Fish aren’t vegetables, are they?

This is my own work, Photo by Gila Brand. Bask...

Many changes have been made to taxonomy since I was a schoolboy and had a basic grasp of what went in what kingdom, phylum, class, order, family and genus, but when I last checked, fish STILL weren’t vegetables.

I don’t want to get unduly Aristotelian, Linnean, Cladistic or othewise dogmatic about it, but I think it stands to reason that vegetables include many things, but rather not fish.

I understand that you can debate about whether a tomato is fruit or a vegetable.  Or that a mushroom is a fungus rather than a vegetable, and also that nori is made of algae and green drinks from spirogyra so even these things are not really “vegetables” either, so one has to be a bit flexible with the definition of what is a vegetable when following a vegetarian diet. Basically, though, if something can move around at will, an individual going from place to place, it’s highly likely that it isn’t a vegetable. There are some corals which don’t get out much, and are still animals, but there aren’t really any vegetables which go walkies – not outside the novels of John Wyndham like the Triffids, anyhow.

So why, then, am I continually being offered things like tuna and herrings when I say that I am a vegetarian in Poland? Do people here genuinely believe that fish are vegetables? Do they think that tuna and herrings photosynthesise and put down roots or something? What’s up with these phoney fish vegetables people give offering me here?

9 thoughts on “Fish aren’t vegetables, are they?

  1. I understand how you feel. In my vegetarian days, I would always get asked about fish. A friend of mine who went to South Africa even told me that he and some friends were in a restaurant where he asked for vegetarian dishes, and the waiter asked if he would like something with chicken.

    I’ve also met people saying they are “almost vegetarians”, because they don’t eat so much meat. There are a few people who define themselves as pescatarians when they eat primarily vegetarian diets yet still eat fish, though.

  2. I’m not saying that eating fish is wrong – clearly Jesus did it when it’s also fairly clear that we can see Him eating other forms of meat. Fish is however a form of meat, it is not a form of vegetable, and so fish eaters cannot in honesty go under the name “vegetarian”.

    There used to be a game called twenty questions, where you’d kick off with “animal, vegetable or mineral” – the person answering had to answer that with one of those three words and every other question had to be a yes or no answer. A great game for teaching kids how to think and answer questions properly.

    But if someone was thinking of a tuna or a herring and said “vegetable” at the start, the other players would say that they were cheating. And that’s what real veggies feel when peskies claim to be veggies and confuse everyone and make being a real veggie harder than it needs to be.

    1. I don’t think any Christian would say it’s wrong to eat fish. At least that was what I thought until I saw a poster down at the local post office, titled “Would Jesus Eat Meat Today?”. The poster contained ecological arguments like pollution and resource management. I think these guys were behind it:

      Back when I was newly saved, I thought much the same way, but then I forgot the whole thing. After a quick glance at their website, I notice they use words like “speciesism”, which doesn’t really strike me as biblical. That was a word I’d use a lot as a lost, self-righteous vegan with new age tendencies, so I certainly don’t get any good “vibes” from it.

      I do think a diet rich in vegetables is optimal, but I must say I question whether it is some kind of moral obligation for Christians.

      1. If a person thinks that they are righteous from what they eat, then they have fallen into error. It’s not the food that we eat that makes us unclean. However, foods these days are made in ways that don’t help us be healthy, and also animals are kept in ways which are not anything like the way animals are to be kept according to the Bible.

        In the near future I will write a bit more about diet and religion, but basically the Proverb says “the righteous man hath regard for the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel”. Therefore cruelty, and the supporting of cruelty to animals is something that the Bible identifies with “the wicked”. When I think of battery hens and the way many other animals are handled I cannot but agree with the idea, that ignoring this is not the way of someone seeking to live in a righteous way.

        When it comes to fish, we are in a different situation. Whereas we see the meat of birds and mammals conspicuous by its absence from the table of our Lord, it’s explicitly mentioned on several occasions that He ate fish, commanded people to catch fish, etc. Therefore there cannot be anything immoral about the catching and eating of fish per se. Here I wonder about the sport of angling, where fish are repeatedly caught just for fun, and wonder how righteous that is. And I also wonder how righteous modern fishing methods are which use technology so as to go after shoals which we never would have found in conventional fishing, so that the oceans are severely depleted – except of jellyfish of course, which make up the gap very quickly and assume the proportions of a near Biblical plague.

        I don’t think that mass fishing methods which simply scoop up everything are biblical at all. Compare the way the Jews were commanded not even to harvest their fields to the end but leave the fringes unharvested. Nothing like that is done by the fishing industry today, which is why fish stocks are critically low. We may already never be able to get them back to what they were as the balance is now changed – the fish which will thrive the most are those which will eat the jellyfish – along of course with the plastics they contain, as they feed among the microscopic man made garbage, and we will all be eating them. We are also eating levels of mercury and other heavy metals in fish hundreds of times above what would have been the experience of Jesus in New Testament times and people should think hard before putting that in their bodies.

        We’re free to eat everything. We see it in Acts 10. But freedom comes with responsibilities. We are not to judge others, but to show a good example ourselves. When it comes to fish, the Seventh Day Adventists, who do it fish but don’t accept other forms of meat, show on average life expectancies in America 7 years longer than normal Americans. So even with the eating of fish, you still get the main benefit of vegetarianism, a healthier life, if you refrain from the other sorts of meat.

        And on that basis I do eat fish very occasionally. I’m eating about 10-20% of what I would have eaten before. Being non-kosher, shellfish would not have been on the plate of our Lord, and things that He would not have eaten I would also prefer not to eat. It makes a good witness to the Jews also, so when eating with them it assists matters a lot to remember that shellfish are off menu. They are also the ones in the front line for absorbing the mercury and heavy metals which sink down in the water.

