Debate: Should Vegans Eat Honey?

We pick out some popular debates in the vegan world and tackle them head-on. This time, we ask if vegans should eat honey

 

Should vegans eat honey?

Debate: Should Vegans Eat Honey? 1

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.

 

Debate: Should Vegans Eat Honey? 2

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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10 Comments

  1. kelly on August 23, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    no honey for a vegan life
    people are stealing

  2. Hanabee on August 24, 2017 at 6:55 am

    I am on the side of NO bees need treating with respect and I will be sourcing a hive next year just for them to live in. I will not be taking their supplies as that is no way to treat another animal. Insects are animals too.xxx

  3. Thomas on August 18, 2018 at 11:04 am

    There are amazing alternatives to honey that do not cause harm to bees. Try Grace’s vegan pantry pineapple hunnie. Tastes just like honey. The honey industry is barbaric and is a major player in the decline of bee populations. Even small scale farming will result in bee populations dwindling.

  4. nathan on August 31, 2018 at 11:42 am

    If everyone stopped eating honey, bee farming would practically end and there would not be enough pollination to support an ever increasing plant based diet. No bees, no pollination, no food. Wild bees and Insects can not do this job alone. Food prices would soar and the world as a whole would suffer. The whole argument is a paradox, how can you eat pineapple hunnie when there won’t be any pineapples? How can you eat agave when there won’t be any cacti? Good beekeepers do not take too much from the hive and only use sugar syrups to sustain the hive through winter. If you buy good local honey there is no problem at all. If vegans do not want to hurt insects, do they also stop driving cars so bugs don’t hit the window? NO……

    • Ruth manito on December 3, 2019 at 7:40 am

      I agree with Nathan. We have recently become vegan for my daughters health condition and are enjoying much improved health for both of us. Honey was an issue thrown at us by a vegetarian because we do use it. They seem to revel in making us feel bad. Formerly they were the “healthy” ones now they seem to think we are somehow going one better so have been put out. All things considered Eat what you feel is good and healthy for you.

  5. Guy on October 11, 2018 at 9:37 am

    It would be better to have had some sort of verification of both claims rather than contractictory positions with no way of understanding which is correct. Is it true that even raw wild honeys made by people who claim to look after the bees well and ensure they have enough honey for themselves still harms the bees? I would be interested in knowing whether the supposed best practice is actually harmless.

  6. Veganbegan on April 11, 2019 at 7:26 pm

    Mmmm honey. Food made by animals tastes so good

  7. Celestial living on December 26, 2019 at 1:01 am

    Stayed on a natural beeping farm and learned alot about how to sustainably and respectfully harvest raw honey from special hives that are natural for the bees.
    As a vegan I don’t buy conventional honey but I did eat honey on from This natural bee hive, because I know what was going on.
    Honey is for the bees first and for most but I also think it is ok to take some honey (if there the bee colony is strong and there is enough for the bees) and to only use honey for medicinal reasons (not for sweetening food, cooking or putting in tea) but only to eat raw for full health benefits. Otherwise it is a waste.
    We should be respectful and thankful for what we take and we should also share our hard work be it the food we grow or whatever it is we spend time on with: other plants, animals and people. Because everything is energy and if you just take but do not give back then you are motivated by greed and selfishness and do not deserve to take from the bees

  8. Carly on January 4, 2020 at 10:57 am

    I keep bees…. Currently following a vegan diet but will still eat honey and here’s why: I care for my bees diligently and they’re essential to the planet, whether or not I harvest the honey, I still need to tend the hives to look for signs of colony collapse, to re queen old hives or they swarm, to check for parasites and general health.
    No, I don’t take all their honey, that’s a false assumption…. If you take all the honey your bees die and at around £500 per new nuc it’s just not going to be worth it for a bit of honey. Add to that the fact that you can never guage the nature of a new swarm and yes, they’re all different…. Some are calm, some are downright friendly and others are absolutely ornery.
    No beekeeper ever takes all the honey, that would be a mind numbingly stupid thing to do.
    All hives produce a massive surplus of honey every year and that honey very quickly crystallises which the bees cannot, in fact, eat.
    Therefore, we harvest a little under a third of the very earliest frames in September, leaving them with over two thirds of it…. And even then some will still crystalise but we don’t need more so we don’t take more.
    The bee population relies on enthusiasts like us to make sure they don’t die out and believe me, it’s not a cheap hobby.
    By taking a scant third we can offer more frames for them to fill with newer honey which they can then eat. The honey we harvest is a by product of responsible hive management.

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