What is a Vegetarian?

Vegetarians often encounter confusion about their diet, with many unsure about what a vegetarian can and cannot eat. If I tell someone I am vegetarian, the conversation usually proceeds with “do you eat fish?” followed by “do you eat dairy products?”. Some of this stems from people with different kinds of diets labelling themselves as vegetarian.

To clarify things, here are the definitions of the different kind of meat-free diets:

VEGETARIAN someone who does not eat meat, fish, poultry or any slaughterhouse by-product such as gelatine. (provided by the Vegetarian Society)

VEGAN someone who does not eat meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, honey or any other animal product.

PESCETARIAN occasionally used to describe those who abstain from eating all meat and animal flesh with the exception of fish (this diet is not vegetarian).

Do you eat fish?

The pescatarian diet is not a vegetarian diet, however many pescetarians will label themselves as vegetarians, much to the annoyance of many ‘real’ vegetarians. As a vegetarian myself, this can be a little frustrating, but I can understand why it happens, since ‘pescetarian’ is not a widely used or understood term. When dining away from home, pescetarians probably find it’s easier to say they are ‘vegetarian’ to avoid being fed meat. Many vegetarians question the motives of pescetarians, and critisise them for consuming fish, whilst abstaining from other animals. However, I have a positive attitude to those who eat only fish, since to me, any change towards the consumption of less meat can only be a positive one, whatever a persons reasons or motivations. Even a vegetarian diet is a compromise in many ways, since the dairy industry is not without cruelty and suffering. I therefore have a lot of admiration for vegans, even though I am not one myself. In the same regard, I also respect those meat-eaters who make an effort to reduce their meat consumption. To me any reduction in meat intake is better than none at all! This leads to the recently coined term ‘flexitarian’.

FLEXITARIAN someone who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, with occasional meat consumption.

This term is good for describing the ‘nearly’ or ‘part-time’ vegetarians. I would guess that many true vegetarians probably started out this way on the path to vegetarianism, as opposed to suddenly cutting out meat altogether. My parents first started to reduce the family meat-intake when I was 4 years old, and it wasn’t until I was 8 that we had cut out meat and fish entirely. As I mentioned before, I think that any reduction in meat intake can only be a positive step, so I don’t have a problem with this kind of diet becoming more popular. The level of abstention from meat and animal products has always been a continuum, with people falling along different points of the scale. Having clear terms to describe the different points on the scale can only be a good thing!


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