We’re living in the age of specialty diets, when it seems like every other person is either a strict vegetarian or a a proselytizing Paleo adherent or a Keto freak or an ovo-lacto-something-or-other. The rules of these diets can be hard to discern (no gluten… or carbs in general… but beans are fine?) and few eaters are more aware of the vagaries of restricted eating than vegans. For those that eschew all animal products, the lines can be hard to draw; we’ve all heard about vegans that don’t eat honey, because they don’t want to take advantage of the hard-earned fruits of bees’ labor by stealing their vital food source. But color us surprised to hear that for some, even ordinary fruits and vegetables, like avocado, aren’t seen as vegan, after all.
That was the claim made by Sandi Toksvig, host of the British comedy quiz show QI. On the BBC-aired program, three guest panelists answer questions that are “extremely obscure,” according to Wikipedia, earning points not only for the correct response, but also for unusual or funny answers. On a recent episode, according to Plant Based News, Toksvig asked the panelists to name the item—out of almonds, avocados, kiwi, butternut squash, and melon—that was not vegan. The answer? All of the above.
“It’s the same reason as honey,” Toksvig said on the show. “Because they are so difficult to cultivate naturally, all of these crops rely on bees which are placed on the back of trucks and taken very long distances across the country.”
Toksvig was referring to a real practice called migratory beekeeping, in which, just as she described, honeybees get trucked around to commercial crops that need extra help with pollination, including apples and berries in addition to the ones QI cited. In support of her claim, studies have concluded that the stress of travel can shorten bees’ lifespan and leave them more vulnerable to both disease and parasites.
“It's unnatural use of animals and there are lots of foods that fall foul of this. Broccoli is a good example,” Toksvig said on QI. “Cherries, cucumbers, lettuce. Lots and lots of vegan things are actually not strictly vegan."
People go vegan for various reasons, but many adhere to the diet in order to opt out of the cruelty inflicted on animals by the industrial food system. Under that theory, choosing not to eat honey, or other foods that require the labor of bees, would make sense—if you consider bees animals.
Yeah, but… what exactly would vegans eat if they couldn’t eat almonds, kiwi, butternut squash, broccoli, cherries, cucumbers or lettuce? And if they couldn’t eat preciously Instagrammable avocado toasts?!
Not much, not much at all. That’s why The Vegan Society has disagreed with QI’s assessment of what’s vegan and what isn’t, telling Plant Based News that “many forms of farming involve indirect harm to animals but it is unfortunately not possible or practicable to avoid the destruction of other animals in most farming at this time.”
John Parks, a longtime vegan living in the UK, eats avocados with gusto and isn’t planning to stop anytime soon, he told Huffington Post UK .
“I think sentiments like this are just used as a rod to beat vegans with and make meat-eaters feel better about themselves,” he said.