When Pescatarians Are Vegetarians At Heart
When someone says they are a vegetarian, we know what this means: they don’t eat meat, poultry, or seafood, though they may eat eggs or consume dairy. But as it turns out, this may not be accurate. People may self-identify as vegetarians while continuing to eat seafood if they don’t believe that fish are meat. In this study, one in six participants who said they were vegetarians kept seafood in their diet. Strictly speaking, this makes them pescatarians rather than vegetarians. So why do they still call themselves vegetarians?
What motivates veg*ns to follow these types of diets is a subject of increasing interest to researchers. Answering this question could lead to more effective strategies to curtail the demand for meat. And yet, if some people who say they are vegetarians continue to eat meat, including them in studies that focus on veg*ns could distort the results.
People who voluntarily decide to eat less meat do so for a variety of reasons. Ethics and health are two of the most common. Motive, in turn, affects both social and self-identity and the level of disgust towards meat. Ethically driven eaters face more social stigma than those who avoid meat for health reasons, and previous research suggests that pescatarians curtail their meat-eating for health rather than moral reasons, so it’s perhaps no surprise that their attitudes towards animals may differ from those of vegetarians.
To better understand how pescatarians diverge from true vegetarians in their values and attitudes, the researchers in this study conducted two experiments using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform. The first had two aims: to determine the proportion of self-identified vegetarians who ate seafood and to compare dietary motivations between pescatarians and vegetarians. Analysis of the data showed that approximately 37% of self-identified vegetarians were in fact pescatarians. While vegetarians were more likely to choose their eating patterns for ethical reasons, it was the perceived health benefits of eating seafood that motivated pescatarians. This group also exhibited greater speciesism and were less likely to grant fish the capacity to feel pain.
The second experiment focused on the attitudes and motivations of pescatarians to learn how they regarded themselves and their experience of being pescatarian. The results showed that those who self-identified as vegetarians take pride in that label but also feel more socially stigmatized for their food choices. Members of this group are more likely to express concerns about social issues and to root their moral principles in their vegetarian identity. Interestingly, 41% of pescatarians did not consider fish to be a type of meat. This misconception could explain why respondents with this belief were twice as likely to view themselves as vegetarians. Researchers also observed significant gender difference with pescatarian women twice as likely to self-identify as vegetarian than pescatarian men.
When people claim a dietary identity, they are telling us both about what they eat and how they view the world and their place in it. This study offers insight into how we might interpret some of those messages. For animal advocates, it also demonstrates that a label can be misleading. It’s important to learn not only how people see themselves but what they actually do. Our campaigns will be most effective when we understand both the mindset and the behavior of those we’re trying to reach.