I was supremely lucky this past fall to get six delicious fresh figs. It’s a rare treat for me since figs have such a short season and an even shorter shelf life. This year, I nearly had to leg wrestle my way to the bin at the store to score some of these fresh beauties. I had commented to another patron at the store that I couldn’t wait to get these little fellas home, stuff them with some goat cheese, wrap them in a bit of bacon, give them a quick balsamic and honey glaze, and pop them into the oven. Now, tender, sweet figs stuffed with rich, herbed goat cheese and wrapped with what is, quite possibly, the world’s most perfect meat makes me weak in the knees. The bacon, of course, is sublime, but the sweetness of the figs with the delicate crunch of those seeds really sells it.
My fellow shopper replied with “Well, good for you. I couldn’t possibly eat any of that. I’m vegan.” Fair enough. In a past life, I worked as a personal chef and did a tremendous amount of work with vegetarians and vegans alike. Although I may never personally understand a life without cheese, I can respect it and I can certainly cook in that fashion.
One portion of that exchange, however, didn’t quite seem right. I actually followed Mr. Vegan (I didn’t ask his name) into the next aisle and asked for some clarification. “I’m sorry,” I continued, “but what did you mean by you couldn’t eat any of it? Cheese and bacon are out, but who could ever turn down a looker like this?” I asked, tapping my fresh figs ever so gently.
He just smiled and told me to look it up. Harrumph. I paid for my groceries and headed home. I sort of forgot about our conversation and got about the business of dissecting my figs and, well, reveling in their glorious figgy-ness. In fact, until this past week, I hadn’t thought about that exchange of words in the produce department at all. Until I found an interesting link on reddit.com that clarified the whole business for me.
Many vegans and some vegetarians consider figs to be off limits because fig plants are fertilized by female wasps. In the fertilization process, the edible fig is produced and generally at least one female wasp is absorbed into the edible fruit. Her body is digested by ficin, an enzyme present in the fig. And, no, the crunchy bits inside a fig are not wasp bits or eggs. Those are seeds of the fig and all the waspiness is virtually indistinguishable.
Well, I thought, there you have it. I could make the argument that most commercially prepared food is allowed, by a law, certain limits for “Food Defects”, as termed by the FDA. This allows for a certain amount of, shall we say, wiggle room, for the presence of insect bits, molds, and even mammalian feces in your food. Does this gross me out? Well, not really. Food, whether it be from plant or animal sources, is certainly part of our living world. I’ll take a little bugginess over residual pesticide any day.
And I’ll take a fig, wasp and all, in a red hot, goat cheese stuffed, bacon-wrapped minute.