Figs: Not Technically Vegetarian
The delicious, often-expensive and wonderfully nutritious Asian (and Middle Eastern) native known as the fig, now grown all over the world (its dried counterpart conveniently available year-round), is not a vegetarian staple, but is itself a compendium of symbiosis in nature that green-savvy readers can certainly appreciate.
The plant, much like others, grows thanks to the droppings of the animals that consume it, and is commonly food for the life around it (think: plants, animals, etc). MOST interestingly, the fruit itself gets a no-go on the vegetarian note because of the process of production:
The fertilized female wasp enters the fig through the scion, which is a tiny hole in the crown…she crawls on the inflorescence inside the fig and pollinates some of the female flowers. She lays her eggs inside some of the flowers and dies. After weeks of development…the male wasps emerge before females through holes they produce by chewing the galls. The male wasps then fertilize the females by depositing semen in the hole in the gall. The males later return to females and enlarge the holes to enable the females to emerge…some males enlarge holes in the screen, which enables females to disperse after collecting pollen from the developed male flowers.
The process is quick and forges a great example of the symbiotic nature of animals. Wasps and fig trees perpetuate themselves via one-another, the product of this relationship culminates in the fruit that feeds other plants, animals, and is itself an extremely lucrative industry (so much so that Nabisco spent approximately $14.8 million on advertising their Fig Newtons [now just “Newtons”] in 2011).
This begs the question: By eating a fig, am I eating a wasp? The answer: Absolutely, at least one female wasp, in fact. Those familiar with figs should know: No, it’s not the crunchy bits that are wasp, as her carcass is broken down by the fruit. An article on howstuffworks.com goes into detail about the process, noting that: “Fig farmers want to keep the number of wasps entering edible figs to an acceptable minimum…too many wasps entering will result in over-pollination. Then this fig might be filled with so many seeds that the fruit-like syconium bursts open. While this is good for the plant, it hurts the finished harvest for farmers.” While it’s certainly possible that there’s more than one female wasp digested in the figs in stores, it’s in the best interest of the farmers to avoid this to a reasonable extent.
I raise the question: Does this mean that figs shouldn’t be eaten by vegetarians? I don’t really think so – a line from howstuffworks.com sums up my sentiments:
There are 900 species of fig wasp, and each is responsible for pollinating one or two species of fig plant. Without these tiny insects, there would be no figs —and vice versa.” What one is consuming when he or she eats figs is a symbiotic relationship that has existed long before any human had pondered the ethical quandaries of food consumption. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be discussed, as much as perhaps some exemptions exist in nature that aren’t so black and white.