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If You Eat Honey, You’re Not A Vegan

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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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 5.43.16 PM

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).

rape rack

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.

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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.

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0 Comments
  • rusical1122

    You know I read arguments like this all the time but I just don’t have that gut intuition that compels me to strictly omit honey from my diet. I just don’t see the point of being so rigid about honey. For every other issue related to veganism, there’s an irrefutable ethical, health, or environmental issue that’s directly connected to animal agriculture. Why can’t the strict anti-honey vegans at least admit that when it comes to this issue, we have to be more willing to accept some uncertainty? That this conclusion here might be a little more tenuous? You can’t pretend that opposing honey is as simple as opposing every other form of animal agriculture.

    You look at vegans like Will Curley who are beekeepers and do a perfectly fine job justifying the practice to someone like me. They certainly aren’t doing anywhere near the harm to produce their honey than do the beekeepers that produce your almonds, avocados, cherries, and hundreds of other pollinated crops. What about the “suffering” of those bees, huh? You can’t be exasperated about animal exploitation in one instance and then ignore it in another simply because they’re being “enslaved” to grow vegetables.

    Not to mention I can’t imagine the author is against the use of sponges–even though they are, in fact, animals!

    • Whereforetherefore.com

      Completely agree! And there is a world of difference between local, respectful bee cultivation; and commercial bee exploitation.
      Bee cultivation truly benefits the environment, and produces an overabundance of goodness.

    • ModVegan

      I think when it comes to these issues, it’s a matter of conscience and personal ethical beliefs. Although I don’t eat honey, I prefer to focus on larger issues where agreement is easier. I definitely think the health benefits of honey are exaggerated, but I agree that so much damage has been done to native bee populations that it probably makes sense to have kind vegan beekeepers out there. In a better world, I believe bees would be free to do their own thing without human interference. As to your last comment, I just wanted to say that It’s actually rather difficult to find natural sponges, most you find are synthetic.

  • Pratha

    Going vegan has many profound benefits in regards to the psychotropic potentiality of one’s mind. One fond memory comes to mind in particular…

    My friend Srinivas, lady friend Smupa and I were on a small boat in the vast ocean. Suddenly enormous bubbles surfaced just under us, nearly capsizing our tiny vessel. It was then that a profusely foul odor was produced. I began to hallucinate upon a starry midday perch while Srinivas began to vomit all of the frustrations dwelling in his mind and stomach. Smupa began to smile in a most uncontrollable manner while snorting more funny stuff.

    I then immersed mind body and soul into the collage of colors and emotional isotopes surrounding our essence. My mind was transported back to the age of my love’s aquamarine visions, recalling the existential blockage that was soon breached. The quickly vacating negativity of life’s many preoccupations were vanquished, reminding me of the many egomaniacal blowhards and their rantings, whence they were justifiably summoned to another parallel existence.

    I was then transported back to the present, and Smupa then broke wind from the bottom. This served as an epiphany. I then posited that whales must fart. How else could we explain the bubbles that nearly capsized us?

    Within a fortnight, Smupa came to me with her research. Following is a transcript of her findings:

    The short answer is yes, whales do indeed fart, flatus or pass gas depending on how you like to phrase it.

    In fact whales, dolphins and porpoises are all marine mammals belonging to the cetacean species and they are all known to fart.

    Today there are around 80 – 90 known species of cetacea currently in existence and they encompass all of the worlds major oceans from the tropics to the coldest of the northern and southern polar hemispheres.

    When it comes to passing gas, farting is a common characteristic that most land and marine mammals have in common with one another.

    Passing gas allows animals to release air that is trapped inside their stomach, which could lead to digestive problems, stomach cramps or other complications if not removed from the body.

    When an animal passes gas or farts the air that comes out of the body comes primarily from two main sources.

    The first source comes from oxygen that is pulled in through the air either while breathing (inhaling and exhaling) or when consuming food or drinking water; and since all mammals eat food and require oxygen to survive they all take in air.

    The second source of air or gas comes from food that is broken down by enzymes, stomach acids and bacteria in the stomach, which creates toxic gasses that need to be removed from the body to prevent it from doing harm to the individuals digestive system.

    In order to release these gases animals need a way to expel them from the body and for most mammals this means that the toxic gas has to exit through either the mouth, which causes burping or through the anal tract which causes farting.

    The gases that are expelled from a fart are mostly composed of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane.

    The reason some gasses smell worse than others is because of the breakdown of the foods involved.

    Certain foods can cause obnoxious orders when released as gas while others do not.

    From some of the statements researchers have made about whales farting they have concluded that yes, it stinks when a whale farts.

    When a whale farts or passes gas underwater the sound is believed to be suppressed by the surrounding water making it silent or at least quite compared to the gas that is expelled from land based animals.

    In some cases bubbles or clouds can be seen rising to the surface of the water when a whale passes gas.

    Those most likely to experience whales farting are likely to be researchers involved in following whales and researching their dung or gathering information about their gestation period, habitat, social structure and other important factors.

    In some cases this may also be observed by tourists and whale watchers that are hoping to get a glance of these marine mammals in their natural habitat.

    Unfortunately not much research has been done on this topic, however there have been researchers who have experienced and confirmed that yes whales do indeed fart.

  • ModVegan

    Wonderful article! I really appreciated this. I constantly find myself apologizing for not eating honey. Honestly, honey played a bigger role in my going vegan than dairy did. I’ve always loved honeybees, and their obvious intelligence is amazing to me. It’s so easy for people to dismiss creatures because they are small or look different. Speciesism at its finest. Thanks for making me feel less defensive about my choice to avoid honey!

    • Eva

      Thank you for reading, and responding. People are always surprised to hear me say I like bees, so It’s nice to know I’m not alone! 🙂

    • josh

      Do you believe in culling?

  • Dylan Wentworth

    Listen. You had me at “bee vomit.”
    That’s really all you had to say.
    Maple syrup and agave nectar does the job.

  • Dickbutt

    This is an awful article. Huge difference between bees and lobsters, honey is a vegan product.

  • Sabrina

    Many farmers use bees to pollinate fruits and vegetables. Is this also unethical? By the standards of this article eating many of the fruits and veggies we enjoy would be. When do you draw the line? When does veganusm become laughable in ifs focus on minutia?

    • Sabrina

      Also I see the irony in my spelling mistakes and my mentioning minutia. But my point is still made ☺️

  • Ellen

    I appreciate what this article is trying to do, but the clickbait title is slightly ridiculous. If you abstain from all animal products except honey…of course you’re a vegan. It’s preposterous to claim otherwise. I’ve was a vegetarian for almost a decade before going vegan and while I feel justified in not eating every animal product, I’ve never found good enough reason to stop eating honey, even though I’ve genuinely looked. At the end of the day, I’m an animal rights activist and an environmentalist. Not an insect rights activist (and yes–science and logic tell us bees are insects). I never kill insects intentionally but I’m not going to stop eating something just because it’s an insect by-product. Plus, anti-honey vegans never seem to address the fact that their fruits and vegetables are pollinated by bees anyways because their entire argument would unravel. If you were truely so appalled by the use of bees for food, you wouldn’t eat the food they pollinate. Which means you probably couldn’t eat at all. I respect people to eat whatever they want, but that should go both ways. Honey is such a minescule part of the vegan movement and no one is perfect. There are parts of all of our lives that probably aren’t totally vegan and cruelty free. But focusing so much on honey as a part of the vegan movement is getting lost in the forest for the trees.

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