Diets: What exactly is Pescetarian?
With all the different kinds of foods in the world, the freedom to decide what to eat and the increasing issue of food sustainability; there is no wonder people today follow such a diverse range of diets. Most of us, if not all, will be familiar with the vegetarian diet. For those of us who enjoy a little meat, it is nice to know there are vegetarian alternative diets available. One of them is Pescetarian, ‘the vegetarian fish diet’. It is thought to have over a billion users.. yet many people are not familiar with this diet. Let’s bring you up to speed.
What is Pescetarian?
Don’t be afraid of the peculiar name. ‘Pesce’ is the Italian word for fish. In terms of diet it relates to people who add aquatic animals to a vegetarian diet. In simple terms, a pescetarian is someone who may eat all kinds of foods, excluding land animals (red meat and poultry). Pescetarians are very similar to vegetarians as they both may often eat eggs, dairy products, packaged foods, fruit, grains and vegetables of course. The main difference between the two is that vegetarians do not eat any kind of meat, whether it is aquatic or land animal meat. It is worth noting that the pescetarian lifestyle is often adopted by people who are on the path to becoming a vegan(1) or by those interested in a healthier, more ethical, and environmentally friendly lifestyle.
(1) Someone who does eat or use animal products of any description, including but not limited to eggs, milk, honey, cosmetics, clothing and furnishings.
What do Pescerarian’s eat?
Pretty much everything apart from land animal meat. Here are some of the foods they would eat:
- – freshwater fish
- – saltwater fish
- – shellfish
- – other seafood
- – in addition to the fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, eggs, and dairy that vegetarians typically consume
The benefits of being Pescetarian
Pescetarians may want to avoid eating red meat and poultry for a variety of reasons. These include concerns about human health, ethics and the environment if they do not alter their diet in some way.
A brilliant health benefit of the vegetarian fish diet is the reduced risk of many health conditions, including cancer and heart disease. Studies have shown that people who get most of their protein from fish and plant-based sources (such as beans, nuts and seeds) rather than red meat are significantly less likely to die prematurely. Seafood has a lower amount of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol per serving compared to most meats. Legumes such as beans contain even less and are cholesterol free. Yet another positive if you want to reduce your cholesterol intake, want to lose weight or live longer.
Fish has been an important source of protein and other nutrients for humans throughout recorded history. Omega-3 aids the function of the brain. The seafood richest in omega-3 per serving include salmon, pollock, sardines, mackerel and herring. There is no need to take your cod liver oil tablets when you can get omega-3 naturally from your diet. Your brain will be happy. Certain types of omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and high blood triglyceride levels; when large quantities are consumed. They may also reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and prevent second heart attacks in individuals who have a history of heart problems.
Pescetarians do not typically become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin D, vitamin B-12, iodine and zinc) unlike some strict vegetarians and vegans. This is as they can easily obtain adequate amounts of the nutrients they need by eating a wide variety of fish, shellfish, whole grains and fresh produce. For example, a 3.5-ounce serving of cooked salmon provides over 100 percent of an adult’s daily vitamin B-12 requirement. It also provides nearly all of the vitamin D requirement. It’s a good source of zinc too. Cod, shrimp and canned tuna are high in iodine. This means pescetarians are less likely to need dietary supplements and vitamin-fortified foods.
Some Pescetarians choose to only eat fish because they feel it is a more ethical choice than eating all meat products. There are various ethical issues to be considered.
Quality of Life
Pescetarians may consume fish based solely upon the idea that the fish are not factory farmed the way land animals are (the image to the right is much less graphic than the reality for many factory farmed animals). They may choose to consume only wild fish based upon the lack of confinement and avoid fish that may have been farmed in some way. When the fish are caught they are taken from their natural habitat of the ocean, or whatever waters they come from. This means these fish have had a taste of freedom and have gone about their lives as they would usually do.
Typically land animals are kept in factories with confined spaces. Additionally, they are not able to exhibit their natural behaviour properly or be as ‘free a as a bird’. Even ‘free range’ produce is not free range in the way most would expect it to be. What free range really means is that they have access to an outside facility. However if an animal did want to go outside it would face a big barrier – the other animals in front of it which would make it almost impossible to make it into this small area of freedom.
In addition they are typically fed on a poor quality fatty diet. This is of course to quickly bulk up the animals to a large size before they go to slaughter. It does not fill the heart with joy to know that these wonderful creatures are being kept in poor conditions their whole (short) lives purely to go to be killed, in order for us to enjoy a few minutes of the meat on our plates. Needless to say this is a poor quality of life for these animals.
Some pescetarians eat fish with the justification that fish have less sophisticated nervous systems (and are considered less intelligent) than land-dwelling animals. It is thought that many factory farmed animals are aware they are about to be slaughtered because of the distress the animals before them show, when this is happening to them. One can only imagine what a traumatic experience this must be; knowing you are about to be killed. This can hardly be described as a humane peaceful death, of which the meat industry would have us believe.
Pescetarians may boycott land animal meat purely because of the capitalist-industrialist way they are produced. Their aim is to reduce the demand for this meat that allows this industry to flourish.
