Honey is an animal-based product, even though it’s the only food that is made by animals and not from them. Ethical vegans still have issues with the way bees are farmed, especially in mass-production settings.
Still, honey might not be a complete no-no with everyone because, again, it includes collecting a finished product instead of forcing an animal to give it up (like in the case of milk). In that case, it would not be too unusual to find wild honey in some vegan’s pantries.
How Does Honey Come About? Honey wilder
Flower nectar is the main ingredient in honey production. Bees collect it from flowers, and the type of flower and its location will have the biggest impact on color and flavor of honey.
The bee drinks the nectar and digests it in its stomach on its way back to the hive. The next part is a bit gross because it includes quite a bit of vomiting from one bee’s mouth to another. Wanna go into details? No? Okie. But you need to know that this repeated “effort” is what transforms nectar into simple sugars like fructose and glucose. At this point, honey is very liquid. Once it’s deposited into the honeycomb, need flap their wings to remove as much as 70% of water, and then seal it with beeswax.
A single pound of honey will need 10,000 bees to collect nectar from 8 million flowers. And if you want to learn more fun things about honey and dancing bees, check out this video.
The Honey Debate
Before we start, you need to know where I stand. I love honey. But, I’ve never had any from a non-ethical beekeeper. My grandpa kept a few hives (so many fun stories about the bees “protecting” me from my mother, but that’s another show), as a teenager I used to buy it from a friend’s dad, and now I’m buying from another lady that treats her bees better than her kids. Had once the stuff from the store, and it was bleh – flat and not worth the jar it came in.
With that out of the way, if I tell you that there are two major sides in this debate, you may guess which one I’m on.
On one side, honey has a green light from vegans as long as it’s wild or farmed ethically. On the other, the stance is that honey is still an animal product and it doesn’t matter how the bees are treated.
The uncomfortable truth is that both sides are right. If you are an ethical vegan or veganism is an extension of your religious beliefs, you are perfectly justified in your position and decision to not consume honey.
Yet, if you’re on my side, you know that ethical beekeeping can be good for the local economy, overall honey industry, and even the environment. Human-assisted hives have higher chances of survival, and since the bees are so important to our ecosystem, they kinda need to survive.
Not to mention, the more we support our local beekeepers, the less money flows into unethical honey mass-production.
Is honey actually good for you? Royal honey
When consumed in moderation, yes. But, at the end of the day, it’s still sugar. It is a type of sugar that is gentler on you from a metabolical standpoint, but it still comes with the same amount of calories and will have the same effect on your teeth, etc.
However, the type of sugar we are talking about is the complex kind that hits your bloodstream 4 times slower than the white granulated stuff. But honey shines the most when applied to the skin. It has numerous anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and it can work as a part of regular skincare or even as a wound treatment.
Farmed vs Wild
Collecting wild honey is the most ethical way to source it. Fullstop. The bees are left to their devices and to live their lives, and then the human just swoops in and steals some. One might make a point that stealing is not very nice, but the purpose of fruit is to protect the seeds during development, so… Eaten an apple lately?
But wild honey is more of a treat than a stable source of this product. There’s no way for humans to control the amount produced or the flavor. On top of that, you have to live in a rural area to have a decent chance at access to the hives.
For farmed honey, there is one simple rule that you can live by – if you can buy the brand in any store in the country, chances are that those bees are not treated well. If the honey you buy in New York tastes the same as the one you buy in California, the situation is even worse.
The easiest way to find ethically farmed honey is to make friends with a local beekeeper. And a simple request to see their setup can tell you a lot about the state of their hives. The ones that have nothing to hide will even invite you over to see them in person.
Note, if you get that invite, don’t get offended if they keep you behind glass or make you wear protective gear. It’s to keep the bees healthy and safe.
Can a bee farm be set up anywhere? Honey select
Technically yes, but they will not survive for long in highly polluted and areas with no vegetation.
But if you’re thinking of setting up a hive in your backyard or on the rooftop of your apartment building, beekeeping is not as simple as it seems. Taking care of small animals doesn’t come with small issues alone. If you want to ethically, it will be a full-time job.
There are also a few pre-green revolution era beekeeping books that you may want to hunt down. Victorian books tend to offer the most advanced techniques while still not being as cruel as the ones that are used today in honey manufacturing.
Saving the Bees
Bees are an important part of the ecosystem and if we lose them, we’re done. For a quick re-education on ecosystems and the importance every part of it has.
Bees are pollinators, which means that they support the reproduction and growth of all plants that in turn serve either as food or shelter for many different creatures. If we lose them, we’ll lose also a huge chunk of vegetation, and with that will go many other forms of life, including ours.
These days, bees are dying at an alarmingly higher rate than ever before. It mostly has a lot to do with pesticides, pollution, and climate change, but the lifespans of farmed bees are also shortened due to unethical practices.
What can you do? First, vote. And don’t just wait for the big elections – be diligent when it comes to local elections as well.
Second, fight for a greener future. Protest, sign petitions, vote with your wallet, etc. The first two are good for making noise and getting some attention, the third one is what will get actual results.
Third, get a reality check. While it may be easy for you to boycott Monsanto, it might not be the same for a single mother working two jobs. If you have both the luxury of time and money to make more ethical choices, take a moment to think about how to make it easier for others to join you. Aka, don’t sit and judge that mother for buying honey from the supermarket and offer to pick up some when you’re getting yours. It’s sometimes that easy.
Where To Get Ethical Honey
The best solution would be to become friends with a local beekeeper. They may not offer as much variety as your local supermarket, but chances are that they are rearing bees the “old-school way”.
Use these steps to make sure that you are getting what you were looking for:
- Ask your friends and family first. A beekeeper that is so closely connected to you will have to be more honest about their practices.
- Check out your community center, message boards, newspapers, bulletins, and classifieds. Many small local producers will advertise their products that way.
- Check for local food fairs. If you luck out and have a lot of beekeepers in your area, there might be a special honey fair somewhere on the calendar.
- Ask them to see their setup. Photos and videos are fine, but ideally, you want them to be happy to invite you over. Any caginess should be a major red flag.
- Check in from time to time. Stuff happens and beekeepers are still only human. Time to re-sign your cellphone contract? It’s time to check out how your beekeeper is doing as well.
What are good vegan honey alternatives? Survey honey
For culinary applications, any plant syrup will do the trick. Maple, agave, and others have the same levels of sweetness with additional aromatic notes added to the flavor. They also have the same hygroscopic quality, so any baked goods will come out the same if you go with them instead of honey.
But they don’t have as many benefits during topical use. All of them have sugar that is both am excellent chemical exfoliant (glycolic acid) and a humectant, but they don’t have the same enzyme raw honey does – the same enzymes that make it a very effective skin cleanser as well. You can also slab honey on a wound to make it heal faster.