I live a plant-based lifestyle. I eat some kinds of honey.
That admittance alone will likely have some people raising red flags, calling me out for not “doing veganism right,” for promoting cruelty on a mass scale, and every other reason why people think vegans are angry hippies.
The range of opinions regarding honey and how ethical it is can go anywhere from hard no, hard yes, and some hazy in-between area. As you can guess, I’m in the latter category. While I see the value of all research and ideas presented, an answer isn’t clear as to how stringent we should be to avoid any and all honey products. This isn’t as simple as knowing the harms of the meat and dairy industries and relying upon substitutes for those products. Even ingredients like gelatin and lanolin are very obvious no-go’s for vegans, but honey? Meh.
Based on the research and information I’ve found on this subject, I’ve compiled what I can to at least address every angle I can and help you make your own decision if you’re living a plant-based lifestyle. Even if you’re not, it’s still important to know where your ingredients come from and what the extraction process is involved before supporting it with your dollar.
So…is honey vegan?
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.
Besides being a natural sweetener, honey is known for its many medicinal and healing properties. Keep in mind, however, that most benefits come from raw forms of honey. There are microorganisms in honey can be comparable to antibiotics in treating wounds and allergies.
If you’re strictly viewing honey from this standpoint of being at all related to an animal, your answer is clear. But if you want to base your decision on how beekeepers extract honey and what effects this process might have on the environment and the bees themselves, it should be some of our beeswax.
Where does my honey come from?
Depending on where honey is sourced for bear-shaped bottles or honey-sweetened products, the methods of obtaining honey can be sticky (pun intended). The main concerns I find that conflict with my ethical views of treating animals are in large-scale farming productions.
Keeping up with a frantic pace to stock grocery shelves, farmers 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 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, especially on these conventional methods.
However, individual and local beekeepers are typically much more mindful of the health of their bees, keeping them happy and buzzing. They choose to be beekeepers because it maintains a solid bee population and you can sell your own products.
SAVE THE BEES.
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 or if they are sentient beings that should be treated equally to the cows, pigs, and chickens we protect. Since we depend on heavily on the bee population for all other forms of life and sustenance, the pressure to take care of them is even higher. It’s not like chickens where we really shouldn’t be eating their eggs (or their periods…I mean, that’s just weird). When local beekeepers are mindful and we keep local diversity in our wildflowers and plants, we can do our part to keep the species alive and thriving.
With all of the information I’ve read, I would say that I now have a firmer stance against mass-produced honey. 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.
Moral of the story.
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, vegan or otherwise. 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. Don’t let a devotion to ethics and animals deter you from the same respect for humanity.
Luckily, knowledge is something that won’t sting.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie