Breaking News: If you eat Fish, you aren’t Vegetarian.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Mar 20, 2010
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Pescetarian? Fish are Animals, Too.

From the Shouldn’t Have to Say it Department:

Every so often, I go out to some restaurant and they start telling me the specials and, by way of saving us all some time, I offer that “I’m vegetarian.” Almost invariably, the waiter asks,

“Do you eat fish.”

“No,” I say. “I’m vegetarian.”

“Some vegetarians eat fish,” the waiter helpfully points out.

Look: eat your mercury-laden “healthy” fish if you want to, folks, and if you do use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s free iPhone app or printable guide to what kinds of fish aren’t so overfished that, in eating said fish you won’t be depriving your own grandchildren of ever getting to eat said fish.

But don’t call yourself vegetarian if, for pleasure, you kill and eat sentient beings.



About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


59 Responses to “Breaking News: If you eat Fish, you aren’t Vegetarian.”

  1. Gary Smith says:

    Well said, Waylon. It has to be tough on waiters since so many people label themselves vegetarian and eat fish or chicken. That is why I say I don't eat animals or their secretions. It is very clear, plus it make the issue of eating animals real. Much really than saying I'm a vegan. Question: do you consider your vegetarianism a diet or lifestyle?

  2. Todd Mayville and 3 others like this.

    Andrew Wilkinson
    pescatarian? isnt it

    Darrin Buehler
    It is interesting that someone may want to say "I am a vegetarian, except that I eat…(enter fish or poultry or some reasonable fascimile thereof, here)". This should not be a shame-based nor ego-stroking choice. It is an empowered choice that benefits others and requires no self-glory.

    Debbie Duncan
    THANK YOU!!!
    about an hour ago · · Report

    Lindsay Young
    it also stems from a long church tradition of not eating "meat on fridays" — but fish was allowed… hence… well you get the idea.

    Guler Ozgenc
    yeah! you may call yourself fishetarian though!

    Jeremy Rosenshine
    or just fish, since you are what you eat — I'm glad I'm not a ham sandwhich

    Todd Mayville
    I've often thought the same thing about those who eat eggs.

    Saffra L. Milano
    Good point, Todd! Is someone a vegetarian if they are eating chicken embryos? And most cheese is not vegetarian, it has animal rennet in it…….unless otherwise stated. They do make vegetarian cheeses though.

    Gary Smith
    A lot of cheese is vegetarian, unfortunately that does not mean they are cruelty free. Vegetarians clearly are compassionate, otherwise they'd continue eating flesh. Most don't know about the cruelty and environmental impact that dairy and eggs create.

    Trish Taylor
    My objection to eating flesh is not based on compassion, although I think of my self as compassionate. It's based on the fact that most meat is filled with antibiotics and hormones, and the fact that more food per acre can be produced by raising plant crops than by raising animals.

    Buying locally grown milk products and eggs takes care of the worry of contributing to animal abuse.

  3. Personally, it started out as an eco-responsible thing. Also, I figured I once I was fully grown, I didn't "need" to eat meat. The more I learn about it, the more it seems like a healthy thing to avoid eating meat and fish, as well as of course more compassionate.

    That said, I think if folks eat local, know where their meat or fish is coming from, that's far more resonsible and ethical, too. Factory farms are a crime against not only animals, but humanity. And farmed fish is a (sad) joke—we're dieing our fish pink so that they won't look gray, which is how fish raised in their own excrement look.

  4. […] If you eat Fish, you aren’t Vegetarian. | elephant journal […]

  5. Gary Smith says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Waylon. My concern as an advocate for animals is that there is a lot of animal washing (what is the appropriate term for green washing when it comes to animal advocacy?). If people are under the impression that the moral baseline is to eat animals and dairy from local farmers, then they will never move to a vegetarian and vegan diet. Whether you eat meat from a local farmer or factory farm, the animals all go to the same horrendous place to be slaughtered. Eating animals is purely for pleasure, not for dietary need. My desire as a vegan and advocate is to relieve the suffering of animals. If eating "happy meat" is a step, then I am all for it. Most people describe it as the moral baseline. I believe that a vegan diet is the moral baseline. Thanks again for the thougtful discussion.

  6. Anne says:

    "Our tooth structure alone is proof that we are omnivores. Enough with the bleeding hearts already. "
    thank you!

  7. Alyssa Reese says:

    This post is whiney snobbery. The vegetarian movement represents a wide array of dietary choices that are spawned by an equally wide array of reasoning. Its power comes not from having a strict definition, but having a loose definition so every person who wants to can adopt the parts of it that they feel fit with their morality and lifestyle. Stop trying to cram the word 'vegetarian' into your own personal definition, get off your soap box and take the two extra seconds to be considerate to the sever and tell them specifically what vegetarian means to you.

  8. Jessica Moore-Irvin
    Fish has almost the same cholesterol as beef and chicken, in the same proportions. (Animal payback)

    Andrew Michael Dieringer
    no bones about it.

  9. Me may be omnivores. Doesn't mean we have to kill. We have huge brains, and hearts. It's up to us.

  10. Go nuts. It's all about appreciating what you're eating, sounds like you do.

    FYI, Carl Lewis (you now, Olympics) was a vegan. Plenty of athletes are. I'm 190 pounds and have enough energy to power a coal plant.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Exactly. Besides, plants are alive. I guess you don't mind killing them? And if you don't think they are sentient, well, spend some time in the woods, garden, etc.

  12. Attractive Vegan says:

    LOL! Jsg, based on that diet, it wouldn't surprise me if you yourself are extremely unattractive, and of course no vegetarian would ever be attracted to you. Careful, you may drop dead from consuming all that animal fat. What a damn shame that would be.

  13. Chris D says:

    Right on. Vegetarian means no eating dead animals or products thereof, including dyes made from insects, sugar processed through animal bone char, etc. Pescatarian is not vegetarian just because such folks think so and label themselves as such.

  14. carrielaura says:

    You don't have to be a doink about it.

  15. Alicia says:

    Actually, our tooth structure is not meant to tear meat as that of an omnivore and, our digestive system is like that of an herbivore, not a carnivore. Our intestines are highly convoluted and 12 time the length of our torsos. Omnivores do not have digestive tracts this long.

  16. Darrin Buehler
    It seems when the topic of vegetarianism arises, we tend towards "busting" the vegetarian – either for eating eggs, or having rennet in the cheese. It is a main reason I try to not carry the label in describing myself. I think most vegetarians are trying to have a less negative impact, whether it be for personal, compassionate, spiritual, or … See Moreplanetary values. I think we do everyone a disservice when we try to challenge or provoke, rather than inform and support.
    Not saying this specifically to those above; more of a general observation, over time. Because it often seems we hold anger towards the effort, if we find any gaps in the system.
    Amen, Darrin, worthwhile thoughts and thanks for sharing.

    Jayme Peta
    I agree with Darrin. I take a "harm reduction" stance which is that anyone who is trying to eat even "mostly" vegetarian or who has even gone to every other day is offering something. I'd rather encourage folks to cut back on meat than to say that you're only "good" if you cut it out entirely.

    Kasia Cichonski
    Eggs are NOT chicken embryos unless the eggs have been fertilised….sheesh! And if you are lucky enough to have your own happy clucking little chickens in your backyard go ahead and eat their eggs as the gifts they are from the chicken to you. Peace.

    Gary Smith
    @Trish – How do you define animal abuse? Do you know that cows can only produce milk by being continually pregnant? What happens to their babies? If they are male, they are sold to become veal. Do you know how calves are treated to become veal? If they are female, they are destined to a life of producing milk. Most female cows are sent to a rape rack (industry term) where they are artificially impregnated.

    As to eggs. All males chicks born are either ground up while alive or thrown into the trash. Why? Because they won't grow large enough to become broiler chickens. This happens at local farms and factory farms. The term cage free does not mean that the chickens get to live in the sunshine and function like natural chickens. It only means that they do not live in cages.

    As to environmental concerns, the fact that hens and dairy cows are being fed grains that could go to humans and that their waste contributes to global warming should be enough to get you to give up both. Not to mention the negative impact to ones health….

  17. Monique Osterhout
    okay so now we have to attack each other through these means this is stupid anyone should honor anyone that is doing their part in society to show compassion. Whether that is eating less red meat or choosing not to eat pork or whatever. Yes I am a pescatarian and don't see anything wrong with that so now I have to feel that I am not doing enough … See Morein the community of compassion oh please stop being making yourselves feel better about yourselves because some people don't walk a totally vegetarian path. I suppose if I go totally vegetarian that won't be good enough because I should be vegan, then raw then what???
    Right, feels like vegans often make perfect the enemy of the better. While I believe veganism is in many ways the obvious moral choice, even pescetarianism or vegetarianism is a minority choice for Americans. Let's move the dial, not fight amongst ourselves.