Many may argue that animals will still be killed regardless of whether you take meat out of your diet. Whilst this is still true, the main and powerful difference is that by not eating meat, we reduce the demand to produce meat. Gradually as more people opt for a meat-free kind of diet, the need to produce meat drops. This is because the meat industry is a profit driven market. When there is less demand, production of high quantities of meat becomes less profitable and the factories are forced to keep less livestock. Therefore the number of animals being treated poorly decreases and less are killed. Pescetarians have a better conscience for at least making some alterations to what they eat and making other people aware of this diet.
What disturbs some people is the fact that so much meat gets wasted because it simply doesn’t meet ones standards (being too ‘chewy’ or ‘grisly’ etc). Or perhaps because it goes ‘off’ before we have chance to eat it all.
Some seafood populations are in excess. By eating these (such as jellyfish), we help to reduce their numbers to a level where biodiversity of oceans can be maintained; rather than being dominated by particular sea life species.
Production of meat has poor efficiency. Only a small amount of the energy put into the animal (such as food) is used to help the animal grow. Most of the energy is wasted to keep the animal warm, as movement and as waste (excretion). This means that more time, money and energy is required to ensure the animal reaches an optimal size for meat production. It has been said that fish may be up to six times more efficient at converting feed to meat than beef. While a vegan or vegetarian diet is more efficient still, a pescetarian diet represents a more environmentally sustainable choice than an omnivorous diet.
Of course it is the consumer who will need to pay more for the meat in order to compensate the farmer for their investment in the animal. Meat is expensive. There are no if’s or but’s about it. Even poor quality, fatty processed meat is relatively expensive. To get a decent piece of lean meat, it will cost you an arm and a leg for a very small portion to say the least.
Fish is generally considered to have a lighter environmental impact than beef, poultry, or pork. Land animals such as cows farmed for beef emit worrying levels of methane into the atmosphere (contributing to global warming), and require vast amounts of land. This land could be put to better use. For example it could be used to produce vegetarian plant based alternatives (such as nuts, beans, legumes) that have a lower environmental impact. Besides this point we do not need to get our protein from land animal meat. We can get our protein from other sources that do not take up as much space and do not emit anywhere near the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted during the production of land animal meat.
Aquaculture has its own set of ethical and environmental concerns, but it is not often associated with the multitude of issues that come with factory farming land animals. Fishermen have to stick to fishing quotas to ensure fish numbers are not depleted to dangerous numbers. This is to ensure there are enough fish remaining to reproduce to keep future generations of fish high. Once fishermen go over their quotas they have to release the fish back to where they were captured.
This is different to land animal farming as there is no limit to the number of land animals that can be slaughtered. It is a matter of if the demand is there, the farming factories will cater for this. Like said before, the fishing industry is not without its faults. However it is more regulated and far more sustainable than the current land animal meat industry. Buying meat that is sustainably produced is the only way we can support an ideal of long-term ecological balance.
The drawbacks of being Pescetarian
Of course, pescetarians still eat fish, so this means fish are required to die for our benefit. The fish meat industry has issues of its own, but the issue is far less of a problem than the poultry and red meat industry by far. I suppose it is a game of the (much) lesser evil.
It must be considered that some fish can contain mercury (primarily due to being released into the air during the burning of fossil fuels, then released into the oceans with rainwater). This can be harmful to human health as mercury itself is a toxic/harmful pollutant that can damage the nervous, digestive and immune systems; including certain organs, such as the lungs and kidneys. If high levels of Mercury are consumed or inhaled, it can be fatal.
To minimise their risk, pescetarians will typically look carefully to find fish that is low in Mercury (such as canned light tuna, cod, clams, salmon and catfish) and limit their consumption of fish higher in Mercury (such as king mackerel, swordfish, tile-fish and shark). In addition, it is thought that eating more foods containing Selenium, such as eggs and spinach can reduce the effects of mercury. It is worth noting that the benefits of a fish diet far outweigh the associated risks.
It could also be said that certain nutrients and elements that you get from red meat and poultry would be reduced when you avoid them. However, you could always get these from a variety of other food sources, so this is essentially a non-argument.
Should I become a Pescetarian?
This is completely your choice that should be made after carefully considering the information provided above, as well as doing your own research in order to make an informed decision.
It is clear that following a plant based diet has many health benefits for the individual as well as the planet. If you feel strongly about the issues that pescetarians raise, you may easily adopt the fish diet as you are likely to be a person who is ethically, medically and sustainability focused. The pescetarian diet is a good choice for those of you that may not be ready to adopt a fully vegetarian or vegan diet, but want to make a positive alteration to your current diet.
Some pescetarians avoid eggs and dairy products; choosing fish as a sole source of animal protein. Such a decision furthers the goal of advancing animal welfare and environmental concerns. Overall, any diet that requires you think carefully about the food you eat and where it comes from will help you to become a better person; both in health and conscience.
To those of you who are ready to begin a new lifestyle through food choices: I wish you the very best and thank you for baring a thought for land animals and also our universal home of the Planet Earth. Each person who takes on this lifestyle and encourages others to consider it are making the world a much better place today and for generations to come.
Are there any other sources that provide more information about the Pescetarian diet?
These are just a few I found on the internet. If you are seriously considering the vegetarian fish diet, I would encourage you to take a look at them all. They are a mix of blogs, general information and also tasty pescetarian recipes!
Other diets you may be interested in:
Would you consider taking the Pescetarian Diet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.