I have spent much time wondering if I should discuss this topic. Ever since becoming vegan, this really hasn’t been a focus of mine to have a strong opinion for or against, although it is heavily debated in the vegan community.
Meat, dairy, and eggs are pretty obvious in that they are not ethical. There’s no valid reason why we eat the meat of certain animals over others. We have the resources to no longer rely upon meat to survive. Nor does it make sense to drink the milk of another species not remotely similar to humans, or consume infertile eggs of a bird. If we can live a healthy, satiating lifestyle without harming others, we might as well, right?
But honey is a difficult explanation as to why many do not believe in consuming it. From a standard vegan definition, honey is not vegan because it comes from an animal, a by-product that isn’t made for our own purposes. Bees produce honey as their single source of food and essential nutrients during poorer weather and the winter months. Using flower nectar, “house bees” regurgitate the nectar into honey. So yes, honey is basically sweet bee vomit. Delicious.
Depending on where honey is sourced for bear-shaped bottles or honey-sweetened products, the methods of obtaining honey can be sticky (pun intended). Farmers in larger-scale productions remove honey from a hive and replace it with a sugar substitute which is significantly worse for the bees’ health since it lacks the essential nutrients, fats and vitamins of honey. The bees then exhaust themselves by working to replace the missing honey. During the removal of honey, the bees can die after stinging the farmers. Queen bees often have their wings clipped by beekeepers to prevent them leaving the hive to produce a new colony elsewhere, which would decrease productivity and lessen profit.
There’s a reason so many are shouting from the rooftops to save the bees. They are essential to life as we know it. Without bees, the plants we rely upon for oxygen and food would not exist. Honey production isn’t always helpful in supporting bees, depending on a farmer’s intentions. Honey bees who are specifically bred to increase productivity narrows the population gene pool and increases susceptibility to disease and large-scale die-offs. Diseases are also caused by importing different species of bees for use in hives. The honey industry, like many other commercial industries, is profit-driven where the welfare of the bees is always secondary to commercial gain.
Non-vegans and vegans alike may question this stance on honey. Bees are insects, so we cannot necessarily tell if they are harmed in honey production, if they are sentient beings that should be treated equally to the cows, pigs, and chickens we protect. For this, I have no answer. But from an ethical standpoint, especially as bees face potential extinction, consuming honey is not only detrimental to bees, it’s detrimental to the environment, and has dangerous consequences to our own food supply.
There are plenty of resources out there that explain honey production better than I can. I highly recommend this website in particular for some in-depth analysis. I’m no more knowledgeable than anybody else out there researching how to best live a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. More power to you if you take that time to figure out where your food comes from and the impact it may have on others and the environment.
With all of the information I’ve read, I would say that I now have a firmer stance against honey, most prominently honey used in mass production and found on grocery store shelves. However, I am not entirely opposed to honey that is from local beekeepers who knowingly support the bees they have. In fact, beekeeping may be our only option left for honey bees to survive at all since wild colonies are few and far between. I’m already a big proponent of buying locally, especially in this case where beekeepers take the time to do the process correctly and safely.
And for those who are still opposed to any and all things honey-related, you can still actively support local bee populations by planting bee-friendly flowers and proposing for communities to plant more of these flowers in public spaces. And, as with the proliferation of vegan-friendly products, there are plenty of honey replacements on the market that can still fill any sweet cravings.
What you decide is best for you is truly an individual decision. I’m not about to shame someone who loves a good drizzle of honey or Honey Bunches of Oats. That’s their life, their choice. But what I can do is let them know the information out there. Make it a conversation and be open-minded, as with anything. Do not let a devotion to ethics and animals deter you from the same respect for humanity. And luckily, knowledge is something that won’t sting.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie