If You Eat Honey, You’re Not A Vegan
Often, when my veganism is discussed, people will ask me if I still eat honey; it’s my vegan pet peeve. Donald Watson’s original definition of veganism (from 1944) excluded honey aptly, as a form of exploitation of, or cruelty to the animal kingdom. Now, I’ve noticed that many people flip-flop on whether or not insects count, their intelligence, and if the way we farm and collect honey is humane. I truly wish this article could have been one sentence that read “bees are animals, they feel pain and don’t want to die so using them is not vegan,” but it seems many need further convincing. Allow me to explain.
It’s true, they’re animals
Honeybees fall into a scientific category called phylum arthropoda. Simply put, it’s a classification that recognizes that they are an invertebrate animal with an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and jointed appendages. Other arthropods that form the phylum arthropoda category include spiders, scorpions, shrimp, lobsters, and crabs. So, if we consider honey acceptable for vegans, we’re also saying that those other common arthropods are cool to eat, too. I guarantee there are no vegans out there chowing down on lobster. Are lobsters really that much more cute and cuddly, that we’ve decided killing them is worse than bees? They live similar lives; eating, moving, and lacking rigid cell walls (like say, a tree). Both are equally deserving of life, with or without our affections.
Image from Heroes Wikia – Pinchy from The Simpsons
Of course, bees have many insect qualities that help them fall into more than one black and white classification. However, the argument that they don’t matter because they share these qualities, discounts the lives of all insects. While we may accidentally kill insects in our modern lives, the intentional farming and use of bees is a beast all its own. At the end of the day, veganism isn’t about putting up a magnifying glass to the anatomy of a creature, really, it’s about ending violence for all beings. I’d just as quickly expect that the average vegan wouldn’t purposefully go out of their way to stomp on a bee, either.
It’s still exploitation if they’re small
Just like larger animals, a bee’s value is placed in what they can do for us. It’s difficult for me to imagine that a person can honestly believe that a bees entire life is worth sacrificing for the brief pleasure of a human. A typical bee produces less than two teaspoons of honey in its month-long life. How many bees would it take to cover a slice of toast with honey? The estimated $157 million dollar a year industry, with it’s own councils and boards, proves that we can’t pretend that the harvesting of honey is being done on a small scale, or in a holistic way.
To put it into another perspective, to make one pound of honey, a colony would have to visit over two million flowers, flying over 55,000 miles, at up to 15 miles per hour. Normally, the scant amount a bee will make is essential to keep a hive alive when nectar is scarce, especially during the cold of winter. But when there are humans to feed, what the bees need comes second. It’s no different than saying that wool is something humans can take without exploiting sheep (also not the case).
Bees are harmed and killed for no good reason
Not unlike the sculpted image of Old MacDonald on his farm, people still imagine the cartoon-like bees nests, and some sticky bear paws reaching for them. Bees aren’t out, doing their thing, having their honey harmlessly collected now and then. It’s a misconception that honey is a byproduct of pollination, and something the bee themselves don’t need. Bee farming has engineered ways to produce more honey, to meet consumers demand, at the sacrifice of bees.
It’s common practice for beekeepers to intentionally rip off the wings of queen bees to combat them leaving their colonies. They also artificially inseminate the queens on miniature “rape racks.” The similarities to the dairy industry exist at a smaller size, but not in smaller intention. The rest of the bees can expect to be smoked out of their homes, fed crappy (and sometimes toxic) sugar replacements so they don’t eat their own honey, are sprayed with antibiotics, and are routinely burned to death when it’s more affordable than upkeep in harsh weather and temperatures. I understand that without the videos that so many other animal industries are exposed in, people can squint, and stay blind to the harm. But to pretend there’s a partnership between bees and their keepers, is to ignore what’s really happening (the name keepers alone tips us off).
Image from beeculture.com – “rape rack” for bee artifical insemination
It’s particularly insulting to see that pesticides, and the loss of biodiversity in industrial farming is hurting the bees further. Human intervention should focus on the good of the bees, and not on what we stand to lose if they disappear. Cut out honey, and then make yourself a bee-friendly garden.
It’s hypocritical to include honey in a vegan diet
Vegans already do what they can to avoid silk, shellac, carmine, and other bug-derived “ingredients” in our food and clothing. So why is honey and beeswax not included? A big part of the buzz (get it) around honey, comes from health communities. Studies touting honey as a cure all for colds, allergies, and even canker sores are likely to convince plant-based eaters to keep it on the menu. But apparently they’re fooling some vegans, too. This isn’t a scenario where someone is approaching veganism their own way, and we should be accepting. Nope – if you’re calling yourself, your product, or your restaurant vegan when honey is something you support, it’s simply not vegan. People like to ease up on this topic, so that non-vegans don’t consider the diet so “extreme.” I find it incredible to pander to people when i’ve never heard of honey being someone’s one thing they can’t give up for veganism. It’s easily avoidable, and readily substituted.
Since we don’t judge the use of different species on intelligence (good thing for humans), we cannot readily discount the unnecessary suffering of bees. The hard working and hard playing (y’know, because they dance) animals don’t have to prove they’re worthy of life; in existing, they already are. If you’d no sooner accept taking the life of another animal selfishly for your own benefit, allow bees the same curtesy. After all, everyone knows maple syrup is way better.