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Jan 18, 2009 09:49 AM

Referring to Meat as Protein


Has anybody posted about this before? Nothing came up in my quick scan of recent searches, but I might've missed something.

I imagine this practice has origins in back-of-the-house restaurant lingo (like "chix" instead of chicken) and now has filtered down to use amongst foodies.

I don't think it gives proper respect to the animal from whence the "protein" came. To get technical about it, there are lots more nutrients in a piece of meat than just protein. And protein is a macronutrient found in many foods, not just animals.

In Top Chef, Episode 8, the contestants had to cook a meal featuring meat from pigs, lambs, and chickens raised at Stone Barns. Two teams were criticized for taking the meat off the bones and removing much of its fat, robbing it of potential flavor and richness. Tom Collichio went on to say that they were not "honoring the protein."

I do not think it honors an animal to come up with a sterile euphemism for its flesh, either.

Mmk, done ranting. What's everybody else's take on this one?

  1. Agree. Another issure along the same line is when people say they dont eat meat but then order the Snapper!?WTF? since when does fish(or any animal) not count as meat? MEAT IS MEAT IS MEAT! I can never figure out if they are trying to assuage their guilt or playing phsycological games with themselves. If you dont eat "red" meat just say so, but by god dont order BlueFIn tuna or Yellowtail!(two warm blooded, red fleshed fish. the flesh is red for the same reason cows are). The hypocrisy drives me nuts.

    as does refering to a beautiful piece of beef or chicken as Protein! If you're going to eat it at least admit and respect what you're about to do. Alright, now IM done ranting!:-)

    42 Replies
    1. re: nkeane

      fish is not "meat". it's fish. just like beef isn't fish. however both are mostly protein and animal-derived, so i'll agree the snapper-eater shouldn't call himself a vegetarian.

      most american restaurant dinner plates have a protein, a vegetable and a starch. they are components, not political statements. as a restaurant professional, referring to the focus of most plates as "the protein" means no disrespect to the animal. i dare say most of us have a higher reverence for the animals we eat than does the average joe (or bumbling blockhead on top chef). it doesn't arrive pre-cut and shrink-wrapped to most of the better kitchens, ya know? as mentioned by the op, it simply is short-hand, and covers your base if an item runs out. in other words, the halibut might be 86'ed, but the monkfish or rabbit can be plated with the same accompaniments, so the *protein* is interchangeable.

      oh, and btw, nobody calls it "chix". that's just written shorthand on an order pad.

      1. re: hotoynoodle

        Websters Unabridged: Meat (met),n. 1. the flesh of animals as used for food.

        unless you are arguing that fish arent animals.........

        1. re: nkeane

          without the pedantry of an on-line dictionary, i clearly indicated i agree they are all animals. i prefer i finer distinction in my semantics, and most consider "meat" to be from mammals.

            1. re: DeppityDawg


              3. this substance or tissue in animals, viewed as an article of food, usually excluding fish and sometimes fowl; meat.

              1. re: JohnE O

                6. A boxer or fighter of noteworthyness only for his sheer size or physical prowess.

                whats the point again? if we all just start calling carrots meat, how long til that is included in the dictionary? I used the first definition(ie: the most often used.) of MEAT. I wasnt aware we were going to debate what an animal or what constitutes flesh? heck, I didnt know there was much room to debate those to begin with........

        2. re: hotoynoodle


          As a pro in the business, do you have any idea of when/where the noted references to "protein," came into being. Not being in the business, it *seems* to have been fairly recent, but then maybe I only picked up on an old usage via TV. It would seem that it could go back decades, or even centuries. Just curious.


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            i don't have centuries of experience, but my chefs have referred to that component on a plate as "protein" for as long as i can recall, and i have been in fine dining 20 years.

            and sorry, nkeane, i've never seen a menu that has snapper listed under the meat category. never. nobody is debating they are animals, we're just making a finer distinction. it's simple really. why do you find it an outrage?

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              I dont know if it rises to the level of outrage with me. What I can say is that it is a bit disengenuous to refer to an animal as "not meat". You dishonor it a bit. What I mean is it makes it easier for some(not all, and more then likely not the people here, or on food forums in gerneral) people to think less of the creature they are consuming.

              Make as myopic distinctions as you wish, just dont deny that its MEAT.

              lastly, I dont recall the last menu I saw with a "meat" category on it to begin with!?

              1. re: nkeane

                Often, Italian restaurants have a menu category labeled "carne," including pork and beef dishes, but not poultry or fish.

