While reading a thread on cooking, an old question popped into my head: I am an Asian and had no problems with dishes with both meat and “fish.” But some of my elder German friends say that meat and “fish” don't fit.

Why is fish not considered as meat? And what kind of species are considered as "fish"?

Some thoughts about that:

When I was a child, I thought every creature that has muscle tissue has meat. Fish (these animals that swim in the water and have fins like Nemo or your goldfish) included.

A friend of mine calls herself a vegetarian. I thought a vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat or more explicit: Someone who avoid dishes that contain parts of something that has a central nervous system or called "animal." But she eats fish. Another case: On Good Friday (or Friday in general?!) some Christians in Germany (or anywhere else) eat "vegetarian" food - but including fish.

Then I heard about the biblical story: God hated the humans but liked Noah, Noah built an arch, rescued himself, his family and some animals and God made it rain until everything drowned. The only species that didn't drown... fish. So I thought fish were the holy animal since the Protestants had a fish as a symbol (aside from the cross).

And what about shrimps, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, squids, clams, crustaceans (I avoid to use “shellfish” ;D), …? They are also called “fish.” I don’t think that the bible would refer to these kinds of … fish. The texture of these compared to real fish is completely different.

After some googling, I found some “nutrition scientists” in a forum who claim that fish are no mammals and therefore have no “meat.” But then I would conclude that poultry and reptiles would neither have “meat.” Other claimed “scientists,” say that only animals with red meat would have meat. No, then whale meat, tuna meat, duck meat, and beef would exist but no chicken meat, turkey, pork, ...

A mutual property of real fish, shrimps, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, squids, clams, crustaceans is the ability to stay for some time in the water (sea, lake, river or pool) and the ability to reproduce themselves by laying (?) eggs. What about sea snakes, jellyfishes, lungfish, whales, dolphins, seals, frogs, turtles and other animals which go for some time from water into land and vice versa?

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    For the record, fish is not vegetarian; in the sense that there's a commonly accepted definition which includes not eating fish. Many people consider themselves to be vegetarian and eat fish, which is fair enough but the word is being misused and causes confusion. vegsoc.org/fish#.VA3U4fldVCM
    – Niall
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 16:09
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    The Good Friday thing isn't "eat vegetarian" but "don't eat beef or pork because those were historically decadent, expensive foods and therefore inappropriate for a somber mourning occasion". It has nothing to do with Noah and the flood or with the symbol of Jesus as a fish from my understanding. Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 16:52
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    The word for a vegetarian diet with the addition of seafood is pescetarian, to attempt to clear that up. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pescetarianism
    – Tablesalt
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 17:13
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    I'm not sure this question is actually on-topic for this site: clearly, from a culinary point of view, fish is considered to be meat. It's only from various cultural and religious points of view that fish are seen as some sort of exception to the "flesh of animals" definition.
    – Marti
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 18:03
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    You're completely confused. Our work here is done.
    – gbarry
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 20:38

7 Answers 7


I suspect that this is a question that it's impossible to give a definitive answer for.

In reality it's probably a mixture of religion, culture and confusion.

I reckon that in most cases that it boils down to "Fish isn't a meat because when I was growing up I was told it's not a meat", or something like that.

In terms of etymology, "meat" originally just meant "food" and as such could be used for food of any kind. This carries over to some extent in modern usage - we sometimes talk about meat of a fruit/vegetable to describe the inside of it, coconut for example.

Personally I use meat to describe animal flesh regardless of the origin, I don't view the meat/fish deviation as being one that is either meaningful nor useful.

RE: fish and vegetarianism,

Fish isn't vegetarian.

Phew, glad we could clear that up.

enter image description here There's an accepted meaning for the word and it excludes the eating of fish. There are a lot of people who eat fish and are otherwise vegetarian*, which is perfectly fine, but it's a misuse of the word. At the end of the day we all eat what we're comfortable eating, but it can be difficult grouping that many variations. This confuses others and in the end leads to inconvenience to vegetarians.

Oh language...

*Although this probably isn't true. If you're eating fish than it's obviously not on moral grounds so you're less likely to exclude animal products in some of the more obscure places, like may be in wines, cheeses, or indeed any processed goods.

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    Vegetarians can eat wine, cheese, et cetera; they don't eat flesh of animals but do often eat animal by-products. You're thinking of Vegans, who don't eat anything that comes from animals at all. Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 16:51
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    @Yamikuronue: It's not just eating animal products. Some won't wear leather shoes.
    – sbi
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 18:14
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    There are a lot of different takes on 'vegetarian'. You're assuming that your definition holds true for all people, but it doesn't. We've since coined terms for the various types of vegetarians (eg, pescetarian in this case, ovo-lacto for those who eat eggs & dairy), but the general category of 'non-meat eaters' is considered by most people to be 'vegetarian', even though it's a rather fuzzy grouping. (the ovo-lacto-pescetarian in the office next door even calls herself a 'vegetarian')
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 20:02
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    @Joe: I didn't mean what I said to assume that. We all use words in different ways but in spite of this accepted definition of the word vegetarian - vegsoc.org/definition. I might be perfectly happy to call myself a unicorn but this doesn't change what the word means. For the scope of this site (ie. not getting into a debate about semantics and how they change over time) I think it's reasonable to say that there's authorities on the matter which have a definition and we should accept what they say.
    – Niall
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 21:48
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    @Niall : They even couch their answer ... "The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as: ...", which is effectively saying that there's more than one possible definition. They define vegan as a subset of vegetarianism, but I've heard arguments that cruelty-free meat (ie, roadkill from wild animals) is acceptable to some vegans, as they'd prefer it to not be wasted.
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 22:33

This likely doesn't answer the main question in the title, but in the body of the question, you mention:

A friend of mine calls herself a vegetarian. I thought a vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat or more explicit: Someone who avoid dishes that contain parts of something that has central nervous system or called "animal". But she eats fish.

