I am not a native English speaker and never lived in an English-speaking country, so I wonder how you would apply this word.

Would you apply the term "meat" to the following things?

  1. Muscle tissue of a cow
  2. Liver tissue of a cow
  3. Brain tissue of a cow
  4. Muscle tissue of other beasts (swine, goat, rabbit)
  5. Muscle tissue of a bird (chicken, quail, turkey)
  6. Muscle tissue of a fish
  7. Muscle tissue of mollusks, such as oyster, squid, shellfish, snail
  8. Tissue of polyp, medusa
  9. Tissue of a sponge
  10. Tissue of a mushroom
  11. Tissue of a plant
  • 1
    And, sweetmeats, meat from flour, meaty roles in movies, more. – Kris Feb 20 '12 at 9:00

It may seem rather odd, but you could apply "meat" to all of the above. Probably.

Wiktionary defines meat thus:

4. (uncountable) The flesh of an animal used as food.

5. (uncountable) Any relatively thick, solid part of a fruit, nut etc.

The first of these includes your points 1-7 fairly straightforwardly. Some vegetarians would quibble about whether fish was meat or not, but they are really drawing a separate(valid) distinction between fish and mammals.

By the time we're talking about polyps and sponges, most people wouldn't normally think of them in terms of eating. You could call them meat, but we usually don't.

Mushrooms and plants bring us to the second definition. If the mushroom or plant is substantial ("meaty"), we do sometimes refer to it as meat. It would usually be qualified in some way to make it clear that we weren't referring to animal meat, but the concept is well understood. It's moderately commonly used with reference to nuts and some fruit, rather less commonly with other plant or fungal matter.

  • According to the documentation, markdown does not currently support starting ordered lists at an arbitrary number. There are some workarounds, like using   to get similar spacing. – Mitch Schwartz Dec 23 '10 at 4:03
  • What about kaviar? – Anixx Dec 23 '10 at 9:08
  • Caviar and other eggs don't really fit either definition. I haven't heard anyone describe them as meat, either. (@Mitch: there are too many markup languages!) – user1579 Dec 23 '10 at 11:58

So, this is actually a really good question, because exactly what counts as meat can vary a bit from person to person or situation to situation. For example, some people consider themselves vegetarians while still eating fish. Others say that no fish is allowed. So my best breakdown (open to comments):

Always meat:

  • Muscle tissue of a cow
  • Liver tissue of a cow
  • Muscle tissue of other beasts (swine, goat, rabbit)
  • Muscle tissue of a bird (chicken, quail, turkey)

Maybe meat:

  • Muscle tissue of a fish
  • Muscle tissue of mollusks, such as oyster, squid, shellfish, snail
  • Brain tissue of a cow (I suppose if eaten, it could be considered meat, but I'm not familiar with brain eating.

Never meat

  • Tissue of a sponge
  • Tissue of a mushroom
  • Tissue of a plant
  • Tissue of polyp, medusa (unless these have something more akin to muscle than I'm thinking)

Edit: I'll also point out that meat can be used to describe the edible or substantial part of anything, e.g. the meat of the issue or he cracked the nut to get at its meat, but I assume that's not the sort you're referring to above

  • crab meat appears in Wikipedia at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_meat Snail meat and clam meat also appear in google searches. – John Satta Dec 22 '10 at 16:45
  • @John Satta - right, which is why I put them in the maybe section. They're certainly animal flesh, but under certain definitions of meat, fish, shellfish, etc. are excluded. – Dusty Dec 22 '10 at 16:51
  • @Dusty - Sorry, I missed the "Maybe Meat" heading - that's what I get for skimming. – John Satta Dec 22 '10 at 16:59
  • @John Satta - no worries. I toyed with sometimes meat but couldn't come up with something that really nailed what I was going for. – Dusty Dec 22 '10 at 17:03
  • 1
    If you're going to allow dietary definitions of meat into the discussion, I would say birds do not meet the standard of "always" meat. If there were a "usually" or "probably" category, I might put them in there, but as things stand, "maybe" is the most accurate category for bird flesh. – John Y Dec 23 '10 at 4:04

"Meat", unqualified, always refers to tetrapods (i.e. mammals, birds, reptiles, probably amphibians), as opposed to fish, arthropods or molluscs.

But with suitable qualification you can use "meat" to refer to any animal flesh: "crab meat" is common, as John Satta points out; and while I would not expect to see "tuna meat", I would not find it odd for somebody to refer to "separating the meat from the bone" when referring to tuna. (We do have "tuna steaks").

The use of "meat" for plant (or fungus) material, or for food in general, I would regard as archaic.

(Edited to generalise 'mammals' to 'tetrapods')

  • 1
    What about birds? – Anixx Dec 22 '10 at 18:25
  • True. I've replaced 'mammals' by 'tetrapods'. – Colin Fine Dec 23 '10 at 12:23
  • Are all birds tetrapods? – Kris Feb 20 '12 at 9:03
  • Yes, by definition. This is the classificatory "tetrapod", meaning the clade that contains those classes irrespective of the number of legs that any given species may have. Whales and snakes are tetrapods, because they are respectively mammals and reptiles, even though neither has four legs. – Colin Fine Feb 21 '12 at 0:55

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