By, Kelly Behr
Native Foods Cafe
The definition of vegan is a person who abstains from consuming or wearing any animal or animal by-product and according to this definition, honey falls into this category. It is a product created by animals.
People understand abstaining from meat, dairy and eggs but usually have questions about honey. How are these bees being exploited or harmed when they make honey?
I was at dinner with a friend at a vegetarian, mostly vegan restaurant. She ordered a cocktail and asked if it was vegan (she is not) and I said it would be without the honey.
“Honey?!, she exclaims, are you kidding me how are these bees being exploited or harmed when they make honey, it’s their job!”
So here lies the question, are we abstaining from honey only because it fits in the definition of the word “vegan” or is there something happening making it harmful to the animals or the environment by consuming this little by product. Let’s take a look.
First off, bee colonies are awesome, I might be terrified of bees but the organization and work they do is astounding. I remember being fascinated by the bee videos we would watch in school, the queen bee, the drones, the honey bees. They all work together in what appears to be a simple task but when dissected is a very complex working order. And another fact is that almost every bee in the colony is a female, there is like a 4000 to 1 ratio, the males are only around to mate with the queen and are discarded once that job is complete. Talk about girl power!
I came across an awesome article on my bee research on www.vegetus.org. They broke it down into a few interesting sections to think about.
Their first argument was on bee enslavement. Bees are kept in confined environments only to benefit human consumption. Although these bees might not realize they are slaves and just get to work on what they know best, making honey. However it isn’t just being kept in the commercial hives but that bee keepers often disrupt the hives by killing off certain bees or queens to ensure they are getting the best honey production amount per colony.
“Queens can live for as long as five years but most commercial beekeepers replace them every two years" (Shimanuki & Sheppard, 181) (and often yearly). "Replace" is a euphemism for killing the old queen. Backyard beekeepers also regularly kill their queens. This is done for numerous reasons that all boil down to exerting control over the hive. For example, it is done to prevent swarming, aggression, mite infestation, and to keep honey production at a maximum. Queens come from commercial queen suppliers. The image to the left is hundreds of queens with a few nursing bees in individual cages waiting to be flown around the country (Beekeeping). Travel can be rough on the queens; according to Eric Mussen, a UC Davis Extension Apiculturist, "Once at the post office or shipping depot, nearly anything can happen. Queens can be over heated, chilled, left out in the sun for hours (desiccated), banged around in baggage compartments, and exposed to insecticides. Often, the post office or shipping hub fails to contact the customer when the queens arrive and they may sit in storage for days. It is surprising that the queens come through as well as they do" (Mussen). Finally, colonies (hives) are routinely split in half according to what the keeper wants, not the queen.” –www.vegetus.org
Native Foods uses this image courtesy of wiki.dickinson.edu
Aside from this practice a lot of large commercial bee keepers are also known to kill off their colonies before the cold sets in resulting in hundreds of colonies being disposed of every winter.
The other argument is that we are indeed stealing the honey. The honey they make is for their food to be eaten in the winter. Honey is actually a form of nectar that has just gone through a specialized process so it doesn’t spoil. Fun fact: honey is one of the only foods that will not spoil! The bee keepers extract all of the honey from their hives and feed them corn syrup instead. The act of getting the honey often kills off many honey bees from smoking them out from the hive.
So this might not seem as extreme as say, slaughter houses or dairy farms but it is still something to think about. Not all people are on the same page with the honey debate and I have even heard the word “beegan” being used to describe vegans who are okay with eating honey. But like I say, there are no vegan police and people can make their own choices. So what do you think? To bee or not to bee?
I encourage you to read the full article on the bee debate as well at www.vegetus.org.
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