honey
by Michael dEstries
Categories: Animals, Eats
Tags: .
Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons

According to Vegansaurus, during Martha Stewart’s taping of her veganpalooza special, the 69-year-host caused some in the audience to gasp a bit when she added honey to a recipe she was preparing.

“The honey connection is not obvious to everyone so I think she JUST DIDN’T KNOW,” wrote Megan Rascal. “SO this should be viewed as an opportunity to EDUCATE, not an opportunity to attack her.”

I’ve heard that honey is something of debatable foodstuff among vegans, though just going by the standard definition of “consume no animal products” seems to make it a clear-cut no/no for the lifestyle. Upon further digging, however, and some polling of my vegan friends, it appears that consumption of honey, while hush/hush, does happen in the vegan community. In fact, there are some that believe it’s not as big a deal as others would make it out to be.

Full disclosure: I’m not a vegan – just a vegetarian working his way up to it – but I do own two hives. I love my bees, pamper them, use no insecticides or other chemicals, and always leave them much more honey than they need. I know this isn’t the case with some commercial beekeepers, but for me, I consider being a part of their world a privilege. My hives are also free to come and go as they please – so if they ever swarm in search of greener pastures, so be it.

There’s some interesting debate out there over whether honey should be excluded from the “thou shalt not consume” list. Over on CompasionateSpirit.com, Keith Akers wrote an article in 2006 arguing in favor of relaxed sentiments towards those vegans that consume honey. On Vegan.org, the general rule of thumb is to always err on the side of not including honey, though they admit that some vegans do not consider insects as “conscious of pain”.  I don’t buy that last part – but to each their own.

So I’m curious – where do you stand on honey? You don’t have to be vegan to answer obviously – and please be respectful of other people’s opinions. I know this can be a heated subject, but let’s try and bee a little sweet, ok? (Bee puns never get old. Never.)

About Michael dEstries

Michael has been blogging since 2005 on issues such as sustainability, renewable energy, philanthropy, and healthy living. He regularly contributes to a slew of publications, as well as consulting with companies looking to make an impact using the web and social media. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his family on an apple farm.

View all posts by Michael dEstries →
  • http://brazilnut-nyc.blogspot.com Andrea N.

    I don’t use honey. To me, it falls in the category of “leaving all animals alone”. After all, they’re not here to serve me. And I don’t need honey to survive. Thanks for asking! Vegan hugs. ~Andrea (@Brazil_nut)

  • Marina

    taking honey from a hive doesn’t cause any so called pain to the bees. And gosh darn it, its good for my tummy!

    • http://vegan20eleven.blogspot.com/ Kali

      Marina, you are horribly mistaken.

      Honey contains the nutrients that bees and their offspring need to survive. Taking it, and replacing it with sugar water does, in fact, harm their health.

      Secondly, keeping bees in a commercial hive causes a great deal of harm. The queen bees are killed at unnatural times, and some beekeepers will kill off entire hives before winter. You can read more about it here. –> http://www.vegetus.org/honey/honey.htm

      Your ‘tummy’ is hardly a good reason for treating another living creature in that way.

      • Nancy

        Kali, I totally agree with you. Unfortunately, most of these facts are hidden from the public. If I had my own hives and never killed the queen or any other bees, then maybe I would consider using some of the honey. But as we know, any honey you find in products in the stores do not come from the small hives.

      • Tim

        Are you guys serious? Do you not think there are more important things to be discussing than whether or not honey hurts bee’s? Give me a break I mean seriously get your lives together.

  • http://foodinmylife.blogspot.com Glauce

    I’m vegan and I don’t consume honey. I think we should not use animals, treat them as objects, no matter if they feel pain or not. There are so many delicious alternatives to honey :)

    • Ekta

      Well said!

  • http://www.lifestylesofthechicandvegan.com VKO

    Honey is not vegan, just as beeswax, bee pollen & royal jelly- not vegan. Taking honey/beeswax/etc is exploitation. Bees are not ours to use, just like animals are not ours to use. And truthfully, we just don’t need honey, so why not leave it to the bees? And yes, it was disappointing that Kathy Freston didn’t simply gently educate Martha on the honey issue afterwards…it’s was touted as the vegan show afterall and it was all about educating others about veganism, which would also include the non-use of honey.

  • Badschnoodles

    I am a new vegan. When I was drawing my personal lines, I was debating with myself about honey, thinking how bad could it bee (pun intended!) and imagining all beekeepers were as you describe yourself above. But when I looked into it and discovered the factory farming/bee-slaughter side of it I decided not to eat it again. I don’t judge or preach, but my honest opinion is that if you only ever eat honey from your own hives/eggs from your own hens etc that’s one thing, but I felt that choosing ‘ethically farmed’ commercial honey was on a parr with so-called free-range eggs and I feel more comfortable drawing my line at ‘never’ rather than trying to rationalise an ‘only-if’ situation to myself and others. But I also think that ‘nearly vegan’ is better than ‘not in any way vegan.’ :)

    • http://www.ecorazzi.com Michael dEstries

      @Badschnoodles – I agree that commercialized beekeeping certainly has its drawbacks and does not reflect necessarily my own respect and care for bees.

