Why Do Vegans Avoid Honey?

Why Do Vegans Avoid Honey?

The other day I was promoting veganism – handing out booklets about cruelty-free eating – when a nonvegan came up and asked me about honey.

My first response to the honey question is generally something along the lines of:

I don’t really care too much if you eat honey or not. I’m mostly interested in trying to help you think about cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and fish in a way that is more compassionate and respectful.

Farmed animals are generally treated awfully and they suffer tremendously before they’re killed.

This booklet has more information about that and about vegan food choices you can make instead of eating animals.

 

But he insisted, “What’s wrong with honey? Why don’t you eat honey?

After asking him a few questions about his diet and confirming that he was not vegetarian or vegan (or even leaning that way), I tried to redirect the conversation to the cruel foods that he eats most often: eggs, cheese, chicken, pork, beef, and fish. What happens to these farmed animals would be illegal if it happened to a dog. (And dogs don’t receive much protection!) Farmed animals are literally treated like meat before they become meat.

I reminded him that neither of us eat cats, dogs, dolphins, kanagaoos, leopards, elephants, giraffes, or apes. I joked that there are plenty of things neither of us eat – nails, wood chips, puppy placentas, crickets, monkey brains, and vomit – yet our individual reasons for avoiding eating those things aren’t the basis of our ethical philosophies. So why should my feelings about honey matter so much to him? He wouldn’t give up. He demanded to know why I avoid honey.

Though I didn’t have time to go into great detail with him about the issue, and so I simply said that honey is an animal product, you and I now have the time to consider it. So let’s consider the honey issue.
(If, in fact, you haven’t got the time, just print out this article and read it later.)

To me, the honey issue has always been simple and clear. Vegans avoid animal products (as much as possible and practical). They do so for the benefit of animals, the environment, and their health. Honey comes from bees. Bees are animals. Therefor, honey is an animal product. (Honey is also both possible and practical to avoid.) Thus, vegans avoid honey. Simple.

Ah, but that’s almost too simple. It’s certainly too simple for most people. Like the nonvegan who questioned me, people usually ask, “But why?

Let’s start here:
Why vegans avoid animal products.

As stated earlier, vegans avoid animal products for the benefit of animals, the environment, and their health. Each vegan is unique and each has his or her own reasons. But in general, vegans care about these things:

  • eliminating cruelty to animals
  • reducing animal suffering
  • ending animal exploitation
  • protecting the environment
  • preventing disease

Preventing Animal Cruelty, Suffering, and Exploitation
It’s a well-documented fact that most animals – certainly the animals most commonly consumed as food – feel pain and can suffer. They can suffer physically from pain endured through beatings or mutilations like tail docking, debeaking, or castration. They can suffer when they are ground up alive. They can suffer when their heads are slammed against concrete floors. They can suffer when they are hung. They suffer when they’re transported in extreme temperatures without protection. They suffer when they’re boiled alive.

Animals can also suffer emotionally from pain endured through the loss of their loved ones such as when dairy cows‘ calves are removed and turned into veal. Or they can suffer emotionally from the absence of a stimulating environment such as when egg-laying hens are confined in battery cages and cannot walk, spread their wings, perch, nest, or explore.

Animal have their own interests and desires. They do not want to become food for humans. They do not want to suffer in our food system. And they don’t need to. We can choose vegan options.

Protecting the Environment
Current animal agricultural practices are terribly destructive to the environment.

Animal products – as currently produced – are not sustainable. Modern fishing methods are literally draining the oceans of fishes. Beef has a huge “carbon footprint.” One estimate shows that leather is 20 times more environmentally destructive than synthetics.

Simply stated, vegans are better for the environment than nonvegans. As the PB&J Campaign states, “each time you choose a plant-based meal you make a difference, just like taking out the recycling or taking public transportation to work instead of driving.”

Here is some more information about veganism and the environment >>

vegan-planet

Protecting Human Health
As the ADA states, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

Vegans tend to have lower incidences of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and some other diseases. Moreover, vegan food is less likely to cause of food poisoning – like Salmonella and e coli – than animal products.

Switching from individual health, let’s look at the public health. Animal agriculture is responsible for the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA. And animal agriculture poses a human health risk by polluting waterways, poisoning our drinking water.

bee

Ahhhh, but I still haven’t fully covered the issue of honey. You may be asking, “Are bees really animals?” or you might wonder, “Do bees feel pain? Are they sentient?” You’re probably wondering how honey is collected. You might even have questions about the environmental impact of bee-keeping or you could be wondering whether honey is a health food or not.