                1. re: nkeane

                  I will deny that it is meat right here and now. Because it is fish. Fish is not meat. Behold, a menu with a meat category. And a fish category. Separate!


                  1. re: small h

                    alright, there's a menu that has it seperated sufficiently to prove that point.

                    now, it strikes me as flat-earth thinking to say "fish isnt meat". just stupid.
                    all fish is meat, but all meat isnt fish. that is my point, meat is broader then fish, mammal, crustacean, etc..... why on earth cant you see that?(fwiw, I understand what your point is, I just cant wrap my mind around the idea that you think a fish isnt made of meat?(and bone, and skin, etc....just like a cow!))

                    1. re: nkeane

                      there are many who disagree that fish is meat. no need to call us stupid or believe the earth is flat. Just a difference of opinion, not a 1 + 1 = 2. If everyone did not think they would be, well, meat.

                      1. re: jfood

                        think or not, we ARE all meat!? atleast grizzly bears think so!

                        how can you disagree that fish is meat? in its most basic definition, Meat is flesh. Do fish not have flesh?

                        1. re: nkeane

                          jfood is not leaving the definitional decision of whether he believes fish is meat to Yogi Bear or Boo Boo.

                          And inthe most basic definition he and Obama are related but jfood did not get an invitation to DC.

                          Fish = fish; Meat = Meat; never the twain shall meet

                          1. re: jfood

                            Yogi made agreed with you. Boo Boo made no such distinctions. However, he was younger, so what should we expect?


                              1. re: Candy

                                seafood, not meat...same bad choice of words as hot dog and hamburger

                                1. re: jfood

                                  (totally off topic)
                                  if it's parent or potential of the thing (ie sausage) has eyes, can walk and talk (or send sonar or other sounds), it's meat. So I'd include bugs such as insects and their tasty cousins, the crab, crayfish, shrimp, and lobster. Or it's fruit of the sea that runs away from its stalks and branches. But I really don't care. It all tastes good. Even the neither animal nor plant species. If I can eat it, I probably will.

                            1. re: nkeane

                              I don't know if this clarifies or further convolutes the issue...In korean, we call fish 'gogi'. Mainly because this is the main 'protein' we eat. Beef is called 'so-gogi" or cow-meat. Pork is called 'dweji-gogi' or pig meat, and Chicken is called 'dak-gogi' or chicken meat.

                              Also to be noted...Green onions are called 'paw' because they're the main type of onion and white onions are called 'yang-paw' because it is a secondary type of onion. I think, anyway...

                            2. re: jfood

                              And chickens are okay because they're not mammals, and my ongoing favourite, eggs must be mammallian in origin, because they're in the dairy section. :)

                              What about mushrooms? They're neither animal nor plant...

                            3. re: nkeane

                              That's hardly the only menu with separate categories for meat and fish, but I didn't want to belabor the point - you seem to have no such compunction. It seems like what's upsetting you is that (some) people (might) feel less guilty about eating a fish than they do about eating a cow. Why do you care?

                        2. re: hotoynoodle


                          Thanks for that timeline perspective. I was just curious, and did not recall this reference prior to a couple of years ago. Then, it was basically a TV thing.



                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            This separating "fish" from "meat" idea is why PETA started a movement to rename fish "sea-kittens"
                            I'd love to see a menu with a category for Sea Kitten. Tasty!

                            1. re: hyacinthgirl

                              it will appear on the menu under hot dogs. Jfood made me write that, oy.

                        3. re: hotoynoodle

                          Yes, I know that "chix" isn't actually spoken out loud. Sorry my wording on that one wasn't too clear -- I just meant to say both terms might have originated in restaurant kitchens.

                        4. re: nkeane

                          um, excuse me for just a second...

                          If you were raised Catholic...and followed the ever changing "no meat on Friday" rules....there always was a Fish Fry Friday going on in the Church basement. This is also why the "soup of the day" is pretty much always clam chowder on Fridays.

                          'No meat' meant (and means)(to some people) no beef, pork or chicken but could have some sort of fish for your meals. Tuna salad with mac and cheese was my Friday lunch growing up.

                          1. re: Cathy

                            yet another example why I thank god I am an atheist!

                            meat=animal flesh
                            fish are animals
                            QED, fish=meat

                            1. re: Cathy

                              I don't think this should turn into a religious discussion NOR do I agree that Catholic definitions are supreme. Meat refers to both land and sea animals.