      I personally know of one individual who could care less if his bees survived the winter – he just wanted maximum honey. However, there are many others who share my beliefs. I guess for those that consume honey, finding a compassionate apiarist should be first and foremost, but obviously, like most things, it’s hard to know for sure if you’re not the person involved.

  • Andrew

    I have an omni friend who keeps a hive, and he tells me that it’s difficult to harvest the honey without killing at least a few bees. From what I’ve read, some of the larger honey companies utilize chemicals and insecticides that don’t jive with my values; therefore, I don’t eat honey. Even if honey were perfectly ethical, I would still use agave instead—you can mix it into cold drinks!

    • http://www.ecorazzi.com Michael dEstries

      Andrew,

      You’re absolutely right. And I wince every time this happens. I take every precaution when closing the hive not to injure or kill bees, but it does occasionally happen that two or three are sacrificed in the process. In a hive of over 60,000 bees, that’s not an awful number, but I try my best to make it 0.

      And yes, some commercial producers certainly won’t take as many precautions when harvesting or inspecting.

  • T

    I think the main reason that people gloss over honey is the lack of knowledge of insect health. People don’t realize that insects can get diseases from bad living conditions and that they get treated with antibiotics like any commercial-farm animal. Bees in commercial hives also are fed sugar water in place of their own honey because too much is harvested, which leads right back to diseases, and sometimes to death.
    It’s also just not good for you. It’s pre-digested, so it spikes blood sugar like crazy. Sure, it’s “natural”, but it’s natural for bees, not for people.
    That said, while I don’t have honey in my house (we use agave nectar instead), I do sometimes find small quantities in packaged foods to be unavoidable when I’m out and about. :/

  • Franzi

    I am not a vegan, but vegetarian that makes a lot of vegan choices. I looked into the bee issue as well but decided for myself, that there is nothing bad about eating honey. Of course I am not talking about honey farming in the big scale but I watched a lot of videos of independent bee keepers and they really do love their bees. They never take more than the bees need for themselves and they don’t even hurt the bees while taking the honey. I agree that taking from animals is not good in general, but I decided if I don’t hurt them while taking, I rather draw my lines somewhere else instead. Like, I still eat honey, but I will travel more by train than by airplane. There is so much to consider, I rather step back somewhere else but have some honey sometimes. It’s all about the balance…

  • Jane

    I am a new (and older) vegan. I choose to not use honey as there are lots of plant-based alternatives available that are delicious and do not cause my conscience to wince.

  • JuliaP

    I don’t consume honey anymore, after reading about how bees are often treated. I know that there are beekeepers who treat their bees well, and, I find that encouraging. But, for me, it didn’t seem right that I would give up eggs and dairy, yet still consume honey, once I was informed about it. Now, there have been occasions where I have accidentally consumed honey, and, it bothered me when I realized it, but it didn’t freak me out as badly as accidentally eating eggs or dairy would. I agree with Badschnoodles above that ‘nearly vegan’ is better than ‘not in any way vegan’. I want to support people who are making the transition. It took me many years to go from lacto/ovo vegetarian to vegan, and, I remember being put off by people who were preachy or judgmental. I don’t want to be like that. I just want to be supportive.

  • http://www.nosferatofu.com Eric

    I am vegan and used raw agave nectar instead of honey until I read how bad agave nectar is, so I switched back to honey.

    But….I only use local honey from beekeepers that take great care with their bees. Bees are unexplainably dying by the millions and I think ethical beekeepers are doing good work to keep bees thriving.

    Ethical beekeeping is also not like factory farms; the bees are not confined to battery cages, but live a very liberated life, free to come and go.

    I totally respect both sides of this debate, but for me, I don’t have a problem so long as it is done ethically and with consideration for the bees first.

    • Michelle

      I completely agree with Eric. I never ate honey the first two years of being vegan, and even rarely ate it for 7ish years of vegetarianism. But recently I read up on the debate and I feel that boycotting ethical honey is more damaging to bees than supporting. The bee population is dwindling before our eyes and without them, us vegans won’t get our fruits and veggies! I understand both sides, but I now support and purchase local raw honey from ethical beekeepers. As to the health arguments, it’s all about moderation.

      • http://www.herwinsvegancafe.com herwin

        i am vegan and i don’t eat honey because i don’t want any animal products.
        But really, the “honey thing” is not at the center of my being vegan, it’s basically a non issue.
        Being vegan for me really is about thinking and making choiches about an animal friendly life, and some issues like the honey are so small and basically not the reason why i did go vegan, so i don’t want to start a war for it.

        Seems like Eric and Michelle (and other’s) did a lot of thinking and seem to know much of it, and i only can agree that ethical honey can be a good choiche and vegan.

        as for Martha Stewart, GREAT GREAT GREAT !!!

