoted a diet of seaganism, a vegan diet with sustainable seafood added several times a week.[31][32] This diet is distinguished from ordinary pesecetarian diets because it forbids the consumption of dairy and eggs.[33] It became a popular diet trend in 2019 and was supported by the Sea Fish Industry Authority who created a seagan campaign "Think Seagan". Marcus Coleman, chief executive of Seafish, commented that "The health benefits of eating seafood are well documented and coupled with the benefits of a plant-based diet, seaganism presents a sustainable, tasty and flexible diet for people of all ages and stages of life".[34][35]

Trends and demographics[edit]

As of 2020, pescetarianism has been described as a plant-based diet.[36][37] Regular fish consumption and decreased red meat consumption are recognized as dietary practices that may promote health.[38]

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


In 2018, Ipsos MORI reported 73% of people worldwide followed a diet where both meat and non-animal products were regularly consumed, with 14% considered as flexitarians, 5% vegetarians, 3% vegans, and 3% pescetarians.[39] These are similar to the results collected by GlobalData just a year earlier; where 23% of the sample had below average meat consumption, 5% had vegetarian diets, 2% had vegan diets and 3% had pescetarian diets.[40] Globally, pescetarian diets seem to have increased in popularity in the mid-to-late twenty-tens; only 40% of pescetarians surveyed had been adhering to the diet for more than a couple years and another 18% reported adhering to diet for about a year.[39]

United Kingdom[edit]

Seafoods are part of a pescetarian diet.

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.[41][42][43] In Great Britain as of January 2019, women between 18 and 24 years of age were the most likely demographic group to follow a pescetarian diet. In general, men were less interested in pescetarianism, and men 35 years and above were the least likely to adhere to a pescetarian diet pattern.[44]

United States[edit]

No national surveys specifically citing pescetarianism were conducted in the 2000s. However, analysis of small national surveys sponsored by the Vegetarian Resource Group suggest that plausibly up to 2% of adults in the United States were effectively pescetarian in 2000[45] and up to 4% were pescetarian in 2003.[46][47] The VRG polls found that not eating meat was positively associated with living in the west, living in the east, living in large cities, being a woman, and being a young adult. In 2020 YouGov published the results of 2019 research surveying 1,491 Americans. The results showed 9.75% of respondents followed some type of "meatless" diet; 2.26% reported being vegan, 4.91% reported being vegetarian and 2.58% reported being pescetarian.[48] Further analyzing revealed that in this sample being a pescetarian was positively associated with female sex, leftwing political support, diet longevity and higher education.[49]


Trends in pescetarianism have not been thoroughly studied in Canada; but in recent years there has been increased interest in its prevalence. A 2019 survey found that prevalences of veganism, vegetarianism and pescetarianism were 2%, 5% and 3% respectively.[50] In January 2020 a briefly conducted poll suggested up to 12.2% of adults may follow meatless diets; 4.6% self-identified as vegan, 3.2% as vegetarian and 4.4% as pescetarian. Pollster investigation did reveal limitations in the research. The data collection methods might have skewed the meatless groups higher due to; resolutioners impacting results, probable underrepresentation of older adults and allowing responses based on dietarian identity rather than dietary strictness. Nonetheless, female sex and living in Ontario or British Columbia was positively associated with pescetarianism. Male sex and living in the Prairies or the Atlantic was negatively associated.[51]

Other regions[edit]

In 2018, one survey found that people in Africa and the Middle East had a high incidence pescetarian diets (5%) when compared to other areas of the world.[39] In Europe, the incidence of pescetarianism varied by country, according to a 2020 survey documenting the dietary practices of residents in seven European nations: on average, pescetarianism was about 3% of the EU population, with slightly higher incidence in Germany and Belgium.[52]

Motivations and rationale[edit]

Sustainability and environmental concerns[edit]

