As newbie vegans we’ve been going back and forth over the idea of giving up honey. Conflicted and sugar crashing, we asked Joe (ex-vegan, ultimate beekeeper) to fill us in…
Is honey vegan? No. It’s that simple, and this coming from a beekeeper. It’s a question that is actually asked surprisingly often, perhaps the image of beekeeping has a gentler connotation than that of other animal based industries, but the ugly truth is that commercial beekeeping is awash with exploitation, selective breeding and chemical control, all of which have a detrimental effect on bee health and wellbeing.
To put it simply, when extracting honey you are removing the surplus stores that the bees have produced to get them through the winter. This honey is replaced with a sugar substitute, which lacks the nutrients and fats of honey.
“So what,” you might think. “That’s not going to kill them, or cause them pain!” A typical response, but beekeeping involves inspection of the hive regularly from spring to autumn, which not only causes distress to the hive after a very short time (when inspecting you can detect an audible change in pitch to the hum of the bees, signalling they are becoming agitated) but also results in the death of bees through squashing them when you are replacing the hive. This is simply unavoidable, no matter how careful you might choose to be. On occasion this can be the queen, which could easily result in the death of the entire colony. The Queen’s wings are clipped to prevent her from naturally swarming. I could go on.
Before I begin to paint an entirely dark portrait of us beekeepers though, I would like to add that outside of the commercial world are many beekeepers who work hard, not for profit, but for the wellbeing of our bees. Modern beekeeping theories and practices allow for the keeping of bees without the need for inspection, or even the extraction of honey. A personal pleasure of mine is to sit and watch my bees coming and going through the entrance of the hive, it’s a practice that is not only fascinating, but is almost a game in itself, learning the colours of the pollen, or watching them communicate. It is possible, and plausible that people choose to keep bees for this reason.
Finally, let’s look at the definition of veganism.
A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
If I could play devil’s advocate for a minute, I could argue that if you so wished to keep bees without the need for inspection, chemical manipulation or exploitation (that would be to only remove a true surplus of honey, and not replace with a sugar substitute) and all of this is certainly possible with the correct hive, then would that not satisfy the criteria of veganism? After all, how many vegans have pets? Cats and Dogs need flea treatment, all of which involve either killing or manipulation of the flea’s life cycle. If you don’t treat for fleas, then surely that is unfair to the animal, who could be potentially allergic to the parasites, or constantly itching. The same could be said for worming them.
But what I’ve just described is unbelievably tricky. Keeping bees in such a way is almost unheard of, and realistically 99% beekeepers keep bees for honey. There are so many vegan alternatives available that there really seems little point trying to justify eating honey. Should you have to buy it however, as with all food products, it is best to buy locally, and from a private beekeeper rather than a supermarket or commercial beekeeper.
This was a Guest Post from our favourite ex-vegan beekeeper – we love you Joe! xxx