    • Nicole

      I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian, not a vegan. I’m selective about the eggs and dairy I purchase to use in my home. I’m also selective about the honey I use. Local, humanely raised in small farms is the way to go. Local honey actually can help the immune system and it helps sufferers of seasonal allergies.

      • christine

        I am “trying” the vegan lifestyle and so far it has been good. I obviously agree that the commercially harvested honey is not good, but have always believed that eating locally grown honey is a ‘natural’ way to help with allergies because of the pollen issue. Can you give me more information about this?

  • http://www.SkinnyTwinkie.com Holly

    Disclosure- I’m not Vegan.

    I would think that as long as we don’t harm the bees, leave them enough honey (like you mentioned you do!), I don’t see why it would be bad to consume honey for someone who considers themselves a Vegan. Until now, I actually thought honey was considered Vegan! I learn somethin’ new every day ;)

    Thanks for the post!

    • John

      I am an Omni apparently, but I, for one, am for the de-industrialization of the whole farming industry in general. With the over production of the industry in it “vegetable” production most of which goes to feeding the food. we need the bees to be able to support this system and then gently float us back to a more reasonable practice hopefully using wiser and smart business.
      The only way for us to get bigger is to go smaller help decentralize the main systems of power, food and waste in a way that is eco-friendly and promotes a better relationship with the earth and it’s other co-inhabitants.
      As for bees and there key part in all this I think we should help force the hand of the “factories” to better respect the bees and other animals. Hopefully we could then have a right amount to feed us but respecting them.
      I quite enjoy honey and the orchards I drive by here in California.

  • Jen

    I went vegan two and a half years ago. All this time, I’ve given into eating a little honey maybe five or six times – and I’m not proud of them. All of those times have happened when I was at my parent’s place, where a jar of it is always in plain sight. I haven’t bought any since I became vegan, or in many years, actually, since even the honey I ate before was given to me by my parents. The good thing is, my mum buys that from a small-scale beekeeper from her village whom she personally knows, who treats his bees with respect, kind of like you described, and who started keeping them just for his family and ended up with more honey than they could consume; he always sells very small amounts.
    That said, I do think I should avoid honey completely if I want to be proud of myself as a vegan. Bees are animals too and as such we vegans shouldn’t use them in any way.

  • Dawn

    I am vegan and did not consume honey for I believe that vegans to not consume or purchase anything derived from an animal. Until…I got pregnant, I am 7 months pregnant and have been craving honey for months. I tried many honey alternatives and nothing sufficed my craving. SO….from a nursing stand point (me being a nurse) I figured there has to be something in honey that I am lacking. I found a great local/compassionate honey source at my local Co-op and I have been consuming it for a few weeks.

    • http://ecorazzi.com Ty

      Please remember that newborns can not have any honey.

  • http://vegansaurus.com Megan Rascal

    Hey thanks for linking! The show was so great but Martha could have probably put salmon in the granola bars and I’d defend her. You can’t shake your 11 year-old self’s hero.
    I thought the response to the honey was going to be crazy angry but in the majority of comments I got, people didn’t seem to care. One (self-identifying) vegan even said she raises bees too.
    I used to eat honey but then I read that the major industrial honey places like rip the wings off the queen bees. That’s a bit over the line. But I’m sure it’s different for backyard beekeepers.

  • K

    I’m vegan, and I’m not really against honey, although I realize it kind of contradicts the whole philosophy of veganism. That being said, I hardly EVER eat it. I don’t like plain honey. Pretty much the only time I eat it is when I have baklava, maybe 1 to 3 times a year.

    I’m also super bee-phobic.

    • Gabrielle

      I’ve seen a few recipes for vegan baklava online – you can Google it and maybe try making a batch yourself. I know I’d love to try some – I haven’t eaten it since going vegan three years ago.

  • Mirá

    Generally speaking, I think eating vegan is one of the better things one can do for the planet because of principles that support eating local and lower on the food chain. But I have to differ with some of the purist attitudes I see here about not eating anything made by animals. That attitude is a luxury that many people in the developing world can’t afford. If bees are cared for in a compassionate manner and aren’t harmed by the process of harvesting their honey, I think using their honey is acceptable.

    I lived in Mexico and Guatemala where food was very scarce in some rural areas and where the death rate for children under 5 was very high. My chief concern was that babies got clean water and adequate, good quality protein. Those experiences are my yardstick when it comes to the politics of food: everyone should have a healthy diet that comes from a flourishing environment free of pesticides and other poisons. Biodiversity must be supported and agriculture mono-cultures limited in size and scope.

    Bees in the USA are currently experiencing colony collapse syndrome, a really serious problem that is greatly reducing their numbers. There’s indications that the problem has multiple causes such as pesticide use and possibly genetically modified crops. So rather than avoid eating honey, instead I’m working to help bees have a healthy environment they can flourish in by educating people and lobbying legislators about the potential harm of pesticides and GMOs and the need to regulate these.

