Foodie Tuesday: The Great Vegan Honey Debate

Whenever I have to make a confession, I always hear Usher singing, “These are my confessions,” from his famous song. He’s crooning this very moment because…I’m a vegan with mixed feelings about honey. 

It may be raw and organic, but is it "vegan"?

After swearing off all other animal products, I wavered on the honey issue. I used agave or maple syrup in baking, but if small traces of it were in whole grain bread, I let it slide. My stance on honey was entirely situation dependent. Like most other insignificant things that constantly invade my thoughts, it worried me. I know I’m not alone in this matter, and although the great vegan honey debate has been written about time and again, I offer a new perspective on the age old argument. What’s my perspective, you ask? It’s the perspective of I don’t know what I feel and it’ s okay if you don’t either.

This is not an opinion piece, because if it was, it would sound like it was written by a bipolar schizophrenic. (It’s written by me, which isn’t much better, but a little more structured.) Instead, I offer you some facts and, if you choose to accept it, some freedom. 

Fast Facts About Honey:

  • It’s technically plant based. Honey starts out as a nectar that bees derive from flowers.
  • It’s also technically bee throw-up. After the foraging bees return to their hives, they regurgitate the nectar and pass it on to the worker bees.

  • Edible honey is the nectar evaporated by the worker bees. The evaporation process is done through continuous bee consumption and regurgitation. (So, more bee vomit.)
  • To extract honey, bee keepers use bee smokers to make the bees stop working and start consuming honey. The smoke makes the bees think that there is a fire which makes them less agitated and defensive.
  • Smoking bees helps get rid of mites. Smoke residue conflicts with the bees’ natural smell, pheromones from the queen, and interferes with the communications of the hive. This sounds like a bad thing, but it forces the bees to go into a hyper active cleaning period. Thus, they groom themselves, getting rid of more mites than usual, which is good for the bees.

  • Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) are making bees disappear  and it’s freaking people out.
  • CCD primarily affects domestic, commercial honeybees because of mass reliance upon these populations for honey production and crop pollination. Most bees are not commercial honeybees, but pretty much all honey is derived from commercial colonies.

These are a just a few facts about honey. It’s a combination of flower juice and bee puke, extracted carefully and usually non-threateningly. However, too much of a good thing has proven dangerous for commercial honeybees who are dropping like flies (pardon the insect pun). Furthermore, depending on your vegan views, you might be against the entire concept that a population of bees are raised exclusively for producing honey and pollinating crops. It’s a similar concept to commercial cows and chickens raised exclusively to produce dairy and eggs, although, for bees, nature actually endorses the production.

So, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I think I’ve swayed myself with this article, but I’m choosing to keep my personal opinion about honey out of the public eye. The great vegan honey debate may continue to rage on, but, if nothing else, I hope that I’ve helped you decide for yourself on which side you stand.


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11 Responses to Foodie Tuesday: The Great Vegan Honey Debate

  1. Pingback: Vegan News @ » Foodie Tuesday: The Great Vegan Honey Debate | I Eat Grass

  2. Sarah says:

    This has been an issue I’ve thought a lot about lately. I think there’s an important distinction between commercial bees and small local beekeepers. Most raw, organic honey you are going to find with any nutritive value comes from the latter. Even with this information it’s about how the bees are kept safe so they continue to thrive as a species overall. The likelihood is the commercial bees are the ones experiencing CCD from pesticide residues and the queen is pretty much kept pregnant nonstop through artificial insemination which is just not really cool in my book. Truth is you never really know what you’re going to get from any particular brand/label unless you really know what’s going on with those hives. I still have no real solution but I think a lot of the issue stems from overuse of GMO pesticides in everything. If this weren’t the case and we knew bees were healthy and happy then perhaps the words ‘honey’ and ‘vegan’ would be more simpatico. (?):-\

    • Ayinde says:

      Good points, yes like all of our commercial food production in America you can’t seem to trust anyone. Womp womp. So you’re ok with local honey as long as you know the source?

    • lindsay says:

      I completely understand where you’re coming from. Like I said, I think that this, as well as any other important lifestyle choice, is really personal so I don’t want to sway you either way. I think that there is probably a difference in product quality and animal treatment between commercial and local beekeeping, but both are forms of animal captivity. I honestly think that it just really depends on your own definition of “vegan,” and as long as you are living up to that, don’t worry about anyone else. Thank you so much for contributing to this discussion!

  3. I used to be conflicted on this but I watched Vanishing of the Bees. SO eye opening. And now I have a good answer when people ask why I don’t eat honey. It’s here, but also on Netflix!

    • zosia says:

      In my opinion, that’s not a “good answer”.
      In the same way that small-scale, ethically-raised, grass-fed, antiobiotic-free, organic cattle-production is encouraged through the purchase of this type of meat, so may ethically-raised bees be purchased to encourage their survival. I see nothing wrong with supporting local bee-keepers who sell enzyme-/mineral-rich, raw, unpasteurized honey…It encourages them to keep doing what their doing – allowing healthy bee populations to thrive…

  4. KS says:

    It depends on why you are motivated to be vegan. If it’s because you abhor the exploitation of animals, then eating honey doesn’t support that end. Same thing with wool. Unless “finding it on the ground” is how you came across honey or wool, you’ve otherwise exploited the animal. Thoughts?

    • Ayinde says:

      Yes that’s true. If you are vegan for just one reason like for food, it’s hard to be totally vegan. Try buying luggage! It’s all bad. But yes wool tricky when most vegan fabrics heavy enough to keep you warm NEVER biodegrade. Ever.

  5. Camille says:

    I am a country person. I am also a vegan. I do not kill insects unless they actually bite/sting me. I actually think that bees don’t mind that we consume their honey. They are cool creatures. Sometimes my wife & I use honey. I am not conflicted at all.

  6. I don’t usually reply or comment to blogs. I’m busy, etc. etc., but on this issue I’m clear for the reason stated. My hubby used to say “we’re against bee abuse.” And there in lies the rub. He’s not as emphatic against honey as I am. Honey in cereal or bread-I won’t buy it.

    I have two friends who are beekeepers and not commercial. They gifted me with a jar from their hives. Normally, no dairy, no meat, no product from an animal or of an animal comes into our home: kitchen or closet, but these 2 jars of honey are in the kitchen. I don’t use them, but if a guest wants honey…. I have it.

  7. Pingback: IEG Product Review: Bee Free Honee | I Eat Grass

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