On point one: Yes, bees are animals. Bees are insects and insects are animals. In fact, insects include over a million species and represent more than 50% of all known living organisms. Insects are among the most diverse group of animals on the planet.

Their scientific classification is Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Arthropoda, and Class: Insecta. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just think about it. Where do bees fit best: animal, vegetable, or mineral? They’re not rocks, right? They’re not plants, right? So they must be… animals!

Do bees feel pain?” That’s a good question. On this point I will refer you to the expert on bees and why vegans avoid honey: Noah Lewis. He maintains an entire website that explains the issue of honey and veganism. On the issue of pain, Noah says, “why wouldn’t bees feel pain? They are animals with a large nervous system capable of transmitting pain signals.” (Bees are not oysters.)

Perhaps you’re unconvinced. You don’t like Noah’s studies and citations and/or you doubt their conclusions. You just don’t believe bees feel pain.

OK, you’re free to believe what you want. I can’t stop you from thinking our moon is made of cheese or the Earth is flat, that’s entirely up to you. It would be nice if everyone’s ideas about things corresponded with reality, but that’s not always the case, is it? So let’s just move on, shall we?

Honey was traditionally collected by killing the bees and removing the honey. Modern bee-keepers generally remove honey and replace it with sugar water, which is an inferior food source for bees. Bees make honey for a reason and that’s because honey, not sugar, is an ideal food source for bees.

What about the environmental impact of bee-keeping? Well, today’s kept bees don’t just make honey, they are “employed” to pollinate crops. In fact, honey is no longer the primary “product” of bees in industrialized farming, pollination is the “product.” Bee-keepers make a living by charging farmers to “rent” their bees. Today’s bees are shipped around to pollinate here and then pollinate there, many getting lost or killed along the way.

Modern bee-keeping is so stressful to bees that the compounded stressors of transportation, the limited diet of monoculture crops, and pesticides are resulting in Colony Collapse Disorder. I’m sure you’ve heard of CCD. The bees are dying and it’s having a ripple effect on the environment because kept bees have replaced many other native pollinators.

The honey bee – introduced to the Americas by European settlers and transformed into a for-profit pollinator – is just one more example of how industrialized farming of animals is not only bad for animals and the environment, it’s also unsustainable and is likely doomed to failure. (If you’re concerned about the issues caused by industrialized bee-keeping, the things to do are to buy organic and attract other pollinators.)

Lastly, there’s the myth of honey as a “health food” and thus the related misconception that honey is a necessary component of a healthy diet. Nothing could be further from the truth. Humans do not require honey and in fact, honey can be dangerous to infants. Never feed a baby honey! There is simply no nutritional need for honey. Suitable alternatives to honey include agave syrup or maple syrup. Or we can forgo liquid sweeteners entirely if we want.

As in the case of virtually all animal products, we can choose a plant-based option instead.

So, then what is the answer? Why do vegans avoid honey?

In my mind, an avoidance of honey is mostly symbolic but still worth doing. It’s so easy to avoid honey, so why not? Avoiding honey is a gesture that symbolizes a respect for animals, the environment, yourself, and other humans.

But for something more substantial than a mere symbolic gesture? For an action that more concretely expresses respect for animals, the environment, yourself, and other humans. Well, I think you know the answer by now: GO VEGAN!


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35 Responses to Why Do Vegans Avoid Honey?

  1. Thank you for writing this article. I shared in on a few FB pages. I love the way you explain the issue of “Honey” and also why being vegan is better for our health, the environment and the poor animals who have to voice. My favorite line was “What happens to these farmed animals would be illegal if it happened to a dog. (And dogs don’t receive much protection!) Farmed animals are literally treated like meat before they become meat.”

  2. “In my mind, an avoidance of honey is mostly symbolic but still worth doing.”

    I’m glad you agree that humans shouldn’t eat honey, but I disagree that it’s “mostly symbolic.” Eating honey supports needless direct harm to bees. It’s also easily avoidable. We can help bees live free on their own terms by choosing agave nectar and other delicious bee-free sweeteners.

  3. Thanks for this post. This is a very concise reasoning to why vegans avoid honey, and I’ll be sure to keep it in mind for when I ever get the question (although it tends to be the last thing people seem to get into asking me about).

  4. I haven’t given up honey yet, but I still consider myself a vegan- maybe not on the honor roll, but still.
    I buy organic, and here in Europe I doubt there are as many issues affecting bees’ lives as in the US.

    I can’t see agave nectar as an option because of information such as this: http://goo.gl/Yl4j
    Maple syrup is too expensive to buy regularly, and it’s not locally produced, so that would defeat part of the purpose here.

