Can Vegans Eat Figs? [And Why Some People Think You Can’t]

Veganism primarily refers to a particular lifestyle where the individual tries to minimize animal cruelty and exploitation as much as they possibly and practically can. This definition often gets ignored when people want to cause trouble or stir the pot, so to speak.

I’ve had countless people come to me and tell me that I’m not vegan because I eat a particular food. Yes, some things are downright non-vegan and shouldn’t be eaten on a vegan diet. Most of the controversy I find is from various fruits and vegetables.

Vegan diets should never contain animal products at all. This includes poultry, red meat, eggs, fish, and dairy. Primarily, vegans must stay away from any foods that are derived from such ingredients.

For example, many commercially-prepared products contain animal fat, even in sweets and food coloring. Manufacturers may hide the information on the label, or you, as a vegan, don’t realize what it is.

One fruit that seems to cause the most questions is around figs since they’re pollinated by a wasp that gets absorbed into the fruit. Technically an animal was used in making the fig.

So, can vegans eat figs? Yes, figs are considered vegan despite how they are pollinated since it is a natural process.

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The Fig Debate

Here is the breakdown: figs are considered a plant-based food; therefore, they are vegan. There is some controversy from experts and pro debaters who have suggested that figs are actually not vegan and must be avoided by anyone who wants to lead a vegan lifestyle.

To be fair, I’m going to look at both sides of this debate because I think you should have all the facts. Primarily, I believe that figs are vegan and eat them myself.

Some vegans prefer not to after they learn about the way they are grown and produced. This is a personal choice for you and one that you’ve got to make for yourself.

Why Figs Aren’t Considered Vegan (By Some)

There is plenty of debate about figs and their vegan status. Some people believe that the way figs developmentally process before they become mature doesn’t align with the ideology of veganism.

Figs start out as an enclosed and inverted flower. This shape means that bees can’t pollinate them as they do other flowers. Instead, a pollinator wasp has to help the fig reproduce.

As a female wasp nears the end of her lifespan, she crawls into that tiny opening within the fig flower and lays her eggs. During the process, she must break off her wings and antennae, dying right after.

Her body gets digested by an enzyme in the fig while the eggs start hatching. The male larvae then mate with the females and crawl out of the fruit with some pollen attached to the bodies, which continues the lifecycle of both species. (source)

Since the wasp dies inside the fig and could be considered ‘meat,’ some claim that the fruit isn’t vegan.

Why Figs Are Vegan (To Most People)

From the explanation above, most people don’t stop to think that the wasp needs the fig, and the fig needs the wasp. Without both, neither could survive!

Since it’s a natural process, no animal cruelty or exploitation is happening here. Therefore, I feel that figs are vegan, and most experts tend to agree with me!

If you’ve ever eaten a fig, you know it has a slight crunchiness to it. Some have incorrectly claimed that they are the female wasp’s remains, but they are just seeds.

In fact, the wasp itself gets digested completely from the enzymes inside the fruit. Therefore, no part of the insect remains when you bite or cut into the fruit.

It should be noted that some commercial varieties of the fig don’t require wasp pollination at all. If you feel so strongly about it, consider those options instead.

I’m here to tell you that this ‘collateral damage’ is nothing to be ashamed of. From an ethical standpoint, there’s no reason why you can’t safely eat figs.

Some Products Made With Figs Aren’t Vegan

Some claim that figs themselves aren’t vegan because the products made from them aren’t vegan. This is an untrue (and unfair) statement.

Any vegan product can be turned non-vegan by adding butter, eggs, or dairy. For example, if you cream together avocados (vegan) with cream (non-vegan), it’s now a non-vegan product. 

Many vegans prefer to sweeten baked goods with figs. If you leave out dairy products and eggs, it’s still considered vegan. Non-vegans can also use figs with meat products to produce a variety of treats. 

As a vegan, it’s primarily up to you to make sure that you’re not accidentally consuming animal products. Therefore, you should check ingredient labels thoroughly to make sure there isn’t gelatin, eggs, milk, ghee, or butter in them. Plus, some natural food dyes and food additives can contain animal ingredients, and they should be avoided.

I never said it was easy to lead a vegan lifestyle, and it takes a lot of research if you want to be a strict vegan. The whole fig controversy stems from the fact that people are confused.

If the process is natural and occurs for both species to live and reproduce, it’s not unethical or non-vegan. The primary goal of veganism is not to be cruel to animals or exploit them for clothing, food, and other purposes.

I’m not using or manipulating the wasp by eating the fig. It had to go inside and die to lay its eggs so its species could continue thriving. By looking at it this way, it’s simply part of the beautiful and natural processes of both the fig and the wasp.

Final Thoughts

As I’ve pointed out, wasps must pollinate the figs and have to die for the process to complete itself. This has caused some people to suggest that the fig isn’t vegan.

But in fact, figs are completely vegan despite being pollinated by wasps. You must consider that the relationship between the wasp and fig is mutually beneficial because each species requires the other to survive.

Most people, including vegans, don’t believe this fits in with the big picture of animal cruelty or exploitation. Whether you feel that figs are vegan or not, it’s still important to understand that all products made with figs aren’t vegan. Always check the food’s ingredient list to be sure.

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Stephanie Mantilla

Plant-Based Diet & Vegan Lifestyle Expert

Stephanie is the founder of Plant Prosperous, a plant-based vegan living, and parenting blog. She has been eating a plant-based diet for over 24 years along with a B.S. in Biology & Environmental Science. She also has over 14 years of experience working in the environmental and conservation sectors. Stephanie is currently raising her son on a plant-based diet and hopes to help others who are wanting to do the same. You can read more about her here.

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