This blog post includes data from research into seven UK-based reduction and vegan campaigns, drawing on the largest sample of meat reducers, pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans in any research project to date (n=1,587). Research was conducted for my PhD in Social Policy at the University of Kent, using a mixed-methods, longitudinal approach. 

Just what is meat? To many people, meat is the flesh of land animals — specifically cows, pigs, chickens, goats, turkeys, lambs, and maybe a few others like duck or pheasant. To some, meat is “red” and comes from cows, maybe pigs. This assumption allows cow meat to have other names, such as steak or beef, while the flesh of dogs must be named by its meat-ness (i.e. “dog meat.”)

And then there is fish. Fish is not only one of the last animal foods people tend to reduce, it was also one of the most likely for people to eat MORE of. Yikes! In particular, those most motivated by health or the environment were more likely to increase their consumption of fish.

Many people do not think of the flesh of fish as meat. It is perhaps then unsurprising that researchers in the past have found that fish consumption is commonly considered a component of a vegetarian diet. [1] In my own research I found that many self-described vegetarians consumed fish.

Those who reported a pescatarian diet also consumed the most fish of any group, on average. This raises potential concerns that those continuing to consume fish may maintain omnivorously normative meal constructs — e.g. “a meat and two veg,” simply replacing the “meat” with fish (meat). In this way, pescatarians may not only consume more fish but may fail to embrace new ways of eating and new veg*n norms by maintaining familiar meal constructs. A meal without fish (or other meat) may feel less adaquate or healthy, perhaps raising (unecessary) concerns about getting enough protein.

We need to pay more attention to fish. It is not enough to talk about meat, because to many people fish isn’t meat. And, in fact, getting people to eat less fish may just be amongst the most urgent causes for a) animal advocates; (b) environmentalists; and (c) nutritionists. Why? (a) TRILLIONS of animals who have proven beyond any reasonable doubt to experience complex emotions and suffer; (b) fishless oceans and all other kinds of horrors, like a whale dying from gastric shock filled with 40 kg (88lb) of plastic; and (c) toxic levels of mercury and pollutants.[2] Oh, and did I mention… Omega 3 isn’t produced from fish (it’s actually from algae).

Make sure to check out the full report for more information: Meat Reduction and Vegan Promotion.

[1] Beardsworth and Keil 1992; Mullee et al.2017.

[2] A wide variety of fresh- and saltwater aquatic foods across the globe have been found to be highly contaminated with mercury, pesticides, dioxins and other harmful substances (Clement 2012). Research suggests on average fish and seafood pollutant levels exceeding maximum exposure levels for cancer risk, such that the consumption of these foods is linked to higher blood concentrations of these harmful contaminants, (Arisawa et al. 2003; Bayen et al. 2005). In 2015, researchers found that five of six tested estuaries and freshwater sites across Europe had mercury levels above European standards and that levels were continuing to increase in 60 percent of these sites (Nguetseng et al.). The consumption of mercury and other pollutants found in seafood has also been linked to cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, as well as all-cause mortality (Salonen et al. 1995; Virtanen et al. 2005).

Sources cited:

Arisawa K, Matsumura T, Tohyama C, et al. (2003) Fish intake, plasma ω- 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and polychlorinated dibenzo- p -dioxins/polychlorinated dibenzo-furans and co-planar polychlorinated biphenyls in the blood of the Japanese population. International archives of occupational and environmental health 76(3): 205–215.

Bayen S, Koroleva E, Lee HK, et al. (2005) Persistent Organic Pollutants and Heavy Metals in Typical Seafoods Consumed in Singapore. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A; Current Issues 68(3): 151–166.

Beardsworth, A. and Keil, T. (1992). The vegetarian option: varieties, conversions, motives and careers. The Sociological Review40:253–293.

Clement BR (2012) Killer Fish: How Eating Aquatic Life Endangers Your Health. Summertown, TN: Hippocrates Publications.

Mullee, A. et al. (2017). Vegetarianism and meat consumption: A comparison of attitudes and beliefs between vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and omnivorous subjects in Belgium. Appetite114:299–305.

Nguetseng R, Fliedner A, Knopf B, et al. (2015) Retrospective monitoring of mercury in fish from selected European freshwater and estuary sites. Chemosphere 134: 427–434.

Salonen JT, Seppänen K, Nyyssönen K, et al. (1995) Intake of mercury from fish, lipid peroxidation, and the risk of myocardial infarction and coronary, cardiovascular, and any death in eastern Finnish men. Circulation 91(3): 645. Virtanen JK, Voutilainen S, Rissanen TH, et al. (2005) Mercury, fish oils, and risk of acute coronary events and cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality in men in Eastern Finland. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 25(1): 228–233.

One thought on “Fish is (not) a vegetarian food

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s