                              1. re: brooklynmasala

                                Right, and I somewhat agree BUT it is a reason for some people to consider meat to be something other than fish - and it's less religious than cultural. Equally, I wonder whether the subject of this thread is supposed to be "why would anyone not call fish protein?" or "why it's worng to eat animals"? I've got no problem with a discussion of vegetarianism, but is this thread intended to be that? It didn't look that way to me.

                              2. re: Cathy

                                lol, i completely forgot we had fish sticks on fridays.

                              3. re: nkeane

                                Ok, then please provide an example of a menu that lists snapper in the "meat" category. You're free to make up your own definitions for words most of us understand, but don't expect they'll be adopted.

                                1. re: nkeane

                                  I believe that there are so many levels of "non-meat eating," that the boundaries have become blurred and differ person to person. Some will not eat anyting that roams on four legs/hooves/feet, but would have not problem going for kangaroo. Some do not want something that has a name, like the Angus steer from the 4H competition.

                                  When trying to be sensetive to a non-omnivore guest, I'll ask for specific clarification The restrictions seem to vary person to person.

                                  What was the line about being a "Level 5 Vegan? - I don't anything that casts a shadow... "

                                  For me, it's case-by-case, person-by-person.


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    We have a friend that doesn't eat anything with a "face".Every time we break bread with them I get clarification.clams,yes ;squid no ,go figure

                                    1. re: lcool

                                      Yes, the "face." I had forgotten that one.

                                      In the end, it is whatever suits the diner. I ask, and then ask for clarification. Then I send a FAX to the caterer, with the various necessary menu alterations. Without the details, an omnivore, such as I, cannot be held accountable. If it does not eat me first, then I eat it. Others have restrictions, and I attempt to honor them. They just need to be very, very specific. Names, terms, etc., do not help me much. Gotta' get a fact-sheet from each one.


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        face? I have friends that will eat flesh, just nothing with nipples.

                                        but good salads and great kids.

                                        lcool - ever cleaned a squid? eyes.

                                        1. re: hill food

                                          hill food ,about the squid ,yes and octopus etc so no problems with getting
                                          it right .However the first time I asked about food particulars the response was vague,"I'll eat it if it doesn't have a brain".That makes for some avenue
                                          of debate.Fortunately it was all fun among friends.Like Bill Hunt I ask every
                                          one almost every time.

                                          1. re: lcool

                                            I also knew someone who refused to eat anything with karma.

                                            and in the precaution that plants might have it boiled everything into a mush in the attempt to remove what little there might be.

                                  2. re: nkeane

                                    >> ... BlueFIn tuna or Yellowtail!(two warm blooded,
                                    >> red fleshed fish. the flesh is red for the same reason cows are).

                                    This is false. All fish are cold-blooded animals, which means their body temperature is close the the temperature of the surrounding water. Mammals (such as cows, whales, and humans) are warm-blooded and regulate their body temperature.

                                    I do agree, in a broad sense, that fish is a form of meat.

                                      1. re: nkeane

                                        Interesting article. Indeed there are some fish species that are able to raise their body temperature relative to the water temperature. This does not make them warm-blooded. Warm-blooded animals (such as mammals and birds) regulate their bodies to a specific temperature range, and will maintain within that range regardless of the environment temperature.
                                        Of course, it's not all that simple. Scientists no longer use the term "warm-blooded". There are several types of thermoregulation. I suppose you could argue that the tuna is doing a rudimentary form of thermoregulation. But it is hardly a thermal homeostasis.

                                        I merely meant to assert that a tuna is not warm-blooded like a cow. :-)

                                    1. re: nkeane

                                      Amen! :) Respect! :)
                                      Happy eating, Oana

                                    2. Sounds like a Home Ec. phrase used in menu planning, e.g.: two green vegetables, one starch and one protein.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: jillp

                                        I'm with you. When I'm planning dinner, I think in components as I try to balance the plate. Trying to figuring out my protein isn't any different than deciding if I want my starch to be rice or pasta.

                                      2. I don't necessarily find it disrespectful to the animals we eat, but I do find it very annoying.
                                        I agree with hotoynoodle's explanation as a blanket term recognizing a component on the plate, but it should be within context.
                                        Take it out of context and it becomes grating; "pass the protein, would you please?" or "Look at all this protein to choose from" etc etc.
                                        And yeah, the bumbling blockheads on Top Chef are always taking it out of context...
                                        its as if they're saying "we are CHEFS and a CHEF is supposed to refer to meat and fish as protein. Look at me, I say "protein" so I gotta be a CHEF...isn't that right, CHEF?"

                                        Don't even get me started on how vegetarians refer to themselves...