I read something recently (might've been a blog, might've been some online publication), explaining why the person called themselves a vegetarian and yet would eat fish:

  • Because it was easier than explaining all of their can/can't eat items.

Many people aren't familiar with the term 'pescatarian', and if someone invites you to a dinner party, it's easier to just say 'I'm a vegetarian' than 'I'm a lacto-ovo pescetarian' and have to take the time explaining what it means. If they prepare vegetarian food, you can eat it ... they don't need to know the whole ontology of different types of vegetarianism.


People were eating fish as "non meat" long before the vegetarian society was ever formed. Religion, particularly Christianity, was just as influenced by this cultural "error". In fact, in Japan where Christianity was not introduced until the mid 1500's, fish was already considered non meat by the dominant religions of Japan, zen Buddhism and Shintoism. Up to this day, fish and seas food are still considered "non meat" by many cultures.Hope this helps

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    Well before Christianity, Jews considered fish to be 'not meat' as well. (to keep Kosher, the two can't be eaten together)
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 13:54
  • Your answer supposes that the vegetarian society would consider fish vegetarian; they would disagree quite strongly. vegsoc.org/fish#.VA3U4fldVCM
    – Niall
    Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 16:10
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    Who said anything about the "vegetarian society"? And what, if any, is their claim to authority on that question? I'm pretty sure Buddhism predates the "vegetarian society" by many centuries (possibly millenia).
    – Aaronut
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 8:04
  • @Aaronut I'm not sure you who you're addressing, but it was danidee in his answer above that first mentioned the Vegetarian Society. My reading of his answer is that he was presaging Niall's use of this organization's definition of the word they popularized and preemptively rejecting it. (And not all supposing that they would consider fish vegetarian.)
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 22:53

Deuteronomy 14:3-20 of the New International Version Bible lists all the animals that are considered 'CLEAN' to eat. So, at least for followers of the bible, fish is good and shrimp is bad because God said so. I've heard one of the reasons fish is allowed on Fridays in Lent is because fish do not receive the breathe of life through their nostrils, meaning they are not considered living animals. Other cultures could have similar ideas. About the vegetarian thing, my grandmother is a vegetarian that will eat fish, poultry, beef and a little pork. I think everybody comes up with their own rules regarding their diet

  • Perhaps your MIL should brush up on her definintion of "vegetarian"? There is a newly coined term "flexitarian" describing people who eat meat only occasionally while most of the time eating like a vegetarian.
    – Stephie
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 7:47
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    Actually the abstinence from meats doctrine in he Catholic church was written in Latin, and referred to as "carnis." This specifically refers to warm blooded animals, which is why fish is considered OK.
    – Sean Hart
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 13:07
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    @SeanHart Maybe you should flesh that out as an answer (pun intended)... I know this already has an accepted answer but (personally) I think this is better.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 18:00

At one time various Christian sects regarded fasting as not eating animal meat. In order to find a work-around and still eat animal protein, these sects came up with an artificially convenient re-definition of meat. This new definition, stated fish and meat were separate entities, this way they could fast and still eat fish.

  • Hello and welcome to the site! Just a small remark: We are no fleeting chat forum where we type "full speed ahead and grammar be d*ned", we tend to keep the questions and answers for future reference - these SE sites evolve into knowledge bases. To make reading easier, we ask our dear contributers to try and use proper spelling and grammar, at least to their best abilities. No one will berate you for the occasional glitch (least of all me, the queen of typos!), but we expect you to try... With some luck, other members will catch the leftover typos ^_^ Thanks for your participation!
    – Stephie
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 18:24
  • Not just grammar, but is your space bar broken?
    – Doug
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 18:37
  • It's even more messed up than that : blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/…
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 3:42

I believe that fish is meat. Fish is meat because it is an animal. If you disagree then go ahead and put fish into a different food group. Can't do it can you? Fish doesn't fit in any other food group besides meat because it is an animal. Therefore, fish is meat!

The actual definition of the word meat is "animal flesh," according to Google. Fish is meat.


Its simple. Meat is just another word for muscle. And a person that eats fish is not a vegeterian. The person is just a meat eater that only eats fish meat.

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    So liver is not meat?
    – Mien
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 8:15
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    As you can see in the other answers, there is no single definition of "meat". It is a cultural category, independent of any biological category (such as muscle) and so the understanding of it varies. But after years of communicating with people of different cultures, and reading lots of cooking-related resources, I can say that your opinion here is very much a minority opinion, and if you try to communicate with people based on it, you will end up with many misunderstandings.
    – rumtscho
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 8:36

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