Host of BBC's panel show QI, Sandi Toksvig QI host Sandi Toksvig told contestants various plant foods are actually not vegan - Media Credit: LANDMARK MEDIA / Alamy Stock Photo

‘Avocados And Butternut Squash Are Not Vegan’ Claims BBC Show QI

Are avocados and almonds vegan? Not according to British quiz game show QI

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Almonds, avocados, kiwi, butternut squash, and melon are not vegan, according to the BBC comedy quiz game show QI.

In one segment, host Sandi Toksvig asked the panel which of the above plant foods were vegan. The contestants appeared shocked when told that none of them are.

“It’s the same reason as honey,” Toksvig explained. “They can’t exist without bees, and bees are used in, let’s call it an ‘unnatural way.'”

“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.”

“It’s migratory beekeeping and it’s unnatural use of animals and there are lots of foods that fall foul of this. Broccoli is a good example. Cherries, cucumbers, lettuce. Lots and lots of vegan things are actually not strictly vegan.”

Are some fruits and vegetables not vegan?

Indeed, bees are used to pollinate a wide range of plant-based foods. These include apples, pumpkins, plums, watermelons, alfalfa, and cranberries, among others.

The wind helps to naturally pollinate many of these crops, but not as quickly or efficiently as today’s food system demands. Bees, on the other hand, can be highly productive.

But since honeybees don’t naturally congregate in monocultures like these – they require a far more diverse and nutritious diet than one crop can provide – commercial beekeepers rent out their colonies to produce farmers.

Bees are transported across countries to pollinate various crops, a venture that has proven lucrative to beekeepers across the world. In fact, a significant number of commercial beekeepers make more money from renting their colonies out to mega-farms than they do from selling honey, Scientific American reports.

For this reason, the US Department of Agriculture considers commercial honeybees livestock. Yet, more bees die every year in the US than all other animals (including fish) who are raised for food combined.

The problem with migratory beekeeping

Transporting bee colonies cross-country, a practice known as migratory beekeeping, can be fatal to colonies. Exposure to crop pesticides and mites can cause entire colonies to collapse. Meanwhile, the travel itself (beehives are typically strapped onto pallets and transported on flatbed trucks) is a source of extreme stress for bees.

Further, according to journalist and author Alison Benjamin, migratory beekeeping “continually boomerangs honeybees between times of plenty and borderline starvation.”

Nate Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, spoke to the Guardian about the issue. “It’s like sending the bees to war,” Donley said. “Many don’t come back.”

Colorful beehives stacked onto a truck for migration
Adobe Stock Many bees die during transportation

The definition of veganism

The Vegan Society disagrees with QI’s labeling of some fruits and vegetables as non-vegan. The charity, established in 1944, is said to be the oldest vegan organization in the world. In response to QI’s claim, it points to its definition of veganism, which is widely used across the movement:

“Veganism is 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, clothing or any other purpose.”

A spokesperson for The Vegan Society, Dominika Piasecka, elaborated on this. Speaking to Plant Based News, they said: “Vegans avoid using animals as far as possible and practicable. We are aware 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.”

“However, we do not consider that just because it is not possible to avoid one hundred percent of the cruelty, suffering, and exploitation to animals that we should not bother at all,” Piasecka continued.

“Vegans make a huge contribution to the reduction in suffering and death caused to animals. And we would welcome any changes made to farming practices that support this.”

This article was originally published on October 9, 2018. It was updated on September 18, 2022 to include more information on migratory beekeeping and its impact on bees.

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