The Thing About Honey

by Ana Lucia Carrizo

The thing about honey is that it is often at the center of many debates in the vegan community.

"Is it vegan?" Some might ask. "But bees aren't animals the same way cows are, are they?" or "They only produce honey. You don't eat the bee, It's not the same thing at all, is it?", could be arguments as well.

Though the topic is hotly debated, eating honey is not (in the most strict or literal sense of the word) a vegan practice. All bees (certainly honeybees) are considered animals, and while honey is not, of course, the animal itself— it is still the bee’s primary source of food and energy.

And the thing about veganism is that it seeks to address both animal cruelty and animal exploitation.

One bee has to visit around fifteen hundred flowers to collect enough nectar to fill its 'honey stomach', a second stomach that is full of enzymes that break nectar down into honey. It's a painstaking process, and from a conscious, vegan perspective, one that is performed by bees, for bees— and that only produces a surplus of it for themselves to survive through winter, as they do not hibernate.

A surplus that is then harvested by humans.

Aside from ethical concerns, there is the environmental impact. It's pretty simple: Bees depend on energy-rich honey as their primary source of food, which they create by retrieving nectar from flowers— a process that assists in the fertilization process of these plants.

Because right along with butterflies and hummingbirds, bees are primary pollinators and key agents to the pollination of certain fruits and vegetables, such as apples and pumpkins.

There is no shortage of reasons as to why some vegans abstain entirely from eating honey. From awful practices characteristic of unethical harvesting such as 'hive burning', clipping the wings of the queen to avoid her possibly leaving the hive, the irresponsible substitution of bee's honey with high fructose corn syrup, leaving them malnourished and susceptible to disease, the use of pesticides that harm bees and lead to colony collapse disorder, et cetera.

Knowing all of this, it is not crazy to ask: Is there such a thing as ethical honey consumption? Can it ever actually be cruelty-free?

Well, some vegans think so— under certain conditions. So long as it's humanely and sustainably sourced from small scale local farms. Also, buying certified organic is always preferable, as choosing the right kind of honey can become an incentive to produce it in the most ethical way possible.

It's been said before, but all the same: We send a strong message with what we are willing or unwilling to spend our money on.

Ethical beekeeping exists. Not all honey is cruelly produced, some beekeepers (hopefully more in the future) consistently put their bees and the environment's health and well-being first.

While we draw our own lines in the sand, there are plenty of deliciously sweet, bee-friendly alternatives like agave nectar, coconut nectar, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, yacon root syrup, date syrup, and plenty other alternatives to choose from!

Ultimately it is up to us the consumers to mindfully choose whether we eat honey or not— and if we do, how we source and select it.

So, knowing all of this, where do you stand on this discussion? What's your personal take and what's your sweetener of choice?

Creators: @funcionverde & @igniting.eunoia