    • Gabrielle

      Great comment! I’m a vegan, but I totally respect and agree with what you’ve said here. I believe that conscious omnivores and vegans can work to improve food and water worldwide.

  • j

    after being vegetarian for a decade, i’m now almost 100% vegan. like the poster before me, i’m not really against honey but, then again, i don’t really eat it.

  • http://www.vegetus.org/honey/honey.htm Anna

    I’m vegan, and I don’t eat honey – I just don’t see any reason to.

  • Jesika

    I consider myself to be vegan, but I use honey and I use it often. I’m sorry if the bugs are being eploited. I know plenty of vegans who have no trouble squashing pesky bugs like cockraoches or swatting at flies and wasps. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to bugs, or maybe when it comes to vegans in general. A good friend of mine calls himself vegan but regularly consumes bi-valve shellfish. Since they have no central nervous system and don’t have a “face” he says they are technically vegan. To each his own I guess.

    • Mark

      You are not a vegan and your friend is not a vegetarian.

    • Roxanne

      “I’m sorry if the bugs are being eploited”…but? You need honey? You like honey? Does that sound any different from an omnivore’s defense for eating meat?

    • Nicole

      The problem with shellfish is that the fishing industry depletes the ocean of bi-catch when it collects them. Now, if he’s diving into the ocean and collecting oysters, mollusks, clams and mussels by hand himself fine, but if not then he is responsible for the death of other creatures that do have central nervous systems by consuming them. Whether he catches them himself or not, he’s a pescetarian, not a vegetarian.

  • Suasoria

    This is about the most respectful, enlightened, and intelligent discussion on honey I’ve ever read.

    As individuals people can have valid reasons for why they eat honey, but, it’s not vegan by definition. It comes from an animal. There’s no reason this should be a debate at all. This has been clear since 1944 when the term was coined and the Vegan Society was established. According to the original, historical intentions behind veganism…honey isn’t vegan.

    So it’s oxymoronic to say “I’m vegan and I eat honey.” Someone who consumes honey is not vegan. I know the term is out of favor but that would be “beegan,” which I happen to think is cute. It would be equally incorrect to say “I’m vegan and I eat cheese.” (There is no term for “cheegan.”)

    Michael, I think you’re right about a general aversion to insects and a lack of understanding about them biologically. I’m sure that contributes to why there is confusion about honey. (People like cute furry animals; we’re not sure about the rest.) I have also seen a lack of willingness on the part of vegan activists to address or include honey in their outreach, based on their belief that it makes us look extreme. I find this upsetting. It’s not like omnivores are saying “I can give up meat, eggs, dairy with no problem…but give up HONEY? No way! That’s crazy!”

    Finally, this topic seems to come up these days partly because of the wave of raw foodists and health-seekers and the trend of “superfoods,” and probably the environmental awareness we have now. 10 years ago, I don’t remember having these conversations about honey. But these issues, while interesting, distract from the original principles and intent of veganism as an animal rights/ethical choice.

    • Julia

      I agree. They used to think that fish can’t feel pain, etc., but recently they found out that they can indeed feel pain and have complex social structures and behaviors. There is so much that people don’t know yet, or have the technology/ability to know yet. Bees are also known to have extremely complex social structures and behaviors. I’ve seen quite a few documentaries on bees, and it’s way too complex to be “mindless” or random behavior. Bees are extremely amazing and interesting.

      It goes back to simple taste satisfaction. Honey isn’t really good for you either, and there are so many better and kinder alternatives to it – both taste wise and any perceived health benefits. I am a vegan and definitely don’t eat honey and never want to. Bees are living being/animals also, and honey isn’t vegan. I agree that kindly explaining and teaching others about it is more important than criticizing, sometimes it’s just illusive for some reason. I remember I realized after I was vegan for a few months that honey isn’t vegan. I really likes this episode of MS show. It was very informative and hopefully very eye opening for many.

      Kindly explaining to someone about an issue is much better as they won’t feel offended or defensive and be more open about the subject. Sometimes people just don’t understand, and make better choices after they realize and understand.

  • Nadia

    People who are not against consuming honey are not against nonhuman exploitation. An anthropocentric world-view that allow nonhuman exploitation is not only sad, it has a brutal consequences.

    • http://www.herwinsvegancafe.com herwin

      to divide the world in “humans” and “nonhumans” is in itself very antropocentric thinking and reasoning.
      It’s saying there are “caucasian people” and “non caucasian people”.

  • Enrico

    We are all so creative in finding excuses to support our lifestyle… The blunt truth is honey is NOT vegan: animals are exploited, and possibly die in the obtainment of their product. I mean, come on: Veganism is all about respecting all animals, so when I hear “I try to sacrifice as few bees as possible” I just think harvesting honey is wrong, and quite simply not vegan. I don’t want to sound radical, but to me people calling theirselves vegan while consuming honey (or buying leather jacket and wool pullover) are just as incoherent as people eating fish saying they are vegeterian. Also, do we “need” honey? I’m quite sure the answer is “No”.