                                        1. "and please stop referring to me as a vegetable," cried little miss tomato as she stomped off the salad bar.

                                          Jfood thinks they are just dividing the plate like Mrs. Swanson did her TV dinners. One section gets the starch, one the vegetable and one the protein.
                                          Whether you call it a steak, a burger, a protein it is still the same lineage.

                                          Jfood loves animals, but calling something a protein is not dissing the dead.

                                          BTW - fish and meat are totally different in jfood's eyes. You want to overlay these two proteins under the meat umbrella, no biggie, but jfood would guess >90% of america would never walk into a fish restaurant and ask what meat is on the menu and receive anything other than a blank stare.

                                          15 Replies
                                          1. re: jfood

                                            Jfood is right. He would get the exact same blank, stupid stare if he walked into just about any restaurant and ordered "meat"!

                                            the point is its too vague. we can argue all day about what it should/would/does(n't) mean, the FACT is fish is meat. so is Squirrel, Grasshopper, Snails, Cows, internet food geeks, etc......

                                            BTW, 90% of americans eat at McD's and think that Kraft blue box is legitimate food!? Majority based arguements are frought with sinkholes.......

                                            1. re: nkeane

                                              Yes, but if he would ask which meats the restaurant has on the menu, dollars to donuts, "Chilean Sea Bass" would not be one of the responses, but pork, veal, beef, lamb, deer, bison, ie. warm blooded vertebrae, not cold blooded vertebrae with gills. Likewise if you ask for the "meat" of an apple would you expect to receive everything but the skin or the core?

                                              At some point you need to delineate where familes end. Jfood separates at a different point than you do, he likes poultry, seafood, fish, meat, with significant sub-groups. He classifies all the above as proteins, then he sub-divides. Your horizontal line is just a little lower.

                                              BTW - grasshoppers are insects, not meat and internet food geeks are humans, not meat.

                                              1. re: jfood


                                                Think about a restaurant in New Orleans, any restaurant. You ask what "meat" is on the menu, and your probably right about the "Chilean Seabass" (Patagonia Toothfish), but if there is alligator, or frog's legs, I'd wager that they WILL be mentioned. Same for calamari, and abalone, but that is only a guess.

                                                We need to meet up in NOLA and do this as a test. I'll even buy all of the wine.

                                                BTW, I have never found much "meat" in my grasshoppers. Not even in those large "jumping" legs. Maybe it was just the grasshoppers in Mississippi...

                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                  alligator and frogs could qualify as meat, not calamari nor abalone.

                                                  M&M may be in NOLA in a few weeks. Gotta call Frank and Myrna for a great meal.

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    What about rattlesnake? No, just kidding. You know that you'll have a great meal. Please do a review, and enjoy. Hope that little Jfood is doing well - Tulane, or Loyola, I forget?

                                                    Safe trip,


                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      Jfood would characterize rattler as meat. Would have to eat out of eyeshot from the family though. :-))

                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                        They had it at our County Fair two years ago and it was breaded and fried...and didn't even taste like chicken.

                                                        1. re: Cathy

                                                          jfood had some rattler years ago in Montana (one of those silly City Slicker events). He thought it was pretty tasy from what he remembered.

                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            It is.Also not to be missed is iguanna ,the large ones in Central America.

                                                            1. re: lcool

                                                              To which (cooked iguana) Anthony Bourdain said something like, "Makes you want to dunk your head in a bucket of acid, rip your eyeballs out of their sockets, set your head on fire, and jump off a cliff".

                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                They must have added something special just for him.It was not that bad.
                                                                There is for certain better protien to be had if you have $$ and a choice.

                                                          2. re: Cathy


                                                            What is the line from the Dos XX's commercial? "He never says that it tastes like chicken, even if it IS chicken."

                                                            Going back, the Fiesta Week dining in San Antonio was always sold out of rattlesnake at their kiosk. The cry would go out through the crowd, "Rattlesnake," and by the time we'd get there, it would be all gone. In several years of trying, we've never tasted it - not like chicken - Hm-m-m?



                                                  2. re: jfood

                                                    oh that BTW was hilarious :) lol :) well put :)
                                                    happy eating, Oana

                                                2. re: jfood


                                                  You are not old enough to remember Swanson TV DinnersĀ®. Your mother must have told you about those. Even before that, I had a "baby bowl," that was divided into three sections. It also allowed one to put hot water into a space below the partitioned top section and the base of the bowl. Mine had little fish that floated in the water jacket.

