The answer to this is… well… it can be a bit controversial (with the exception of chicken which I’ll get to in a minute).
A great conversation started on the Vegetarians of Central Florida’s (VegCF) Facebook page today. There was actually a bit of confusion on what a vegetarian can or cannot eat. My comment to the individual who initiated the post was, vegetarians can indeed eat fish and/or eggs. Some agreed about fish being included in a vegetarian diet however some disagreed as well. Doing a bit of research online, some websites indicate that fish can be included as part of a vegetarian diet. Others don’t quite state that. I think it’s a matter of understanding what it really means to be a vegetarian as well as the different “types” of vegetarians out there.
For years I was under the impression that a vegetarian eats mostly a plant-based diet with the occasional eggs and/or fish. This was based on vegetarians I knew as well as information I gathered from other sources. Surely vegetarianism has evolved during the past few years and has become more of a norm these days. Take veganism for example. Practically every restaurant now (at least where I live) provides a way to accommodate vegans by offering either vegan menu options or catering to their vegan customers by whipping up something “vegan-friendly” in the back kitchen.
On Ask Dr. Sears website, it describes what a vegetarian diet actually means. “Vegetarian simply means a plant-based diet. There are several kinds of vegetarian diets, defined by what types of foods are consumed. A strict vegetarian, a vegan, avoids all foods of animal origin, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs. Lacto-vegetarians include dairy products in their diet. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians also eat dairy products and eggs. Pesco-vegetarians eat fish, dairy products, and eggs along with plant foods. Finally, there are semi-vegetarians, who cheat a little and eat a little poultry along with fish, as well as dairy products and eggs. Most veggie lovers are not strict vegans.”
I personally know an individual who claimed she was a vegan but then I learned that she cheated occasionally with chicken (and then I wondered if she cheated with dairy too but I didn’t dare ask). As much as I don’t like admitting this, I actually told her that eating chicken once in a while doesn’t mean she’s a vegetarian. Since most vegetarians hold true to not consuming any animal flesh what-so-ever, as part of a vegetarian diet, eating chicken defeats that whole purpose (don’t you think?).
I also know of another individual who eats chicken once a month, but their diet is filled with mostly vegetables, eggs and fish. Again, she considers herself a vegetarian. Being under the impression that a vegetarian diet can certainly permit eggs and fish (but not chicken), I once again made the verbal correction. Vegetarians don’t eat chicken once a month (or at least they’re not supposed to and if they do, well then, they’re not really a vegetarian).
Dictionary.com defines a vegetarian as “a person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish, fowl, or, in some cases, any food derived from animals, as eggs or cheese, but subsists on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grain, etc.” Merriam-Webster.com defines a vegetarian diet as “consisting wholly of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and sometimes eggs or dairy products “. The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as “someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs” or someone who “does not eat meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, or by-products of slaughter.“
And you know I got to throw Wikipedia in the mix here. Wikipedia states “Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat – red meat, poultry, seafood and the flesh of any other animal; it may also include abstention from by-products of animal slaughter.”
So given all this great information, I’d say it’s a lot more clear what a vegetarian is and isn’t as well as what the different types of vegetarians are or may be. And since we’re on the topic, might as well elaborate on the different types so we’re all on the same page (or at least we can debate about it). Here’s what I gathered after visiting/reading several websites today.
- Vegetarian: A person who refrains from eating any form of meat, poultry or seafood (that means no fish!)
- Semi-Vegetarian/Flexitarian: A person who is mainly a vegetarian but occasionally consumes meat, fish or poultry. In some cases, a semi-vegetarian will only refrain from eating a specific type of animal rather than all animals.
- Pescatarian – A person who abstains from eating all meat and animal flesh with the exception of fish.
- Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian: (This is the most common type of vegetarian by the way) A person who does not eat any meat, poultry, or seafood but does eat animal bi-products such as eggs and dairy.
- Ovo-Vegetarian: A person who consume eggs but no other animal bi-products such as dairy. In fact, the only thing that keeps an ovo-vegetarian from being classified as a vegan is the eggs that are allowed in their diet.
- Lacto-Vegetarian: A person who consumes dairy products like milk and cheese but no eggs. Similar to ovo-vegetarians, the addition of one specific animal bi-product in their diet prevents them from being classified as a vegan.
- Vegan: A person who does not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products or processed foods containing these or any animal-derived ingredients such as gelatin.
- Raw Vegan/Raw Foodist: A person who eats unprocessed, raw plant foods that have not been heated above a certain temperature. Among raw vegans, there are some subgroups such as fruitarians, juicearians, or sproutarians.
- Raw Vegetarians: A person who doesn’t eat meat (including game and byproducts like gelatin), fish (including shellfish and other sea animals) and poultry but allows dairy and/or eggs. Common foods include fruit, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, dairy, eggs and honey. There are also several variants of this diet.
- Macrobiotic: A person who eats unprocessed vegan foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables and allows the occasional consumption of fish. Sugar and refined oils are avoided.
There’s also Paleo-Vegetarians, Paleo-Vegans, Herbivores and who knows what else. I’ll avoid getting into of any of these however or else this blog post may never end! 😉
Given all of this information, I decided to attempt labeling my own personal diet. In fact, I always refer to myself as “a vegetarian who doesn’t eat eggs or fish”. Lacto-vegetarian seems to be a fit for me since I will consume dairy once in a while (only if the dairy is from Hindu temples where cows are revered and treated well – no animal cruelty what-so-ever – with a natural diet excluding antibiotics, hormones…). I also consume raw local honey almost daily (for seasonal allergies) and I eat mostly raw foods including seeds, nuts, and recently sprouts. Refined cane sugar and processed foods are practically eliminated from my diet. I find myself definitely heading down the road of a clean diet with a majority of raw foods (and minimal cooked foods).
So what have we learned? I know I’ve learned that a vegetarian does not eat fish in addition to meat and poultry. In fact, a vegetarian who consumes fish is a pescetarian. And for those once-in-a-while poultry eaters vegetarians out there, you are semi-vegetarians! 😉
Vegetarian Society, https://www.vegsoc.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=508#.Ui-zNj99tI4