Is Honey Vegan?
Unlike vegetarianism, the vegan way extends past simply not eating meat. Veganism is more than a diet, and involves not eating, consuming or using products derived from animals. This includes dairy, eggs and leather. Honey, however, is a more complicated elimination, and has been noted as one of the ‘hot debates’ in the vegan community. Bees produce honey by using the pollen of flowers as their core ingredient. They do this for themselves and thrive on the process. Honey, therefore, might seem a legitimate inclusion in the vegan diet.
Bees rely upon the honey they make as an energy-rich food source. Bees suck out the nectar from flowering plants and carry it back to their hives in small sacs on their bodies for processing into honey. As we learnt in Bees: The Vital Pollinator, bees release pollen during this process which acts as a natural fertilizer for these plants. Along with butterflies and hummingbirds, bees are natural pollinators, and many key fruit and vegetable crops. Back at the hive, bees work to thicken the collected nectar into honey before sealing it inside honeycombs as future food. Bees do not hibernate, so they naturally produce an excess of honey to survive a brutally-cold winter. This is where beekeepers come into the picture—they harvest the excess honey from the hives so that it can be packaged for consumer use.
Despite there being some debate about whether honey is vegan, the general consensus is that honey is not a vegan-friendly product. Honey has been referred to as ”the honey of the insect world”. The Vegan Society state that as honey production utilises the bee’s natural processes, it falls under the category of ‘exploitation’. While some vegans may accept eating honey that has been harvested from an abundant supply in the nest, the vast majority of vegans will not include honey in their diets.
While the vegan lifestyle perspective rejects animal cruelty, natural beekeepers harvest bees and their honey with the wellbeing of the animal in mind. This method always favours the bees over the desires of the beekeeper. In fact, as natural beekeepers often have highly nuanced knowledge of certain species of bee, their research and commitment might by the key to their survival. As parasites, disease, pesticides, climate change and air pollution all impact the health of bees, it is important, and ethical, that natural beekeepers assist in building colonies that are threatened by extinction.