  • Conrad

    honey is not vegan… period. If you eat honey, then you are not vegan. DON’T support animal exploitation because bees are small, and honey looks innocent enough. google: “honey not vegan” and the first search result is a long explanation why vegans DON’T eat honey. Don’t be like those vegetarians that eat fish.

  • Mark

    If you eat honey, STOP calling yourself a vegan. Period.

  • utilitarian

    wow!

    the food cultists are out in force. the goal is to reduce unnecessary suffering (and lessen our terrible impact on the environment). going ballistic about honey is simply not helpful.

    educate, don’t berate!

    if you are against “bee slavery” (and i most definitely am) then you may also want to consider that tree fruit, most berries, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and dozens of other vegetables utilize commerical pollination. commercial pollination is one the most disgusting forms of animal husbandry practiced on this sad browning earth. 20-100% of bees die of stress and starvation while en route to farms. commercial pollination is used by most small scale organic farmers and virtually all large-scale farms. i do not use honey but it would be hypocritical of me to judge others for making the choice to eat “happy” honey when i eat tomatoes produced via bee torture.

    educate, don’t berate!

  • nicole

    I would call myself vegan, but I will admit, I’m more of a border hugger between vegie and vegan. In my opinion, it is ok to consume honey under certain conditions. The honey must be local honey with beekeepers who love and treat their hives with respect. This is my opinion for two reasons. One, I have allergies and do not wish to consume pills to aide in the discomfort; local honey is a natural aide. Two if the animals (insects in this case) are respected, unharmed and free to bee – pardon the pun- it is a suitable tango to dance.

  • veggiedude

    Honey is vomit. The Bees regurgitate – they throw up – it is vomit – and that is what we call honey.

    • http://www.thehoneybeat.com Chelsea

      LOL. Sort of. They do collect it in a “stomach” that is inside their bodies, but I think it’s oversimplifying (and a bit disrespectful to the bees) to compare it to something a drunken college student does.

      A little more personified food for thought: eating fruit is eating the dead reproductive organs and/or unborn children of plants! Mmm!

      • Julia

        Not really. The fruits are purposely made by the plants/trees so other creatures eat the seeds to help germinate and/or spread them. The seeds are not dead, and the flesh of the fruit helps to attract those who would eat it, as well as sustain and protect the seeds.

        Honey is basically vomit. Not in any gross sense, but literally speaking. It is consumed, processed by the stomach, regurgitated (vomited), and repeated many times. It’s not disrespectful at all, that’s just how they do it.

  • http://www.thehoneybeat.com Chelsea

    Thanks for the post, and for hosting/moderating such an important discussion!

    As a beekeeper (with two hives of my own, and working for small-scale commercial (~500 hives) apiaries), I hope I can help add a bit of perspective too. Like most things, I do think shades of grey are perfectly acceptable in this matter. I don’t think an all-or-nothing approach is fair, and I frankly think it harms the vegan “movement” as well as the small-scale, local production movement.

    I would be willing to bet that small-scale, careful honey producers kill and harm FAR fewer insects to produce honey than the massive monoculture sugar beet or corn producers who spray with “organic” pesticides. In fact, I bet the sugar beet growers kill more BEES than the types of honey producers I mentioned, forget the rest of the insect kingdom.

    Moreover, if you don’t eat honey, then I sure hope you don’t eat blueberries, almonds, squash or cranberries either because you can be VERY sure (unless you grew them yourself) that bees were “exploited” to pollinate them. And I don’t mean that pollinators just happened to visit the farms – pollination contracts are one of the major sources of income for a lot of the big apiaries. (Utilitarian beat me to the punch on this point!)

    Anyway, that’s all I wanted to add. I guess and also to say that anyone who is trying to make good choices with their lifestyle shouldn’t be attacked or shunned or nitpicked for “not doing enough” or “adulterating” the name of the movement. There are enough other places and people who legitimately deserve to be the subjects of our moral outrage!

  • Gabrielle

    I’ve been a vegan since 2008, and I make a conscious effort not to willingly, knowingly, nor purposefully consume anything which comes from an animal, is produced by an animal, or is tested on animals. It’s not always easy, but if there’s a label I read it, and if there is honey, I skip it. I once met a beekeeper like yourself who gave me a little jar of honey he had helped produce, as a gift – he told me how he cared for the bees, how much better off they were with him than exposed to predators, and I graciously accepted it, told him I’d consider consuming it, but saved it in my cabinet in the kitchen instead. It sounds silly maybe, but I feel like I’ve taken a vow for the animals, and to break that vow would be too disrespectful. All of that said, raw organic agave syrup is a wonderful substitute! I put it in my tea. Maple syrup is another good substitute, depending on the use. I find that most animal products can easily be replaced, so it’s no sacrifice to go without.

    • http://vegansaurus.com Megan Rascal

      Yeah nothing really beats good maple syrup.

  • crumpets are yummy

    Honey is good for you, way better than sugar, and the more bees there are out there pollinating the countryside, the better for all of us.