    Gary Smith
    Monique – My activism has nothing to do with myself. This isn't a contest. I don't care if people like me, think I'm cool or think I'm out of mind because I believe that animals should not be used for food, clothing, scientific research or entertainment. Animal rights is the only social justice movement that is not about satisfying ones own group… See More… See More. It is about challenging the stories that the culture and industry tell to sell product and satisfy its desires. It is about education. I ate animals for 24 years. Through educating myself, I learned that cruelty is the consistent theme throughout animal food production. So, I stopped contributing. My post was to point out that the story of local dairy and egg production being free from animal abuse is patently wrong. Would you keep quiet if someone posted something false? I assume you'd speak up. When it comes to animal issues, people are extremely sensitive because the culture has indoctrinated us to believe that animals are here for us to use.

    Kezia Jauron
    I agree with EJ…the only difference between a pescetarian diet and a vegan diet is a few "clicks" of education and awareness. I always try to inspire people to expand their circle of compassion beyond only cute and cuddly animals. Fish feel pain. They have highly organized social institutions. They are smarter than we give them credit for. If someone cared to learn about them, they probably wouldn't want to eat them.

    Gary Smith
    @elephantjournal – What other social justice movement would you be satisfied with incomplete changes? Would you be satisfied with a civil rights bill that allowed African Americans to vote every eight years? Would you be satisfied with a suffrage movement that allowed women the right to vote only for Senate races? Would you be satisfied with a gay rights bill that allowed gay men to marry but not lesbians? I think that most people are willing to sacrifice the rights of animals to be left alone because they don't consider them sentient beings. I understand that this is an extremely progressive position because we live in a culture that does not value the life of animals. We kill 10,000,000 animals each year for food in this country alone. That only accounts for land animals. Over 99% of those animals come from factory farms. Think of the most horrific conditions that an animal can live under. That is what we consider food.

  18. Mary Marks
    Oh yes, I have been a vegetarian for 20 years and vegan on and off through that, and my children are being raised vegetarian. I recently found out that my 4 year old daughter was being given fish for her school lunches, in the form of fish fingers and fish cakes, despite the fact that I wrote in detail on her dietary form that she was vegetarian … See Morewhich means, no meat or fish. When I spoke to the kitchen they said they didn't know as some vegetarians eat fish! I have heard this many times and its exhausting. But now, they are not giving her fish!

    Mary Marks
    I should also say that I wasn't nasty with them, I suppose its a means of educating people who probably don't know. My son and daughter are the only vegetarians in the school, and he brings his own lunch, but because she's still in nursery she's required to have school lunches, but they are trying to cater for her.

    Jessica Parrell
    Funny, I get constantly criticized by carnivores about what constitutes a vegetarian diet, do i really need to hear from you too? How about applauding what efforts people are making and perhaps educating them isntead?

    Anna Kristina
    i think if you have klds they should get to decide what they want to eat. Fish fingers??? YUM!

    Mary Marks
    Well yes they can decide I believe, when they are old enough to understand, like everything we as parents instill in them, our family ethos includes what we eat, and should be respected by others especially when they are young.

    Darrin Buehler
    There are many forms of suffering in this world. If we save more animals, but do it in the form of creating anger, shame and guilt on others, then suffering continues to exist. I hear many big hearts in this thread, and many people striving for clarity on how to make caring decisions. If we have a message we are passionate about, it seems if our … See Moreultimate goal is fostering change, then we are also considering the receivers of our message. The "hit 'em repeatedly over the head until they scream mercy" approach closes me down. Fow what it is worth.

    Melissa Minicozzi
    I am pescatarian (or technically lacto-ovo pescatarian), but I do call myself a vegetarian. Why? Because most people have no idea what a pescatarian means, so it's just easier to say vegetarian.

    Saffra L. Milano
    I agree with what Darrin just said……why are we bashing each other and fighting amongst ourselves? None of us are perfect, nor can we be perfect. But the very fact that we are trying to live more conscious lives is something that we apparently do share……so we could just appreciate that and feel a sense of community with each other.

    Pat Lynn Weston
    @Saffra: You are so right.

    Amy Kelkenberg
    I totally agree with Gary. People who eat meat should feel shame because doing so supports horrifying cruelty to other living beings. Why should it be sugar coated as not to upset anyone – i've seen the videos and cannot justify the unnecessary abuse all for a quick buck to the abusers who only care about money at the cost of our health and … See Moresuffering to countless animals. We are animals too did we forget that – this would be called torture if it was a human living in such conditions. The fact is we do not need meat to live we choose to eat it, the more we eat the sicker we become.
    Please add your comments to the link above, so readers on our site can take part in this great and worthwhile discussion.