  5. You know, when I first saw the headline of this article, I got all ready to provide a good explanation of why we avoid honey. And then I saw that you have an amazing article already.

    You know what I find about people asking the honey question? They don’t tend to be too interested in the actual answer. They’re normally doing it to tease me, and having AN answer seems to be enough.

    I think you did the right thing by trying to redirect to the more common (not to necessarily say bigger) issues of the other farmed animals. The fact that he wouldn’t let it be right there seems to indicate he was looking to see if you have any answer for that question, much like the insistent desert island question askers.

    I think I go with this quick answer usually, “Bees are intentionally killed during the harvesting process of honey and I don’t support killing other species for human food.” And then a nice redirect to cows, pigs, bacon, what’s on their plate, or whatever works well.

  6. I totally agree that vegans shouldn’t eat honey- but I don’t get the bit about how it’s mostly symbolic? I kind of feel like saying that contributes to the odd idea that somehow honey is exempt from veganism. It’s kind of like when you say you’re a vegetarian and people ask if you eat fish. How is it symbolic when it’s problematic for real reasons? It too is exploiting suffering animals. And treating them as commodities. How is it any more symbolic than rejecting leather and beef, for instance?

  7. Charlotte,
    I said it’s mostly symbolic because honey is not the main “product,” pollination is. But since we can’t easily abstain from the main product of bees and bee-keeping, we abstain from the byproduct.

  8. Awesome article! Everyone, vegan and non-vegan, should read this.

    Linda, sweeteners are not health supportive. Whether they are “natural” like honey and maple syrup, or “unnatural” like high-fructose corn syrup, sweeteners are highly concentrated sources of sugar. There is, of course, nothing wrong with sugar per se. It is the main fuel for our bodies. Healthy foods contain plenty of sugars (including fructose), but not in their concentrated form. Along with the sugars in these foods, you get other good stuff like fiber, water, micronutrients, and more water.

    Concentrated sugar is, in general, not good for us. It’s too many calories in too small a “package” and you can think of it as overloading our system. Having said that, in small amounts these concentrated sweeteners (“natural” or “unnatural”) are no big deal.

    The article you linked is, honestly, basically full of it. Drawing such an enormous distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” sweeteners is simply not supported by the scientific literature.

    Here’s the bottom line. Eat your oatmeal. Oatmeal is good for you. If you want to put a teaspoon of syrup on your oatmeal, go right ahead. You can put maple syrup on it, or you can put agave syrup or even (gasp) high-fructose corn syrup on it if you want. You are not going to live longer if you chose maple syrup over the other sweeteners. It doesn’t matter. Don’t put half a cup of syrup on your oatmeal (or consume that much sweetener in another way). If you do that, no matter which one you choose, it’s bad for you.

    And please don’t put honey on your oatmeal. It’s not vegan.

  9. The distinction between product and byproduct doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if cows are killed for meat or leather; it’s wrong regardless.

    Bees matter. While it’s difficult to convince some that bees matter (speciesism), it’s even more difficult to convince some that veganism matters if we’re hypocrites about bees.

  10. I am a vegan top-bar, biodynamic beekeeper and I would like to suggest another important practical reason to not eat honey:

    In cold climates where these messengers of love have to hibernate, honey should be given back to the colony, and we should never feed them cane sugar or corn syrup except in emergency situations to keep them alive. (However, honey can spread disease from hive to hive, so it must be given back to the colony from which it came). So, even though it is healthy, sustainable, and causes no harm, I still do not eat my honey because my bees need it more than I do.

    Industrial beekeeping causes significant harm to the bees: they are treated like machines, like all animals in the industrial paradigm, which has caused them to be very sick, and collapse in the U.S. from about 8 million hives to 2 million hives in just one year! The harm caused by industrial beekeeping is very real.

    It is wrong to say, “the myth of honey as a “health food” and thus the related misconception …” The products of the bees, including honey, beeswax, propolis, royal jelly and pollen all have extraordinary healing powers and there is nothing inherently unhealthy about them. I believe that this is important to recognize: vilifying these sacred products is a disrespect to the bees.

    Vegan love.

  11. Whoa whoa whoa, where do you get evidence that CCD is caused by industrial bee-keeping? I have never seen anything confirming that. It might be a possible cause, but saying “the compounded stressors of transportation, the limited diet of monoculture crops, and pesticides are resulting in Colony Collapse Disorder” is not the same thing as saying “the compounded stressors of transportation, the limited diet of monoculture crops, and pesticides are a possible cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. Not the same thing at all.