    So support your local honey producer!!!

    If you use sugar, think of all the animals that have been robbed of their homeland so that you can eat sugar. Ditto agave nectar.

    • Michael Raymer

      That’s exactly right!

      http://www.ecorazzi.com/2010/03/19/nyc-becomes-bee-friendly-amends-law-forbidding-backyard-honey-hives/

      http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/animals/bees.asp?gclid=COCO88uGkagCFQtPgwodBSiaCg

      I posted on a thread a couple months back that veganism carries consequenses of its own. This is a prime example. If honey producers go out of business, then there are less bees to pollinate the fruits and vegatables that all of us depend on. And this is becomming and has become a problem.

      And crumpets brings up the one point you guys just refuse to address: Habitat loss through cultivation. Vegans and vegetarians have a very troubling disconnect when it comes to this very serious issue.

      Don’t get me wrong. Philosophically, I’m on your side. But as I said, be aware of the real consequences and be ready to deal with them.

      • crumpets are yummy

        yes MR, not to mention the number of miles sugar and its other substitutes have to travel (carbon miles?)

        Can you buy sugar or argave locally? Maple syrup is great stuff, but there are certainly some carbon credits to be addressed when the stuff has to be transported from Canada, which is where most of the good stuff comes from.

        Processing sugar takes a lot of energy. Not sure about argave. Raw honey from a local hive is certainly down on the scale for energy.

        Buying honey off a local producer is better all round for the environment when you consider these angles.

      • MInorsa

        Every decision we make carries consequences with it. There is no one solution that fits-all and works for all. Vegan-ism is not the exception. But more forests are cleared to grow food destined to feed cattle and to create bio-fuels than are cleared to feed vegetarians and/or vegans. :-)

        Be well.

    • http://vegansaurus.com Megan Rascal

      To be fair, sweeteners are not a necessity so it’s not either/or. You could skip honey and skip agave.

  • Roxanne

    Actually, insects are Arthropods which have complex nervous systems like Chordates, the category under which homo sapiens fall. If you consume honey you are not a vegan.

  • Lola8

    Hi!!!
    I’m a vegan and use honey from local honey producers, I love it, it’s good for your more than agave or sugar.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Enrico-Baracco/1314596805 Enrico Baracco

      Yeah, good for you, but you ain’t vegan. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m better than anyone because I’m a “truer” vegan, and I’m not trying to blame you (not now) for eating honey, let’s just pretend there’s no right-or-wrong debate going on: calling yourself vegan is like calling a motorbike a “car with two wheels”.

      One might like it or not, but we (humankind) have definitions for pretty much everything, so we can stick to them and be understood when we talk or write about something. Honey eaters are not vegan. Fish eaters are not vegetarian. I hate to say the word but… Period.

  • Julie

    I do not eat honey. For me I think it’s because when I think about bees I feel as though it is using them for the production of something that humans want. Even if the bees aren’t hurt I just find it disrespectful. I’m not going to nit pick over people who raise bees themselves, each individual is different. I think that if I had hives or rescue chickens I would still not eat honey nor the chickens eggs. It would feel wrong to me. With other alternative available there is no question about it. I pick agave (or something else) over honey and tofu over eggs. Thanks for the post, greatly appreciated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Miner-End-Bsl/1146434269 Matt Miner End Bsl

    I don’t understand why honey is such a hard thing to give up – it’s like, hey almost-vegan folks: you gave up meat, eggs and milk so why is freakin’ HONEY the thing you can’t get over?

    http://www.vegetus.org/honey/honey.htm

    That’s the best explanation I’ve ever seen as to why honey is not vegan, and why we oughtta leave bees alone.

    • Truly Scrumptious

      Thank you! I’ve been waiting for someone to post that link.

  • Katherine

    I’ve been vegan for about 8 years and I eat honey sometimes. I just don’t consider it relevant to veganism. I don’t think of insects as sentient. I mean, I don’t go out of my way to kill them, but I don’t care about their welfare any more than I do for flies, wasps, or other insects.

    • MInorsa

      Actually Katherine,

      We should care about the welfare of insects, especially bees. Much of the food we consume is made possible by the welfare of insects. And the welfare of bees impacts all of humanity (vegans and non-vegans).

      I try whenever possible to grow my own food and try to plant flowers and plants that create an environment that attract bees and other pollinators. In that way we have a more symbiotic relationship. They get to pollinate my vegetables and fruits and in exchange they obtain pollen to provide their offspring with their food source – honey.

      Be well.

  • Amanda

    I don’t like honey so I never buy it, but I don’t have a moral problem with it. I’ve been vegan for three years and it’s something I’ve never thought about. All the other vegans I know eat honey. I feel like this is a nitpicky issue and instead of arguing about it we could be passing out veg literature or volunteering at a shelter or something.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kathy-Patalsky/809374497 Kathy Patalsky

    I hate to see this kind of negative banter among the vegans out there. Come on guys, it doesn’t make us look good! I wish we were more supportive of the different “veganish” diets out there. The “if you are honey you are NOT vegan” comments really frustrate me. OK, by definition, I guess u are right. But to angrily say that is just plain unproductive.

