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Debate 3: Honey

Should vegans eat honey?

A sticky issue

Making a fuss about honey is one of those things that gives vegans a bad name. How many times have you tried to explain your vegan diet to somebody, and had them listening quite patiently, until you’ve used the phrase ‘… even honey’ – only to see them explode with frustration? It just feels like an unnecessary, pedantic, step too far.

Honey is a natural food that humans have been eating forever. It occurs naturally in the wild and can be harvested without causing any damage to bees or the environment.

Honey is one of the first things you see on the shelf in health food shops, and for good reason. Raw honey is an alkaline–forming food that contains natural vitamins, enzymes, powerful antioxidants and other important nutrients. It has anti–viral, anti–bacterial and anti–fungal properties. It promotes digestive health, is a powerful antioxidant, strengthens the immune system and is an excellent remedy for skin wounds and all types of infections. To put it simply, humans have been benefitting from the many and varied properties of natural honey for thousands of years.

And unlike sugar, it’s not just a sweetener. If you are looking for a way to get some sweetness into your diet, surely it makes more sense to use a natural food that is full of extra nutrients than it does to add empty calories in the form of processed, refined sugar. Honey’s a health food, and lots of US vegan cookbooks, including raw food books, do include honey in preference to refined sugar.

Bees are under threat from disease and erosion of their natural habitats. It’s good for humans to act as custodians to take care of them. By providing safe homes and reliable food, we can rebuild their populations. Honey is a fair pay–back for that and if they don’t like it they can always fly off and start a new hive somewhere else.

Vegans respect all animal life, and of course bees are animals, nobody is trying to make out that insects don’t count, but just like people who keep rescued chickens and eat their eggs, there’s no reason why vegans can’t keep bees and care for them respectfully.

The idea that you can somehow obtain honey without harming bees is a myth. If you’re buying honey, you can’t pretend that it comes from wild hives or that the bees are making it purely for your benefit.

Bees create honey to store the food that the hive needs to survive over winter, when there are no flowers around. If we eat honey, we’re taking their food. When we take that honey, either the hive dies or you have to feed the bees artificially, with sugar, to keep them alive. In many industrial–scale honey operations, hives are routinely burned after the honey is harvested, because that’s cheaper than feeding them. The only other alternative is to keep adding extra empty layers to the hive, and make it bigger and bigger, which makes the bees believe that they have a lot of mouths to feed, and keeps them working until they drop to produce more honey than they need, so you can have some of it. They will literally work themselves to death if they have to.

There’s a reason why bee–keepers have to wear protective clothing – bees will sting if they feel their vital resources are under attack, and for a bee, delivering that sting means certain death. They’re prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect the community.

Even with painstakingly careful handling, and using smoke to drug the bees and make them sleepy, opening the hive to move the honey combs almost inevitably causes bees to be injured or killed. The queen bee is routinely confined in a small area of the hive, to stop her from moving around and laying eggs in the honey combs.

One online comment on this topic said ‘Veganism is about animals, not insects.’ That’s a mistake for all sorts of reasons. We all draw the line somewhere, but bees are highly evolved intelligent creatures with complex communities.

It’s true that bees are under threat, but eating honey isn’t a way to save them – quite the opposite. Not all bees are honey bees and we need to protect their natural habitats and make sure the plants they feed on remain in their environment, rather than trying to farm them.

 

 

We have presented you with two sides of the argument, but what do you think?

Have your say below…

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