                                                  Way back then, no one in my presence, based on my memory, referred to any meat, fish, fowl as protein, but maybe that was only in Mississippi.

                                                  As for the "fishsticks," mentioned above, I agree that once they could be referred to as fish. Nowadays, I'm not sure one could find the fish, even with a microscope - but that is for another thread.

                                                  As for your last paragraph, I see the distinction. I am with you, on my personal behavior, and would not ask with those words. OTOH, until you gave that reference, I was cool with fish = meat. Good point.


                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                    Sorry but jfood remembers Mrs Swanson all too well. In fact it was and amzing adolescent day when he "graduated" to the one with the soup.

                                                    Likewise the round pot pie was not enough at some point and he "graduated" to Hungy Man.

                                                3. it doesnt bother me at all. it is defining the food by it's general place in the meal, and what sort of techniques and approaches might be considered.

                                                  from a cooking standpoint, the proteins have more in common w/ each other, that a starch or veg does. I'm not saying every protein is interchangable without modification, but they do share a set of characteristics when considering purpose and approach

                                                  9 Replies
                                                  1. re: thew

                                                    really? does a piece of tofu share more with a chunk of ostrich than a sweet potato with a green bean?

                                                    proteins are as varied and different as starches and veg. That being said, the idea that proteins(meat, flesh, animal parts) can be interchanged in a dish that has been 86'd might work in a simple, down scale environment. Trying to substitute different ingredients in a highend, composed dish is disasterous! simply put, Chili's can probably sub some chicken breasts for steak on a sandwich or fajitas but Jean Georges wont be switching Escolar for Trigger Fish, mid-service anytime soon!LOL

                                                    1. re: nkeane

                                                      tofu, while protien, is clearly something otehr than pork or lamb

                                                      did you actually read what i wrote?
                                                      " I'm not saying every protein is interchangable without modification"

                                                      1. re: thew

                                                        I appologize, but the way I read what you wrote is, "protein's are more similar to each other then starches and veg are similar to each other" . if that interpretation is incorrect, then its my mistake. Maybe the issue is your statement was too all incompassing!?

                                                        1. re: nkeane

                                                          no i said proteins are more similar to each other than they are to starchs or veg.

                                                          and think about it - you can take a pork dish you like, and make it with beef or lamb or chicken with very little modification, and will still have a tasty dish. not the identical dish. but a good one

                                                          and indeed if a restaurant runs out of a specific protein, and i am not talking about chili's, they will often offer the same or similar w/ a different protein.

                                                          cooking is about techniques, more than recipes. and most proteins can handle the same techniques, to some degree.

                                                          i know im rambling here, but this reminds me of hitchcock and his idea of the mcguffin in films. the mcguffin was whatever the characters in the film were after, gold, or uranium, or whatever. this thing was of vital importance to the characters, but it was almost irrelevant what it was , to the filmmaker. he would make the film the same way, regardless what this life or death item was to the characters in the film.

                                                          replace characters with customers, and filmmakers with chefs, and the protein is the mcguffin.

                                                      2. re: nkeane

                                                        Have you read "Simple to Spectacular?" Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman's cook book in which, amongst other things, they advocate liberal substitution of types of fish in complex dishes and even swapping fish or various poultry and sometimes tofu in and out for each other.

                                                        No, a high end restaurant isn't going to swap out a prime cut of a particular fish for a piece of lesser quality (though one could assert that a place like Vong wouldn't have such a lesser quality fish in the house to begin with) but certainly all kinds of substitutions are possible on the fly even in composed dishes.

                                                        1. re: ccbweb

                                                          I said mid service. That is different then having to change it before service because you didnt get your shipment! ofcourse extremely similar items(its not just limited to proteins) can be sub'd in a dish but it more then likely requires altering other parameters(cooking method, ingredients, spices, plating, etc...) that may not be doable on the fly. Ergo the dish gets 86'd instead of bastardized.

                                                          1. re: nkeane

                                                            Has anyone ever been less than 100% correct in anything they've written online?

                                                            I can think of examples in which a restaurant/chef might make a change to the central protein of a dish mid-service (and successfully so). Heck, I can think of examples of times I did it when I was cooking. But if I write them, then we'll get into picky details about that and it will go on forever.

                                                            No changes then.

                                                        2. re: nkeane

                                                          disastrous? replacing flounder for turbot because there was a storm and the boats couldn't get out? chefs do this all the time and i have worked with some of the best in the world. would they replace a rib-eye for a halibut? not likely.

                                                          you started saying meat is meat is meat. but halibut and dab are polar opposites? i can't figure you out.