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.
Just as some oranges and lemons have a question mark over them, the matter of whether or not figs are vegan isn’t an entirely straightforward one either.
The issue surrounds the fact that figs rely on wasps to pollinate them. Nothing unusual there.
But because figs start off as an inverted flower, the wasp must crawl inside in order to pollinate. The wasp then becomes trapped in the fig and dies, and enzymes within the fig digest the body of the wasp.
As a wasp has died in this process, some people argue that figs therefore are not vegan. Others counter that it is just a part of nature, and doesn’t really constitute exploitation of the wasp.
Here we explore both sides of the argument so that you can make up your own mind.
Opinion 1: Yes, figs are vegan
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.”
According to its literature: “One thing we all have in common is a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey – as well as products like leather and any tested on animals.”
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. Plus in contrast to what some people think, the crunchy bits in figs are seeds, and not the remains of wasps.
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.”