    I am vegan and although bees do not concern me the same as vertebrates do (call me speciesist all you like), I make reasonable attempts to not consume, and certainly not purchase, honey. But this blog has a really bad track record with posting things that are specious at best and flat-out untrue at worst, all in the name of promoting veganism. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: telling lies (or claiming facts without any evidence, which is essentially the same thing) to promote a cause HARMS the cause in the long run. It is irresponsible.

  12. Colinski, perhaps you should click on the link in that sentence for a better explanation of what was meant by it. Links are like footnotes. If you’re keen on the specific details then you’d better read them!

    Here is the link: http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/yellow_black_and_blues/P1/

  13. Great article! As a vegan, the honey concept never made sense for all the same reasons. I get so much negative feedback about not eating honey. It’s hilarious. Thank you for writing this. And keep crushing it!

  14. Personally, “Linda” or at least the article she linked to smells of corporate interests. No, I am sorry, if you eat honey you are not a vegan. The only “reasonable attempts to not consume” honey is simple not to.

    What the article did was exploit a number of logical fallacies, the most obvious being “guilt by association” to tarnish an entire range of products if not industries (malt producers). That is why I suspect it was conceived of by an competitive industrial shill, e.g. someone in the pay of sugar or honey manufacturing. It was typically formulaic in it smear.

    Someone said, in communism they suppress freedom of speech; in the capitalist free market, they just bury the truth under so much crap that it become more than a full-time job to dig one’s way of it … and shit sticks which is why these folks throw it. Especially when a 1% in the market is worth millions.

    • No one has died of not having to eat honey.

    • No concentrated sweeteners is primary food, learn to overcome and let go of immature food addictions.

    • Just say no to anything involving direct, intentional animal abuses … ‘that’ is being vegan.

    To answer the original question, I suggest what you should try is this:

    Instead of engaging with idiots who have real interest and just want an argue, just ask,

    “If I answer that question to your full satisfaction, will you become 100% vegan straight away?”

    If they answer, “no”, then just politely refuse to engage with them.

    Explain politely and professional that you are there to help people who do want to become vegan and if they want to argument about something, they can always try the Wikipedia. And then just stop and smile … “Is there anything else I can help you with?”. If not, thank them for coming and move away.

    That is masterful black belt Vegan Kung Fu … no one became a vegan by winning or losing an argument. Strange to say but I think no one even became a vegan by a logical, or rather intellectual, process. Becoming Vegan is something more internal; emotional, visceral, spiritual even … a sort of mini-enlightenment when one suddenly wakes up and dedicates oneself to increasingly living a life with any abuse of other living things and starts on that path.

    It is a move away from an egocentric universe where ‘my’ self-interest … ‘my’ addictions … ‘my’ greed … ‘my’ vanity … even ‘my’ health is no longer the center of ‘my’ life. It becomes secondary to the interests of the whole and balance with the interests of others sharing our world.

    And just remember … as Paul Watson often says, the insects can live without us, we cannot live without the insects … they are crew, we are the passengers. It’s a wise thing to do, to respect the crew of the vessel we sail in.

    Top marks to ‘Publius’ for homing and protecting our bee friends. You are a wonderful and kind!

  15. Great article! I am a vegetarian and just had this conversation last night with a friend of mine who used to be vegan. I was really unsatisfied with his answers to the honey question (I thought that avoiding honey was silly) but I understand it now and will be going out of my way to avoid it in the future.

    One more thing: I know a few entomologists and their belief is that insects do not, in fact, feel pain (not that this makes it okay to eat honey). They believe that although insects do have a nervous system, they don’t have the right chemicals/receptors to experience anything like what we know as pain. But who really knows :)

  16. I’m a vegan and this is a debatable issue in our home. My daughter has allergies, and it was recommended that she consume local honey. Though reluctant at first, I eventually agreed to try it, and it has helped her.

    I’m of the school of thought that silk is inhumane in that worms are boiled alive; which is torture, in my opinion. But beekeeping is a different kettle of fish.

    In trying to justify it, I see the benefit of crop pollination a big plus in supporting my local beekeeper and local farms. Would strict vegans avoid fruits pollinated by use of the bee slave trade, too?

    Would a beekeeper be able to receive enough money to live on by only renting hives and not selling honey? I’m not sure.

    I am torn in hearing about how some beekeeping practices harm bees. But what is the lesser of two evils: a world in which some bees are harmed or bothered by beekeeping, or a world with little to no fruit?

    p.s. Would a strict vegans swat at mosquitoes, or exterminate termites? I must confess, I have done both. Though I’m not proud, I have little or no remorse on the matter.