        God’s plan isn’t really a world in which his creatures bite and devour one another. This came into the world when sin came. And whilst it’s a tolerated reality of this world, I would rather anticipate that when Jesus comes to reign we will all be eating vegetables, even lions and tigers then will be trusted to lie down with the lamb and the gazelle. This is indeed prophesied in the Scripture and in some way it will come to pass. These creatures may be giving up willingly their milk and honey without cruelty, or maybe we will have no appetite for milk and honey either. I suspect the former will be true, as Israel, which is a prophetic form of God’s Kingdom is described as a land flowing in milk and honey. Until that time I would sooner err on the side of caution, though.

        Even the consumption of vegetables can be sinful if a person eats thanklessly, so the final thought here sure be that whether a person eats flesh or just eats as Daniel did, they should in any event eat as to the Lord, and eat thankfully, with worship of the Creator in their heart.

  3. The term vegetarian doesn’t refer to vegetables. It means to eat to enliven from the Latin vegetare. There are different types of vegetarians.Peso-vegetarian do eat fish and are still rightfully considered vegetarian.Lacto-vegetarians drink milk,and so on.According to Gary Null in “The Vegetarian Handbook”(page 3).”Being a vegetarian means nothing more than abstaining from the flesh of worm-blooded animals.”

    1. Dear Anonymous commentator,

      I gave your post a 5-stars even though I don’t agree with it and am about to pick holes in it, as I am grateful for the debate and for everyone willing to bring life to this forum.

      I took the liberty of checking your claim about the origins of the word “vegetarian”. Whilst it is indeed the origin claimed by the Vegetarian society from the middle of the nineteenth century, the Oxford English Dictionary refutes this etymology, citing two separate usages some years earlier in which the provenance celarly derives from “vegetable” with the suffix -arian, rather than from “vegetus” or “lively”. At the end of the day, to be a vegetarian means eating vegetables rather than necessarily being lively. A person could be positively moribund, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, as still be called a vegetarian if they wanted to eat plants rather than meat. My source for the above is the Wikipedia article on vegetarianism.

      Gary Null may be a great authority but I had not heard of him before you mentioned him. On the other hand, if some people want to define vegetarian as NOT eating things which are any kind of animal, including fishes and eggs, who is this Null character to say that they are wrong? One thing’s for sure – every half-hearted veggie who says “that’s OK, we eat fish, we eat cheese” makes it much harder for the next veggie who comes along wanting to be strict about it.

      Sometimes people are afraid to be “too much trouble”, and I can really understand that. I’ve eaten things I wouldn’t have eaten as I know people have made an effort to accommodate and I would hate to look as if I didn’t appreciate that, but the bar needs to be raised for what a vegetarian is. One of my workmates calls himself a veggie but he also is a fan of using chicken soup for medicinal purposes. How that works is beyond me!

      Thanks again for commenting and please do so all you like. It would be a pleasure to be able to put a nickname to the face, though. I’m not asking for a real name just something to distinguish one of my welcome anonymous contributors from another.

      1. Wait, what? “That’s OK, we eat fish, we eat cheese” …

        Cheese? CHEESE is a vegetable now? Cheese photosynthesises and puts down roots? Can I grow a nice cheese crop? Is it wise to water your cheese periodically?

        If cheese worries you as much as fish, I think you’re confusing “vegetarian” with “vegan” …

        1. I think that most people are confusing Vegetable-based Vegetarianism with the non-vegetable ovulating and lactating kind. Anyhow, I had to give it up in the end. I was diagnosed insulin resistant, so clearly the starch based diet is not the right thing for me. I had to give it up.

    2. Are you saying it means to eat to enliven because that’s what the Latin means? In that case, I’d say you’re commiting the etymological fallacy, i.e. claiming that something means something other than what it is commonly used to refer to because of its etymology. Huliganov beat me to it, but I checked the Wiktionary etymology for “vegetarian” and found the same vegetable-origin for vegetarian.

      Although you have a point, I’d say peso-, lacto-, ovo-, and other lables may be better considered precisely that — lables for convenience rather than a strict definition of who is vegetarian and who is not. After all, saying “I’m a peso-vegetarian” is much easier than listing everything you don’t eat. If your only limitation is meat, then listing that is pretty easy. Then of course you have the element of prestige; many are proud to call themselves vegetarian, and few like to be told that they are, contrary to their claims, not vegetarian because they eat things like dairy or fish.

      I do think we should consider that there are degrees, or maybe types of vegetarianism. However, precise definitions will vary from one individual to the other, since there isn’t really an authoritative (and precise) definition that everyone can agree with. Since the question “what is it a vegetarian can’t eat?” turns out to have several different answers depending on the type or degree of vegetarianism, we can pose the opposite question: “what is it a vegetarian can eat?” and find that all vegetarians have in common the fact that they can eat vegetables, and probably fruit. If they have further limitations, that is something that goes beyond than their vegetarianism and would have to be specified anyway.

      It is interesting that, if by Null’s definition we say that a person who eats fish can be considered a vegetarian (although I’d say in a looser sense than one who doesn’t), one who eats a diet even higher in vegetables, and instead of fish eats some meat from warm-blooded animals would be considered less vegetarian than the peso-vegetarian guy, even though the peso-guy may eat more meat (if we include fish in the definition of meat) than the non-vegetarian.

      I have been a vegetarian myself, and had contact with different types of vegetarians in Norway and abroad, and in my experience it is generally understood (by other vegetarians at least) that vegetarians don’t eat the flesh of any animal. It is, however, assumed that they eat dairy and eggs if they don’t refer to themselves as “vegan”.

Your thoughts welcome, by all mean reply also to other community members!