It is common for all kinds of meat-abstainers to participate in the “green movement” and be conscientious about global food sustainability and environmentalism;[53] switching to a pescetarian dietary pattern can potentially positively effect both.[54][53] People may adopt a pescetarian diet out of desire to lower their dietary carbon footprint.[55][56] A 2014 lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions estimated that a pescetarian diet would provide a 45% reduction in emissions compared to an omnivorous diet.[57][58] Research on the diets of over 55,000 UK residents found that meat-eaters had dietary greenhouse gas emissions that were about 50% higher than pescetarians.[59] Compared to an omnivorous diet, pescetarian diets also had 64% less environmental impact overall when the amount GHG emissions, land use & cumulative energy demand were assessed together.[60] Similarly, a Japanese study found that various diet changes could successfully reduce the Japanese food-nitrogen footprint, particularly by adopting a pescetarian diet which may reduce the impact on nitrogen.[61] Additionally, water conservation may be a motivator; a multinational study found that switching a conventional diet for a balanced pescetarian diet could reduce dietary water footprint by 33% to 55%.[62]

Health concerns[edit]

A common reason for adoption of pescetarianism may be health-related, such as fish and plant food consumption as part of the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with lowered risk of cardiovascular diseases.[63][64] Growing health consciousness has been identified as likely reason for the increasing interest in pescetarianism in western nations; “We have seen that [these] health-conscious people describe their diets as being mostly plant-based, with adding fish and shellfish a couple of times a week,” said Linda Cornish, executive director of Seafood Nutrition Partnership.[65] American surveys have found that health consciousness along with weight management remains the primary motive (39% prevalence) among meat-abstainers.[49] Pescetarians had the highest percentage of respondents who cited health consciousness as their main motivation for meat-abstention when compared separately from vegetarians and vegans.[66] Pescetarian diets are under preliminary research for their potential to affect diabetes,[67] long-term weight gain,[68] and all-cause mortality.[69]

Animal welfare concerns[edit]

Pescetarianism may be perceived as a more ethical choice because fish and shellfish may not feel pain and fear as more complex animals like mammals do,[70][71] an ongoing debate.[72][73] American surveys have found that the second most popular motive of meat-abstainers (29%) is concerns regarding agricultural animal welfare; this motivation is especially popular with younger vegetarians, vegans & pescatarians.[49]

Some pescetarians may regard their diet as a transition to vegetarianism, while others may consider it an ethical compromise,[74] often as a practical necessity to obtain nutrients absent or not easily found in plants.[75]

Other considerations[edit]

Concerns have been raised about consuming some fish varieties containing toxins such as mercury and PCBs,[76] although it is possible to select fish that contain little or no mercury and moderate the consumption of mercury-containing fish.[77]

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.[78] Anthonian fasting[79] has been considered a pescetarian-like variant of Orthodox fasting as poultry and red meat are restricted throughout the year but fish, eggs, oils, dairy and wine are allowed most days.[80][81]


Pescetarianism (provided the fish is ruled kosher) conforms to Jewish dietary laws. Fish (and all other animal seafood) must have fins and scales to be considered kosher. Aquatic mammals such as 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. The lack of fins and scales also makes crustaceans (shrimp, crab, lobster, etc.) and molluscs (oyster, clam, conch, octopus, squid, etc.) non-kosher. Roe, such as caviar, is considered kosher if it comes from a kosher fish.[82][83] A pescetarian diet simplifies adherence to the Judaic separation of meat and dairy products, as kosher fish is "pareve"—neither "milk" nor "meat".[84] 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.[85]


Some Hindus by choice follow a strict lacto-vegetarian diet. However, there are Hindus who consume fish. They are from coastal south-western India.[86] This community regards seafood in general as "vegetables from the sea", and refrains from eating land-based animals. Other Hindus who consume seafood are ones from Bengal and other coastal areas.[87] In Bengal, Hindus consume fish and are known to cook it daily.[88]


The expression of Ital eating can vary from Rasta to Rasta but a general principle is that food should be natural or pure, and from the earth.[89] Though the Rastafari are generally associated with avid vegetarianism and veganism a large minority of adherents do deem certain kinds[90] of fish to be an acceptable exception in the I-tal diet. Rastafari who permit fish will avoid eating all kinds shellfish as they are considered to be “unclean” scavengers[91][92] a belief that stems from biblical teachings.[93]

See also[edit]


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