I had the pleasure of being a Q and A expert in the latest issue of Vegan Food & Living Magazine, and the topic up for discussion was the conflicting views in the vegan community and beyond about eating honey. I thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts on this here, as I understand from the outset people tend to not see a problem with honey.
I think the honey issue is in the same area as eating the eggs of your own chickens who are lovingly looked after in your garden – whilst I have no doubt that of course there are non-commercial beekeepers and chicken owners who look after their hens and bees, it would be incorrect for these people to identify themselves as vegan, regardless of where the honey or eggs come from.
Why do we feel strongly about the need for people to not call themselves vegan if they eat honey or back garden eggs? Well, it makes it harder for other people to know what vegans actually eat, and can be the reason why we may be given non-vegan ingredients in a meal. It’s the same as someone saying they are vegetarian, but they eat fish. It muddies the waters, as well as being contradictory to the set definitions.
Whilst I understand that there is a movement of people who prefer to be ‘label-free’ or who modify their plant-based eating depending on convenience or desire, it simply isn’t fair on those who identify with the full philosophy of veganism (omitting animal products in food, clothing, cosmetics etc).
Please know this – I’m certainly not hating on those who eat differently to myself; we are all on our own journey, and I want to inspire people to investigate a vegan lifestyle in a positive way. But this is a topic that often gets brought up, creates a lot of confusion and it’s something that needs drawing attention to.
The Vegan Society’s 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
The below text was first published in Vegan Food & Living Magazine.
“I keep hearing conflicting views on whether or not you can eat honey as a vegan. What is the correct answer?”
Of all the non-vegan foodstuffs, honey is the one that can be the most controversial, and there is a common misconception that eating honey is ok and doesn’t cause harm. But I’m afraid that honey is definitely not vegan, and its production is certainly not cruelty-free.
Honey is not a byproduct for bees – it’s their fuel for the winter. Throughout the spring and summer, our little bee friends work very hard indeed to collect nectar which they then regurgitate back in the hive. The result? Honey.
Bees also produce pollen, beeswax and royal jelly, which are often used in cosmetics and various healthfoods. When these products along with honey are taken from the hive by beekeepers, they are replaced with a sugar substitute which doesn’t have the same nutrients as the bees’ own honey and can have a detrimental effect on their health, especially as they will have to work harder to replace the honey that has been taken away from them.
Sadly, it is common for hives to be culled once harvest is over, in a bit to reduce cost, and queen bees often have their wings clipped to stop them leaving their hive and starting a new one somewhere else.
Diseases can easily spread through the hive, as a result of bees being bred selectively, which not only narrows the gene pool but makes them more likely to catch a disease and die. Such diseases are spread to other pollinators, which has a very negative impact on our environment.
Although some beekeepers say they only use leftover honey products which isn’t used by the bees, and might not cull the hive or clip the wings of the queens, this still goes against the idea of veganism and exploitation. The core value of veganism is about not using animals or their products in our lives. Honey is not ours to take, and the bees create it for their own use.
There are plenty of honey alternatives that are perfectly vegan-friendly – so think about trying agave nectar, maple syrup and molasses to name but a few!