    I mean really, this shouldn’t be called the honey debate, but rather “the INSECT debate” – there have been such intelligent comments regarding insects vs bees. As stated above, many bees are “used” in the farming of vegetable and fruits. And ba-zillions of insects die each year in the factory farming of plants. How can you put bees above lady bugs, gnats, spiders and more? Look, I agree that honey is an animal product. And I agree that strict veganism is the way to go if you feel passionate to live that way. but putting down other animal lovers for eating honey is simply rude and unproductive.It’s that kind of negative talk that turns people away from the vegan community.

  • edie

    I have no problem with using honey. My ancestors were enslaved in the Caribbean to produce sugar. And no matter what spin you may care to put on it, sugar production is a particularly nasty agricultural process. Bone char or no. Honey is a locally made sweetner and ingredient that a.person can ensure is made without cruelty.

  • http://www.veganaustin.org Ross

    Nice to see a lot of respectful comments on here, thought I’d throw my own viewpoint in the pot.

    When I first became vegan, the issue of honey hadn’t even occurred to me(like many new vegans), but later on I came to the decision that I didn’t feel like I could genuinely say I’m against using animal products if I still consumed one. I don’t have an incredibly strong emotional reaction to using bees for food, but I just want to be as consistent as I can in representing my diet.

    And I’m not going to criticize vegans(or beegans!) for their choice to still consume honey, as I think in the grand spectrum of animal products someone could eat, honey is in my personal opinion not as bad as most. We as vegans have to keep in mind that we won’t make our community any stronger by pointing fingers at other folks who are trying to achieve similar ends as ourselves, and we have to be constructive, educational, and encouraging with one other. Dividing ourselves over who is and isn’t vegan enough is ultimately destructive for our cause, and purists who point fingers only make people less likely to stick with the lifestyle.

  • claire

    I consider myself vegan and I like insects. I don’t buy things with carmine and never would squish a bug, but I think we need to see the larger picture here. That Martha Stewart episode was sooo fantastic for animals. Is it really worth getting hung up on the honey? I mean sure, honey is a pointless food, and it does come from an animal, but lets not alienate people who still use it or haven’t even thought about it. I know its the internet and you have an opinion, but real people might not feel welcome as vegans if you say things like “you’re not a vegan and your friend is not a vegetarian”. I mean really, who is that helping?

  • Madge C.

    I live in Minnesota, we are lucky enough to get “Bee Free Honee” in our stores, although it is available on Amazon as well for everyone else. I love it because I feel like I am eating honey but it is made from apples so…it’s vegan. I used to use agave but learned how it is not sustainable, plus I just didn’t like the flavor all that much.

    • Julia

      Oh, I saw that today or yesterday, seems interesting! A bee only produces about 1/4 or a teaspoon of honey in it’s lifetime, after hundreds or thousands of trips, just so people can take away a big chunk of it. No matter how “nicely” you take something, it’s still stealing and sacrificing lives in the process. It’s all for taste satisfaction anyway, just like vegetarians and fish (pescaterians), etc. There are better cruelty free alternatives.

      I think beegan is a really cute name also, as mentioned above, if you must use bee products. Honey isn’t vegan, but you can help other people understand the matter more clearly. I don’t mean it like “Oh, you’re not vegan at all if you eat honey..”, it’s wonderful that a person is living a mostly vegan lifestyle, but many people find it hypocritical to exclude a living being from compassion just for taste reasons, and might get the wrong idea about veganism. I’ve seen some omni’s criticize that way and many people read the comments online and passively take on viewpoints. Beegan makes it more clear – vegan, but sometimes consuming bee products, and you can have a nice conversation about it.

      If someone really cares about bees, why not house wild bees and just allow them to do as they please without taking anything from them to help their population rebound. “Sacrificing just a few” is already too many just to get something that can be found in kinder ways.

  • Julia

    This is a good website to learn about bees and honey some more:
    http://www.vegetus.org/honey/honey.htm

    and

    http://www.think-differently-about-sheep.com/Animal-Rights-Bees.htm

  • http://www.aRareBreedofLove.com Jana Kohl

    I’m a vegan. As such, I don’t eat honey or any animal products. It took me a while to become vegan and during that period it never occurred to me to say, “I’m a vegan but eat honey.” As another poster said that’s a contradiction in terms since according to the definition, a vegan is one who doesn’t consume any animal products. I’m not here to tell anyone to stop eating honey. I’m here to say it’s your choice to do so but you can’t call yourself a vegan at the same time. It’s like saying “I’m pro-life but decided to have an abortion because I realized I didn’t want a child.” As a psychologist I think it’s important for people to be real with themselves and others. It lowers one’s self-esteem to pose as something one isn’t, simply because one thinks they will be liked, respected, admired, whatever. If you eat honey, do so with authenticity by saying “Since I eat honey I’m not a vegan, althoug I’ve stopped eating other animal products.” If a label or title is important to you, then I suppose it would be ‘vegetarian.’

