Is Honey a Proper Food For Vegans?
- Is Honey a Proper Food For Vegans?
Ten years ago, after having completely abstained
from cheese, ice cream and pizza for 24 months, I
made the decision, to discontinue eating meat,
chicken, and fish.
In my own mind, I became a vegan, although I admit
to not being a "strict" vegan. I innocently ate
cookies or bagels and muffins made with eggs, or
enjoyed a slice of toast in a diner that might have
been baked with traces of milk powder. I probably also
ate some products containing milk chocolate, never
asking the server whether the icing or filling was
of the dairy variety.
Today, I carefully read labels. I educate myself
about product ingredients. I do not eat the muffins
that I know contain eggs. I do not eat the halvah
that I know to contain honey.
Is honey vegan?
I am often asked this question, and respond
by first stating that I do not eat honey.
I then offer a brief explanation about how bees
are abused during the collection of their honey.
Finally, I offer an alternative. I have found that
maple syryp is a great substitute. I use maple
syrup in my tea with lemon.
Many years ago, I heard an author and activist
lecture about the vegetarian diet. Her name is
Joanne Stepaniak. Joanne is the author of
The Uncheese Cookbook, Raising Vegan Children,
The Vegan Sourcebook, and many other wonderful
texts. Recently, I came upon her response to that
same question about honey. I have yet to read or
hear a better elucidation of this topic.
In Joanne's words:
"Regardless of how careful we are, it is
impossible to live a totally harm-free life.
All animate sentient beings inflict some form
of injury or death to others simply by their
existence. Humans displace or destroy large and
small life forms whenever we erect buildings,
plant seeds, dig crops, burn wood, fly airplanes,
drive cars, operate factories, walk on grass, or
bat our eyes. This is simply an aspect of being
The difference between vegans and nonvegans,
however, is the element of intent. Vegans
consciously strive to do no harm to any sentient
life, including insects. This does not mean that
vegans do not hurt others inadvertently, but that
it is never their aim to do so.
Honey is made from sucrose-rich flower nectar
that is collected by honeybees and then regurgitated
back and forth among them until it is partially
digested. After the final regurgitation, the bees
fan the substance with their wings until it is cool
and thick. This mixture, which we call honey (which
is essentially bee vomit), is then stored in the
cells of the bees' hive and used as their sole
source of nutrition in cold weather and other times
when alternative food sources are not available.
During the collection of flower nectar, the bees
also pollinate plants. This is part of the natural
process of life and is necessary and unavoidable.
Even though humans inadvertently benefit, the bees
do not pollinate plants in order to serve human
needs; it is simply a secondary aspect of their
nectar collecting. The honey that bees produce is
stored in their hives for their own purposes.
When humans remove honey from the hive, they take
something that is not rightfully theirs.
To collect honey, beekeepers must temporarily
remove a number of the bees from their home. During
the course of bee management and honey collection,
even the most careful beekeeper cannot avoid
inadvertently injuring, squashing, or otherwise
killing some of the bees. Other commodities may
be taken from the hive as well, including beeswax,
honeycomb, pollen, propolis, and royal jelly.
Bees are not harmed by the process of pollination --
it is something they would do whether or not humans
were involved or reaped any profit. If one were to
stretch the point, using honey could, in a broad
sense, be considered analogous to dairying.
Furthermore, there is no reason to take honey
from bees other than to sell it. Utilizing bees
to pollinate crops in no way necessitates ravaging
Although the issue of honey is not deemed the
most pressing concern of many vegans, honey is
nevertheless considered an animal product. Because
there are numerous alternatives to honey, from a vegan
perspective there is no justifiable rationale for
using it. Furthermore, the vegan position on honey
is definitive. Honey was prohibited for use by vegans
according to the 1944 manifesto of the British Vegan
Society (veganism's founding organization), a
position consistent with the requirement for full
(vegan) membership in the American Vegan Society
since its inception in 1960.
Sweeteners are not necessary for human health.
There are virtually no essential nutrients (in fact,
there are hardly any nutrients at all) in sweeteners,
so our use of them is purely for personal pleasure.
Although the labor force is typically exploited on
sugar plantations, even humans with minimal choices
have far more options than the honeybees.
Humans can live quite well without sugar or honey.
As a rule, extensive use of sweeteners is found only
in affluent societies. If vegans want to indulge in
sweets, there are many substitutes available: organic,
unbleached cane sugar (somewhat kinder to the
environment, but not necessarily better for the
workers); beet sugar; maple sugar; maple syrup;
concentrated fruit syrups; rice syrup; barley malt;
and sorghum syrup, among others. We do not need to
choose between exploiting humans or bees in order
to satisfy our sweet tooth. Concerned vegans can
avoid harming either by eliminating sweets from
their diet or by choosing compassionate alternatives."