Is Honey Vegan?

Is Honey Vegan? To answer your question quickly, the answer is no. 


So what’s with all the buzz around honey production (see what I did there),  and why is it so bad?


In order to learn why honey isn’t vegan, first we need to understand what being vegan truly means. Veganism is not just a diet, it is a philosophy that rejects the use of animals as a commodity - meaning vegans don't just abstain from eating animal products, but reject the idea of seeing an animal as an “item” to buy. Ever see a vegan person wearing leather shoes, sporting a fur coat, or holding an alligator skin purse? Of course not! That’s because animals are someone and unfortunately in today’s world, they are seen as something. 


So, you may be asking yourself, “what’s the deal with honey?” “It’s not made of bees, so it must be completely ethical to consume!” But, as we learned above, vegans are against the commoditization of animal products, and well… honey would not exist without bees. 


I must admit, before going vegan I had a hard time feeling sympathy for bees, because after all they’re just dumb bugs, right? (Spoiler: I was very very wrong!)


Bees are smarter than we think! 


Infact their little brains are a lot more complex than most would initially assume. Bees are capable of solving simple arithmetic, understand how to use tools for problem solving purposes, and can make quick decisions based on different obstacles they are presented with. 


They also experience more complex emotions than one might think at first glance. One study was conducted to test the way bees reacted to a predator attack.  Analysis of their brains showed the dopamine, serotonin, and octopamine levels dropping, indicating signs of depression. This study proved that bees were not only capable of acting pessimistic, but more importantly, the three neurotransmitters responsible for this reaction indicated the same thing. They also experience optimism, or happiness! In the same study, scientists found that bees delightfully sped to water tanks filled with sugar, excited for the sweet taste. Sure, they may not experience emotions the same way we humans do, but their brains are still doing so much cognitive work considering they’re roughly the size of a sesame seed. 


Why is this important to know?


The reason it’s important to understand this concept is because it’s too easy to dismiss another species’s value. Many are quick to reason that insects are less deserving of life because they don’t possess the qualities that humans have. This concept is also referred to as speciesism. Adopting veganism into your life is truly understanding that species separate from our own matter, just as our individual lives do. 


Now that we’ve established that bees are not in fact “just dumb bugs”, this is where the unethical commercialization of honey production becomes very problematic. 


Commercial Honey Farming Practices


Unfortunately, there are many unethical practices that come into play with bee farming. Like any business, the procedures implemented to make the most money do not consider the wellbeing of the “thing” being commoditized... 


Male worker bees (often referred to as drones) are crushed to death and then have their semen extracted from them. That semen is then injected inside the queen bee (against her will), and her wings are clipped to help the bee keepers identify her. Clipping her wings also stops natural events such as swarming from happening. Swarming is when the bee colony splits up into 2 or more separate colonies. Swarming (although a natural process) decreases the rate in which honey is produced (and we wouldn’t want that would we…).


In many cases, after the bees have been used for their honey, the hive is then culled (or slaughtered) for the winter. The reason for this is because it costs more to keep the bees alive than it does to kill them all. How do they kill these massive hives of bees? There are a few different methods bee farmers use from burning the entire hive, drowning the bees, suffocating them with carbon dioxide, or trapping them in a large garbage bag so they either die due to the increased temperature inside the bag or from suffocation. 


Even if the hives are not culled, a large population of bees die anyway due to the poor living conditions they are subjected to. Bees normally eat the honey they produce (but as you know we take that honey) so “what do they eat instead?”. Humans created a sugar syrup as a replacement, however this substitute is void of all of the natural properties and health benefits that honey normally contains.


Environmental Impacts of Breeding Honey Bees


Honey bees are selectively bred which has some harrowing side effects. For one, selective breeding drastically narrows the gene pool, increasing the chances of large scale epidemics within the population. This is because there is not enough genetic diversity within the population to create an immune response. Chances of diseases being spread are increased due to the international and domestic trade of hives. The traveling conditions increase the rapid spread of both diseases and parasites. 


The problem with these diseases spreading is that not only do they hurt the honey bee populations, but they can affect wild bumble bee populations as well. For example, honey bees infected with a disease and pollinate flowers within a specific ecosystem can easily transfer their ailment to the wild bumble bee populations who are pollinating that same flower. The bee population has already suffered a drastic decline in recent years, and this epidemic is worsened by industrialized farming bee practices. Honey bee populations directly affect the hundreds of other bee species because they are directly competing for the same pollen and nectar. 


Wild bees are out-competed by the honey bees and this results in their populations further declining. Why is it important to have a diverse population of different bee species? The entire structure of an ecosystem is centered around biodiversity. There needs to be different types of pollinators who pollinate a number of different plant species. This is a staple in keeping any ecosystem thriving! 


What can you do?


After reading this, the world may seem... dim. Humans have a way of exploiting and destroying the beautiful balance of nature. The best way that you can help this situation is by no longer eating honey. The most impactful act of protest you can make is with your wallet. The reason these industries are still running (and growing) is because they are profiting. By actively not buying honey, or products that contain money, you are making a practical stance against these corrupt industries. The other thing you can do is share this message. One of the largest reasons people buy things that are funding corrupt industries is simply because - they don’t know any better! The reason you’re reading this now is because you too were confused about it! By spreading this information, and all doing our part, we can make a change. 


If I can’t have honey, what am I going to put in my tea? 


We are so glad you asked… We have compiled a list of alternative plant based sweeteners that do the trick when those cravings hit!


Agave Nectar 

Dandelion Syrup

Maple Syrup

Date Syrup

Bee Free Honey

And of course Sugar! Western Sugar is a great product that uses beet sugar!


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