Figs: they’re sweet, delicious, and totally vegan-friendly. Right?
Not so fast.
Figs are the subject of much controversy in the plant-based community—but why? What gives? Keep reading as we explore the controversy around figs and their status as vegan-friendly or not.
Can Vegans Eat Figs?
Figs are a great source of fibre, iron, and magnesium. They’re also packed with antioxidants and other nutrients that help keep your body in good shape.
They can be eaten fresh, but they’re also available dried or canned. You can eat them plain or add them to recipes for an extra nutritional boost!
With all their health benefits, you might be surprised to learn that figs are technically NOT a fruit.
They’re actually an inverted flower!
And as it turns out, that’s not the only surprising thing about them.
Since this healthy treat comes from trees and not from exploiting animals, on the surface it would seem like they should be considered vegan. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that there is some debate among vegans about whether or not figs are actually suitable for their diets.
Tbh, the vegan community can’t seem to make up their mind on this one.
But if you ask us, it’s really more of a personal choice once you’ve heard both sides of the argument.
Why Are Figs Vegan-Questionable?
Like all flowers, figs require pollination, and certain kinds of figs depend on help from pollinator wasps, but the way they accomplish this is a little… unusual.
Fig wasps enter through a small hole in its skin and then become trapped inside, once they’re inside the fruit, they can’t survive and sadly for our buzzy friends, that’s where their journey ends.
Wait, So Eating Figs Means Eating Wasps?
Worry not, the fig wasp is long gone by the time you’re eating one.
The enzyme present in the fig breaks down the wasps, and its exoskeleton is absorbed back into the fruit way before you take a bite. So, don’t be fooled by the crunchy seeds in figs; they’re not bits of dead wasps, the crunch is just seeds, nothing more.
Some vegans still refuse to eat figs though, because absorbed or not, they still object to eating the wasp that pollinated it.
Why Most Vegans DO Eat Figs
While all this may sound like a pretty gruesome way for a tiny creature to go out, a lot of vegans believe that the pollination of figs by wasps is a natural process and consequently not an example of animal exploitation.
“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals”
When it comes to eating figs, most vegans argue this falls under the “as far as possible.” part of the vegan definition.
There is a massive difference from an ethical standpoint between the meat industry and the incidental consumption of insects within figs due to a natural process that would happen regardless of human intervention.
In Fact, Figs And Fig Wasps NEED Each Other To Reproduce.
It’s a pretty simple process, but it’s also one of the most awe-inspiring examples of symbiosis in nature.
Fig wasps have a long, thin proboscis that they use to break into the fig’s flesh and lay their eggs. Once they’ve laid their eggs, they die—but not before they’ve helped the fig grow into a fruiting body that will eventually produce more figs for other wasps to pollinate.
The whole thing is a weird, beautiful cycle: the fig provides shelter and nutrition for its pollinators and in return gets pollinated by the fig wasp–because both organisms benefit from the interaction, it’s called a mutualistic relationship.
However, the next fact blows the whole debate out of the water anyway:
The Majority Of Figs Sold In Supermarkets Are ‘Common Figs’, Which Do Not Require Pollinator Wasps At All!
As well as this, farmers in colder climates like the United Kingdom often use artificial pollination, by injecting or spraying plant hormones on them. So if you happen to come across a fig that takes your fancy, chances are it won’t have been pollinated by fig wasps–and that’s good news for vegans.
So, can vegans eat figs? The answer is: it’s a matter of personal choice.
But, if you’re a vegan fig lover we say: don’t let anyone stop you from enjoying this sweet treat!
It’s unlikely that you’ll add one pollinated by wasps to your basket if sticking to common figs —and even if you’re adventurous and munching other varieties, or even wild figs, in our eyes, they’re vegan-friendly and super healthy to consume (as long as you can get past the ick factor).
Thanks for reading! And be sure to let us know where you stand on this debate!