It might not be something you've ever considered before, but do vegans eat figs? And if not, why are figs not vegan? We explore this hotly debated topic to find out if figs are vegan...
Figs are just an innocent fruit, that are equally delicious eaten raw or used in vegan recipes, right? Nothing controversial about that. Well, that’s not quite the case.
In fact, some vegans choose to avoid certain types of figs due to their unique pollination process that involves a mutualistic relationship with specific types of wasps.
During the pollination process, the body of the pollinating wasp is broken down by a protein-digesting enzyme inside the fig.
As a wasp has died in this process, some people argue that figs are not vegan. Others counter that it is just a part of nature, and doesn’t really constitute exploitation of the wasp.
In this article, we explore the unusual pollination process of figs and explain why some vegans choose to avoid eating them.
It's a personal decision to weigh up the arguments and decide for yourself if figs are vegan. Photo © S W / EyeEm via Getty images
Do figs contain wasps?
There are several different species of fig wasps that have a symbiotic relationship with different species of fig trees including: Common Fig Wasp, Caprifig Wasp, Egyptian Fig Wasp, and Gall-Wasps.
Certain varieties of figs such as “caprifigs” rely on these wasps to pollinate them, a symbiotic relationship which kills the wasp and absorbs its body into the fruit itself.
Because figs start off as an inverted flower, the wasp must crawl inside in order to pollinate them. The wasp then becomes trapped in the fig and dies, and enzymes within the fig digest the body of the wasp.
However, it’s important to note that most commercially available figs, commonly known as “common figs” (Ficus carica), do not require wasps for pollination.
The figs found in supermarkets are typically of this variety and are not pollinated by wasps. Plus, in contrast to what some people think, the crunchy bits in figs are seeds, and not the remains of wasps.
Figs rely on Chalcid wasps to pollinate them, but because figs start off as an inverted flower, the wasp must crawl inside in order to pollinate them. Photo © Bascar via Adobe Stock
Can vegans eat figs?
While the idea of consuming wasps may be off-putting to some, it’s important to recognise that the fig fruit itself does not inherently involve the exploitation or harm of animals. Figs grow naturally on trees, and their consumption does not require the direct use or involvement of animals in the process.
This means that figs themselves are considered vegan, but some vegans may choose to avoid specific types or figs based on personal preferences.
According to the Vegan Society: “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
For many vegans, the important part is ‘as far as practicable’. There is a world of difference between factory farming, the daily slaughter of animals, and the animal testing that goes on in labs on one side, and the incidental consumption of insects on the other.
The pollination of figs is an entirely natural – and mutually beneficial – process that takes place in some, but not all, varieties of figs.
Figs themselves are considered vegan, but some vegans may choose to avoid specific types or figs based on personal preferences or ethical considerations. Photo © Happy Window via Adobe Stock
Nutrition student Jamie Kennedy says: “Some commercial fig varieties are grown without wasp pollination – so first of all a blanket ban on all figs is completely unnecessary.
“I eat them because they are very healthy – figs are a good source of fibre and a number of minerals.
“I think some people should bear arable farming methods in mind – every time you eat bread, mice will have been accidentally harvested by the machines, for example. If you’re going to eliminate figs from your diet, you are going to have a hard time justifying eating wheat or other harvested crops where the collateral damage is equal or even worse.
“Because this is a natural process, I am satisfied I am not contributing to the exploitation or suffering of animals by eating this fruit.”
Some commercial fig varieties are grown without wasp pollination – so not all of them with contain remnants of pollinating wasps. Photo © seven75 via Getty Images
Why don’t vegans eat figs?
However, some vegans choose not to eat figs because they disagree with consuming animals, no matter what the context is.
Jess Mann, who has been vegan for 22 years, says: “While there are always going to be trace amounts of insects in food – and even animals like mice being accidentally killed during the harvesting process – I see that as different to eating figs.
“You are not guaranteed to be eating these insects when you’re eating other veggies or fruits, but you are with figs, so it seems like an easy and practicable step to take to avoid them.
“I personally have a revulsion to eating meat because I find it disgusting. Just look at the ‘controlled rotting process’ hung beef goes through – it’s gross. I feel the same about eating a decomposed wasp’s body. It’s just horrible to think about a living creature decomposing – and then eating it.
“Even many omnivores find the idea of eating insects distasteful – though it is commonplace in some cultures; it’s not something that is globally popular. For many vegans, it’s this element that makes them feel a bit squeamish about them.”
In summary, figs themselves are considered vegan, but some vegans may choose to avoid specific types or fig-based products based on their personal preferences.
You’ve heard both sides of the argument, now it’s over to you to decide whether or not you continue to consume figs.
And while you’re in a reflective mood, why not ask yourself the question ‘Is beer vegan?‘
Featured image © Vladislav Nosick via Getty Images