Are figs vegan?

The ‘Ficus carica’ plant is thought to be one of the oldest cultivated plants on the planet, grown widely for it’s fruit: the fig.

For many, the fact that figs are a fruit is enough to classify them as vegan friendly. However, for others following a stricter definition of veganism, the waters aren’t so clear.

Below, we’ll outline the arguments from both sides of the debate. Before we get in to that though, here’s a little context on figs & how they’re grown:

Facing facts: The truth about figs

It’s a common misunderstanding that figs are a fruit. In fact they are more of an inverted flower with the blooms occurring inside the pod (“fruit”).

Since the flowers are inside the pod rather than out in the open, they are not as accessible to the usual pollinators. This is where the fig wasp plays a vital role. 

As the name implies, a fig-wasps life begins and ends within a fig. In fact the males are born without wings & spend their entire life within the same fig.

That means they are born in a fig, and die in a fig. The females differ in that they travel from fig-to-fig, but they are known to perish within figs too.

And that’s the crux of the argument – it’s possible/probable that your fig contains the remains of a dead wasp or two.

Let’s explore both arguments in more detail.

Argument #1: Figs are vegan.

One credible definition of “veganism”, defined by the Vegan Society, suggests that vegans should seek a way of life free of cruelty:

“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 for food….. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

Vegan Society

To those who classify figs as vegan, the part suggesting practicality is paramount.

Sure the end product may contain some residual wasp matter, but they’d argue that the production was free of cruelty & exploitation, and therefore is compatible with the vegan ideology.

Figs are a very nutritious “fruit” that contains a lot of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which is reason enough for many to want to still eat it.

Argument #2: Figs are NOT vegan. 

Those arguing against eating figs adhere to a stricter definition of veganism.

Given the definition above, they’d focus entirely on the part stating: “dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

Since the pollinating wasps often die inside the figs, then the argument would be that they are not entirely free of animal/insect matter.

According to several studies, the female fig wasps do not die a “happy” death either.

Rather, they spend a long time digging through the outer body of the fig trying to find a place to lay their eggs before ultimately ending up on the inside.

The digging process leaves them wingless, battered and exhausted, leaving them little chance of survival.

With this in mind, the ‘no’ camp argues that vegans should refuse eating figs and opt for one of the many alternatives.

In summary

The pollination process often results in wasps dying inside the fruit. Many believe that this is a natural process, free of cruelty and exploitation. Therefore they believe the fruit to be vegan.

Others believe that, as the fruit contains residual insect matter it is not vegan friendly.

Both arguments have their merits & neither side is overly controversial. As such we believe that each individual should decide for themselves and should not pass judgment on their counterparts.