  19. Tee says:

    I've been a vegetarian for three years this month. I'm living proof that vegetarians don't have to be skin and bones. I cook delicious, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food that I would love to find in restaurants. I'm a bit overweight, but my cholesterol is so low that even my good cholesterol is too low. I'm active, too, choosing a bike as my only means of transportation, riding several miles almost every day in addition to geocaching frequently and the occasional hike when I can find a willing companion. Even with the exercise, I'm no Twiggy (Kate Moss for you wee babes who don't have an inkling as to who Twiggy is). Being a vegetarian is a lifestyle I've both chosen for myself and advocate for others. Unfortunately, I get a lot of grief from my omnivorous friends and family about the way I choose to eat, even though I'm not a pushy PETA-type. All I ask is that they are both aware of where their food comes from and responsible in making choices that affect the lives of others and the health of the planet. I've recommended "Earthlings" to a few, though I could not watch it completely myself. And personally, I can't understand how anyone knowing the full and absolute truth about where their meat comes from can go to McDonald's and order a hamburger, but it's my choice not to do so. I respect the fact that you have a choice, even if I don't necessarily respect the choice you make. I won't get nasty about it…why should anyone? Out of fear that their right to eat as much meat as they want will be taken away? Is this why drivers appear to be so frustrated with law-abiding bicyclists? In any case, why is a specific label so damn important anyway? I don't eat sentient beings, and I'm aware of exactly where my rarely-consumed dairy and eggs come from (I go to the source). What DOes that me me? Someone who makes conscious, compassionate choices about what I eat. Full stop.

  20. Of course they're sentient. Yes, I am a plant murderer. We do the best we can, not making perfect enemy of good. I do appreciate what I eat—that's why, above, I took care to say that if folks want to eat meat, that's valid and all, just to appreciate what we eat and where it's coming from.

    This isn't an intellectual exercise. This is about sentient lives. Saving a dolphin vs. eating a salad…there are degrees to all this, it's common sense, not black and white. Thanks for playing.

  21. Okay, Alyssa, given that we're friends I'm surprised at the tone of the above. Basically I would argue that, actually, the whole point of the term 'vegetarian' is not to have a particularly wide tent for definitions. It's a vegetable-based diet that avoids killing of animals.

  22. Sorry, Carrie, I fully agree. My post above was meant rather tongue in cheek, perhaps the humor didn't come through the black and white text. As a former waiter and bartender I would never support taking anything out on a waiter or bartender!

  23. Martina says:

    dear waylon,

    you call yourself vegetarian? i guess you still eat eggs and milk… you probably wear wool, silk and leather as well? do you know how many chickens and cows are killed each year outside the meat industry? do you think silk and leather is produced from plants?

    i don’t care if people who eat fish call themselves vegetarian as long as oco-lacto vegetarians do the same. they are just as hypocritical.

    for god’s sake, go vegan! then you don’t have to answer those stupid questions and you will not have to worry about animals being enslaved for your mere pleasure anymore.


  24. Lisa Kaz says:

    what about just being mindful about what goes into and out of your mouth… meat eater or not.

    and give thanks to that which nourishes you.

  25. martina says:

    why don't you go and tear some raw meat before you talk about our tooth structure. maybe there are also other factors that have an impact on your eating behavior? or do you think it is natural to eat all this processed and cooked food you eat. well, guess what. you eat it because of your culture not because of your tooth structure or our digestive tracts. considering your breakfast of choice i guess you migh get the health problems you deserve sooner or later.

  26. Joshua says:

    I love these arguments, so much anger…grrrr….I can't believe you think your right, the nerve! back and forth back and forth….. oy!, people people, everybody just needs to do what they can, nobody should preach about their diet, the only people I've ever converted to a more social/environmentally friendly/ ethical diet….are the ones I said nothing to, the important thing to know is that the less meat/fish/poultry you eat the better off the planet will be for future generations…its that simple…like with all things in life, do what you can…that's all we should ask of anybody….

    two things to note

    1. Mountain Gorillas weigh 800lbs, have huge nasty ass sharp teeth, can bench press your audi a4 and only eat about 142 different plants ( no meat)

    2. I've been a vegetarian for most of my life, I weigh 190 lbs and people have told me that I'm sort of attractive.


    Joshua Scott…..

  27. Alyssa Reese says:

    Yes, we are friends. I do not see one person honestly criticizing another's argument or the tone in which it is written as unfriendly. I respect many of the things that you say and do but I stand behind what I said in this case; you have a great tool here for constructive discussion and I don't personally feel that this article was constructive. That said, if you only want positive responses to your articles than I am certain that you have the ability to delete comments.

