Why Are Figs Not Vegan?

Fruits and veggies are a vegan staple, right? There’s no reason why a vegan wouldn’t be able to devour a delicious fruit like figs, right? Well… Yes, figs are DEFINITELY a fruit, however, there’s some debate about whether or not they’re actually suitable for vegans.

Why Are Figs Not Vegan?

Some vegans avoid them, others eat them without question, but why are figs up for debate anyway? Well, the issue surrounds their method of pollination.

What are Figs?

Okay, first things first… What are figs? Although we call figs a fruit, newsflash: they’re technically an inverted flower. Figs are the edible ‘fruit’ of a small flowering tree found in the Mediterranean and western Asia.

When tender and ripe, figs taste a little syrup and sweet, with hints of berry. Although there are many varieties of fig, most figs have the same taste and flavor, with subtle variations.

Are Figs Vegan?

So, are figs vegan? The answer isn’t quite so simple. Here’s why. Figs rely on wasps to pollinate them. This isn’t all that unusual, but remember, figs are an inverted flower.

This means that to pollinate the fig, the wasp must crawl inside it, become trapped, and subsequently die. The enzymes within the fig will then digest its body. So, yes, every time you eat a fig, you’re technically eating a dead wasp, too. So, how do vegans feel about this?

Well, at the very heart of veganism is a pledge to eat sustainably and prevent the exploitation of, and cruelty to animals, whether that’s for food, clothing, or something else.

I think we can all agree that no wasps were abused or exploited when pollinating a fig, because this process is entirely natural. The harsh realities of factory farming and animal slaughter are a million miles away from this natural, incidental consumption of insects.

This is why most vegans will continue to eat figs, however, some still choose to avoid them. There’s one irrefutable fact at the heart of this debate – certain species of wasps and figs will rely on each other to reproduce.

The wasp’s unfortunate death in this process is an unavoidable part of this process, and something that has been happening since, well, forever.

The Science Behind Fig Pollination

The Science Behind Fig Pollination

Intrigued to learn more about this fascinating feat? Let’s take a closer look at the science behind it. When a female wasp decides to pollinate a fig, she will fly into the flower via a narrow passage, ripping her wings off in the process.

Once she’s inside the fig flower, she’ll be unable to leave. If the fig plant is female, she’ll be able to pollinate it, but she won’t be able to lay her eggs inside.

When she’s either pollinated the plant (or realized she messed up and chose the wrong one), she’ll eventually die within the fig, decompose, and become one with the fig, subsequently being eaten by a human.

If a female wasp happens to enter a male fig, she won’t be able to pollinate it. However, she will be able to lay her eggs inside. Remember, though, she’ll still be wingless, so her unfortunate fate is still unavoidable.

However, her eggs will eventually hatch, giving rise to a new family of wasps inside the fig. These wasps have a shot at a much more promising future, as they’ll have their wings, and be able to tunnel their way out of the fig.

However, most of these baby wasps will take the male pollen with them, and use it to pollinate another female fig. So, unfortunately, the cycle will probably continue. This analogy is a prime example of the circle of life.

Should Vegans Eat Figs?

Although the topic causes some division, ethically, it’s no real issue for vegans to eat figs. Figs also have some pretty impressive health benefits, including vitamins A, K, C, and B, calcium, iron, copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and more.

They may even be able to control blood sugar levels and lower the risk of heart disease. So, if you don’t feel too guilty about eating a fig, you’ll be doing yourself a vitamin-loaded favor. But… What about the wasps?

Aren’t we all technically eating dead wasps when we eat figs? Although there’s some truth to this, the enzymes within the fig completely absorb the wasp. So, no, those crunch bits you find in your fig are the seeds, not the unabsorbed remains of the wasp.

However, you don’t have to eat figs if you’re not comfortable with them. Although they contain dead wasps, they technically don’t go against the morals and ethics at the heart of veganism, meaning they’re fine for vegans to eat.

If you’ve got a guilty conscience, though, just avoid them. There are plenty of other tasty fruits and veggies out there for you to enjoy!

Fig Products Aren’t Always Vegan

Although figs are technically vegan, not all fig products are. Figs can be used in a variety of processed and baked products, including fig rolls and even jelly.

If your baked goods contain eggs or dairy, or your jelly contains gelatin, this is NOT vegan, and you should not eat them.

Always examine the ingredient label of any fig products before consuming them – just because they have figs in, doesn’t mean they’re safe for vegans. Even certain food additives and dyes can contain animal ingredients, so take care before consuming them.

The Bottom Line

So… are figs vegan? Yes and no is probably the right answer. They may contain a dead wasp, but the process is entirely natural and doesn’t seem to challenge the ethics at the heart of veganism.

However, not all vegans will feel comfortable eating them… after all, a wasp DID die to create this fruit, even if it is a part of life. It seems that whether figs are vegan or not is a matter of personal preference, so consider your stance carefully before you eat them.

Jenna Priestly
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