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Is Fish Considered a Type of Meat?

Anuj Mudaliar Feb 17, 2020
Many Catholics stop eating livestock and poultry, and switch to eating fish during the period of Lent. Besides, there are a significant number of people who are pescetarians (those who consume no animal flesh, except for fish and seafood). So, is fish a meat product or not? Let's find out why some people consider fish as a type of meat, while others don't.

Did You Know?

Lou Groen was a McDonald's franchise owner in a largely Catholic part of Cincinnati. After struggling badly to sell regular burgers on Fridays, he came up with the innovative idea of creating the Filet-O-Fish.
Protein is a very important part of our daily diet. It is needed for the growth and maintenance of muscles, enzymes, and the immune system. However, most protein-rich foods such as nuts, eggs, cheese, etc., contain a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol. In such a situation, fish is a much healthier option.
Besides, it is also a good alternative to eating poultry or livestock, on religious events such as the lent. A fish-only diet is also widely used as a beginning towards reduction in meat consumption and vegetarianism.
Due to these beliefs, there is a widespread debate as to whether fish is a meat, and whether following a fish diet is a type of vegetarianism. In fact, the debate is based on the various definitions of meat.

Why is Fish Not Considered Meat for Lent?

The Catholic Church's abstinence laws were originally written in Latin by Pope Paul VI, which stated "Abstinentiae lex vetat carne vesei, non autem ovis, lacticiniis et quibuslibet condimentis etiam ex adipe animalium" which translates to 'The laws of abstinence forbid using meat, but not eggs, milk products, or condiments made from animal fat.'
The word carne translates in modern English to any type of animal flesh. However, in old Latin, the word only refers to mammals and birds. Therefore technically, seafood, insects, and reptiles are allowed to be eaten, but poultry and livestock are not.
Another reason why fish is not considered as meat that is forbidden for lent, is the fact that the fast was started to teach humans humility, from the sacrifice of Jesus. In olden times, animal meat was considered to be a rich man's food, which had to be bought from the market, often at high prices.
On the other hand, fish was easily accessible to anyone close to a river, without the need of spending money, making it a common or poor man's meal. During Lent, the affluent people of society, would have to sacrifice animal meat and opt for fish, thereby bringing humility into a person's life.
Besides this, Saint Thomas Aquinas also believed that staying away from animal meat reduced flatulence and lust. It is possible that these beliefs were borrowed from Judaism.
Interestingly, animals such as the beaver, muskrat, and capybara, were considered to belong to the fish family, due to their aquatic homes, including them in the Lent diet. Even as recently as 2010, the Arch Bishop of New-Orleans allowed the consumption of alligators, by saying that it was from the fish family. Now, we will see if fish is classed as meat scientifically, and in culinary arts.

Scientifically Speaking

When trying to find the definition of meat in the dictionary, there are no clear answers. While dictionaries such as Oxford's define meat as 'the edible flesh of animals, especially that of mammals as opposed to that of fish or poultry', others such as Webster's define it as 'the flesh of animals (including fish, birds, and snails) used as food'.
Meanwhile, nutrition scientists are also divided, with some saying that meat only comes from mammals, while others say that only red meat can truly be considered as meat.
In culinary and butchery terms, meat is considered only to come from mammals, and any edible fish or bird comes under a different category. This basic definition is followed by most governments to regulate food items in the country.

Based on Morality

The fact that eating fish meat is eating the flesh of a living animal, is undeniable. For this reason, the classification of pescetarians as vegetarians, is highly debatable. 
Most prominent vegetarian organizations across the world, such as the North American Vegetarian Society agree that while eating only poultry or only fish is a good step towards vegetarianism, such people cannot be considered as vegetarians in the true sense of the term.
Vegetarians may permit themselves to have only dairy products, but vegans take it even further by banning all animal products from their diet.
Dietitians consider fish to be a type of white meat, which although different from red meat, is still classed as meat. Many religions disagree with this. Whether to consider fish as meat and whether to eat it or not is an individual choice.