  28. Alicia says:

    Actually, our tooth structure is not meant to tear meat as that of an omnivore and, our digestive system is like that of an herbivore, not a carnivore. Our intestines are highly convoluted and 12 times the length of our torsos. Omnivores do not have digestive tracts this long.

  29. boogie down says:

    PS, @JSG your living proof that our brains may be shrinking with our Incisors…read a book holmes…

  30. elephantjournal says:

    Let's keep this respectful, all.

  31. We love dialogue. We don't delete comments unless they're way out of bounds, agro, racist etc. Your comment, on the other hand, was one of the more personally insulting I've seen on this site, to anyone, in months. I don't mind you disagreeing with me at all, as you well know.

  32. Certainly a hot topic for many people Way.
    Wondering if you have had much if not any luck presenting your positions to your Shambhala Community as it appears that the majority of Tibetan Buddhist in the West have adopted the dietary practices of a people living at 10,000 feet… heavy on the flesh.

    I could still make the argument that the individual who is catching and eating fish from his/her local watershed is perhaps practicing a diet more in alignment with non-violence values than someone who is purchasing a veggie burger from Whole Foods with foods prepared from 4 different continents….knowing nothing of the social and ethical conditions of the farmers or how that agricultural land was acquired….nor, ultimately, how many beings were harmed or killed in its creation. (clear cut rainforest for agricultural land)

    It seems that perhaps this either / or argument for a life lived "compassionately" is due to intellectual laziness on our part or perhaps it is more about identity management than it is about Ahimsa.

    Way, although I get your "beef" with people calling themselves vegetarians who perhaps do not deserve that title, if you were seriously to apply argument to anyone who kills and eats sentient beings for pleasure, well I'm afraid that would include yourself as well….Every time we have a meal, sentient life was taken.

    Some pure veggie food for thought.

  33. S21 says:

    Only in the overfed West are we so desperate for identifying labels that we need to define ourselves by what we do or do not eat. Whether you are an omnivore or a vegan, sentient beings die to provide your sustenance.

  34. Jill says:

    Waylon, if you're so vegetarian friendly, why are you a member of this horrible Facebook group that posts disgusting, offensive pictures, "PETA (People for the Eating of Tasty Animals)"?

  35. Jill says:

    I asked this earlier but it seems like my comment disappeared: Waylon, if you're vegetarian friendly, why have you become a fan of the nasty Facebook group "PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals)"?

  36. Jill says:

    Oh, I see my question below.

  37. Anna says:

    Yay! *thumbs up*

  38. Adan says:

    Ok, I'm not a vegetarian. I eat fish a couple of times a year. I've been a mostlly-vegetarian since I was 17. I'm 57 so I'm speaking from a half lifetime of experience here.
    Do you know how much easier it is to say "I'm a vegetarian" than say "No I'm not a vegetarian but I don't eat beef, lamb, chicken, turkey…." you get the idea. Do you know that every single time you go to someones home for dinner you will get fish? And they've made it specail for you! So you must eat it. Or be a very bad friend.
    Do you know you cannot go to any restaurant if fish is on the menu you'll be pressured into eating there even if that's the only non-meat menu item?
    It's so, so, so much easier to say in general "I'm a vegetarian." Which I am 99% of the time anyway.

  39. Krys says:

    Thank you. The world needs this reminder on a daily basis. Can we get this made into televised public service announcement too?

  40. candicegarrett says:

    LOL I once met a "vegetarian" who ate chicken.

  41. iloveginger says:

    yes! im with Adan. i am vegetarian 90 percent. occasional sushi and fish.. but would rather not have fish..its so easier to just say vegetarian. i actually eat mostly vegan..with occasional cheese on pizza…so what do i say? lets see i dont eat chicken, beef, pork or drink milk, cream or butter. i sometimes eat cheese if i CANT get around it, i sometimes eat sushi or a fresh local caught fish like twice a year…
    what do i call myself? it takes 15 minutes to explain. ugh.

  42. elephantjournal says:

    I don't buy new leather. I rarely buy new clothes at all—for both financial and ethical reasons. And 'cause I like big collars a la 70s. But thanks for calling me hypocritical.

  43. elephantjournal says:

    All or nothing is not what the mindful life is about. It's doing what we can while celebrating life. There's an awful lot of territory between saying "no nice way to eat, who cares, it's all bad" and doing one's best.

  44. elephantjournal says:

    Really? I'm Buddhist, and Buddhists take vows to be vegetarian. Somehow most Buddhists, however, aren't overfed Westerners.

  45. elephantjournal says:

    Amen. Thanks for the simple, non-aggressive clarification.

  46. provacateur says:

    Would you pleased be so kind as to define just exactly what you mean by waiter?