    • http://www.herwinsvegancafe.com herwin

      I am vegan also and don’t eat honey, but really, honey is on the edge of being vegan, it’s not the core of a vegan lifetsyle like meat, dairy, fur, cruelty free cosmetic, etc, it is just one of these undecided issues.
      As far as i am concerned, vegans who eat honey are just the same vegan as me. And yes, i know vegans who eat honey and do it with reasonable arguments.

  • rick brassard

    I am vegan…as a vegan,”ALL” animal products are excluded from my life…those that wobble between is it vegan or not, you’re called vegetarian, stop thinking that you fit the vegan mold…get over it, vegan means no animal…

  • Vegan

    Honey is not a vegan product. It was made by and taken from bees. There is no debate about this. Vegans don’t consume or use honey. If you use or consume honey I don’t see why you need to identify yourself as “vegan”. Vegetarian has already become the default for ovo-pesco-lacto-vegetarian and some “vegetarians” eat chicken as well, or meat when they are invited for dinner somewhere. Do we really need confusion like that about “vegan”. It can only harm the movement in the long run.

  • Franklin

    “more honey than they need”

    ummm. how do you know how much they need?
    why would they make more than they need?
    bottom line, THEY made it. not you. therefore it’s not yours and you don’t have the right to take it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lilamedusa-Baudelia/608570680 Lilamedusa Baudelia

    I don’t care if they need it or no. The truth is that, for me, nature is not here to serve us. We do not own earth. And bees are part of it. We should take what is necessary for us and lleave the rest alone. We do not NEED honey, so, why use it?

  • Dawn

    I am not quite vegan yet, but plan to be very soon. I gave up meat back in January, and have been doing a lot of research on vegan foods. Honey is in fact NOT vegan, as it is produced by an animal (bees). Therefore I will not be eating honey in the near future.

  • MInorsa

    First let me start by saying that I enjoyed your article and that I agree with you. While passionate about issues, people should still keep their arguments civilized.

    Now, am a vegan (since about 7 years ago) and I don’t consume honey. Bees produce honey to feed their young, much as a cows produce milk to feed their calves. That to me is the vegan rationale for not consuming it.

    Whenever I am converting a recipe that calls for honey, I use agave syrup instead. With it’s low glycemic index, I find that it’s a very good substitute. See? You can have your Baklava and eat it too! :-) Yumm!!!

    I have encountered bakeries that baked “vegan” goods which included honey in their recipes. I simply inform the bakery that I would love to buy their product but won’t because it has honey in it. It is up to them whether they choose to honor the true definition of veganism or not and perhaps change to attract more customers.

    • Julia

      We also used agave sweetener, until we found out that agave isn’t good for you. We’ve been buying it for a few years. The agave on the market is not the same one that was used by the natives in the area. This article has good information about it:

      http://www.rawfoodsnewsmagazine.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=187

      I didn’t believe it when people said that agave isn’t good for health until recently, after reading that article and some others. The main problem is that it’s mostly fructose.

      Once in a while it’s okay to have it, like if you’re baking something. Brown rice syrup is really good too.

      The site also gives alternatives, like soaking and blending dates with the soaking water into a syrup. I also liked that they reiterated that honey isn’t vegan. It’s a raw vegan website.

      I definitely agree that honey should be left to the bees. They have to stock up for winter, to feed their young, for tough times, etc., they wouldn’t ever make too much of it for no reason. Honeycombs/beeswax is their home structure. It’s not vegan for so many reasons, and it’s just a sweetener, which isn’t required to be healthy.

  • christine

    I am just beginning to learn about this, but the above discussion brings up a question: do vegans kill any insects?

  • Julia

    We try to not kill any. Sometimes accidents happen though. We still have so much we don’t know about them, and they all try their best to survive, might as well be on the safer side and not harm them as much as possible. They are also living beings.

    If you have bug problems, there are humane ways to deter them. Silent (to people) sirens that they can hear and dislike, which also work on rodents. Neem oil is good for chasing away and preventing insects in plants. Certain essential oils are good to keep away mosquitoes, like tea tree, eucalyptus, citronella. Vinegar is good also to keep away insects. Not leaving out food to spoil or attract insects and rodents too of course.

  • Julia

    Also, I’m sure that when “vegan” was coined they stated honey because there aren’t too many other insects products that are so popular. But overall it is stated to avoid as much cruelty as possible to all animals/living beings, so that definitely includes insects. There are unavoidable animal products in modern societies, like in tires, building materials, other mechanical transportation, etc., so its hard to avoid hurting anyone at all, but the whole point is to do it as little as possible. Starting with the main big and obvious things, then moving to smaller things. As veganism grows, more and more things will be made in cruelty free way, and doing as much as you can now helps in big ways along the way and in the future.