  17. Hello Publius

    What does a biodynamic beekeeper do with bees?

  18. I like this article. I’m a vegan who sometimes eats honey. I’ve been searching online intensively for something that could move me to not eat honey in the same way I’ve been moved to give up eggs, milk and meat. So far I haven’t quite found it, but I have been thinking of giving up honey for a while just to see if I find it easy and it feels right for me.

    Your point of view gets it the way I get it: honey is not a big thing compared to the other parts of veganism. Giving honey up is some improvement, but not the main battle.

    I’m more passionate about avoiding silk (another insect product) than honey. Partly because it’s easier to me, and partly because I don’t think any creature deserves to be thrown into boiling water by the thousands before it has even become an adult.

  19. @Dun Moanin:
    “Strange to say but I think no one even became a vegan by a logical, or rather intellectual, process.”

    You have done the usual method of assuming everyone else is like you are. I can assure you that your assertion is completely false, as I, for one, became vegan for logical and rational reasons: fighting speciesism, reducing my environmental footprint, personal health. I did not do it for any emotional or spiritual reasons.

    @Emily Gray:
    “Would a strict vegans swat at mosquitoes, or exterminate termites? I must confess, I have done both. Though I’m not proud, I have little or no remorse on the matter.”

    My line of thought is basically:

    I do not intentionally harm or end the life of any living thing, unless it is necessary for my survival, or unless it attacks me first (in which case I try to use the least force required to stop the attack and defend myself).

    I walk around slugs on the sidewalk, I do not kill insects that land on me (I blow them off), etc. — but in the event that I accidentally end the life of something else, I have no moral issues about it.

    Intent is more important than outcome, I think.

  20. Maple syrup is bad for the environment. Not only does it rob the trees of growing nutrients, it also takes a great amount of energy to boil down into the syrup. Just don’t use any sweeteners if you are concerned about the environment.

  21. I find your article a bit offensive and I will tell you why. The approach you take to making your point is not plainly factual. You seem to feel the need to make the people you are trying to convince look stupid. And I quote,”I can’t stop you from thinking our moon is made of cheese or the Earth is flat, that’s entirely up to you. It would be nice if everyone’s ideas about things corresponded with reality.” Let me add, “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” I believe in treating other people’s views with kindness and I think that you aren’t likely to help the vegan cause by being rude when trying to persuade people.
    I also want to let you know (from my only reading your article), is that I can tell why the guy might have been frustrated with you. When he asked a direct question, you skirted around the issue and didn’t seem to answer his question about honey at all. Obviously I have no idea how the actual conversation went but this may have been part of the problem. Try honestly, kindly, and directly answering people’s questions and you might change more people’s minds or at least get them thinking which I believe is your goal.
    Good luck in your quest to help the world become a place where all animals are treated respectfully and try to remember that that includes us humans.

  22. Liss, I’m sorry you were offended. I suggest you read more from this website and perhaps get to know me in person before you make rash judgements about my animal advocacy efficacy.

  23. I love honey and replaced my sugar with it, mmmm what to do?!

  24. Wayne, the healthiest option is to forgot sweeteners entirely. But if you must (like most of us) then small amounts of sugar, agave, or maple syrup are more compassionate.

  25. I can’t help but disagree with the passive tone of this article. Honeybees are essential to existence, and if you support products that contain honey or beeswax, you’re supporting the de-habitational effects of this protected species. If/when honeybees go extinct, nothing can survive. PLEASE consider this information and spread the word about not eating honey!!

  26. There’s nothing “symbolic” about not eating honey… As I search the web it seem as though most people aren’t aware of the cruelty that involves collecting the honey. I have harvested it myself in a small-scale family farm and countless bees are killed in the process, most of the time left to suffocate in their own honey. It’s disgusting and this simply can’t be avoided.
    Honey isn’t made for humans and is far from being vegan.

  27. I think vegans are so adamant about this issue because, with any ideology that has a strong emotional component to it, absolutes are everything. Even if deep-down many vegans don’t TRULY have a big problem with consuming honey, any grey line can easily throw their philosophy into a state of crisis. “If I allow honey, then what’s next? Eggs? Milk?” The slippery slope is feared and thus the fine line is drawn. I personally don’t care whether or not people eat honey.

  28. Vegans have beautiful hearts that want to end suffering…I love that. I have one question for vegans to seriously consider…do you believe in abortion? Seriously, if your heart truly cares for the rights of animals as you say, I wonder how valuable is human life to you and would you fight for the rights of a child.

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