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If you have friends who follow a vegan diet, you may be surprised to learn that some of them do not eat honey. We sometimes think of a vegan lifestyle as meaning the same foods are allowed as with a vegetarian. However, while vegetarianism and veganism share some similarities – they are not the same. So, why do vegans not eat honey from bees? Well, it depends on who you ask.
Not everyone who considers themselves to be vegan avoids raw honey. Some believe it is an allowed food. Others believe that honey is not part of a true vegan diet. Who is right?
Why is Honey Not Vegan (for most people)
Veganism aims to avoid any form of animal exploitation including using products that are taken from animals.
Most vegans avoid consuming honey because it is taken from the bee colony. Honey is excluded as vegan approved because the bees are being “used” to produce food that they will not be allowed to keep.
Concerns About Beekeeping Practices
Beekeeping has come a long way since the days when colonies were kept in bee skeps. In those early hives, the entire colony may be killed to access honey.
But, no one can deny that some bees are harmed in modern operations today. Trying to ensure that no bees were killed or harmed would be impossible in commercial honey production.
Even new hobby beekeepers do inevitably cause some harm to individual bees – with thousands of moving bees in a hive – it is impossible to prevent.
Colony Health Risks
Those against taking honey from bees note that the colonies are put at risk. Beehives placed in crop fields for pollination sit very close together.
In addition to the spread of disease in these closely place colonies, farmers have to make decisions that seem cruel.
Failing queen bees may be killed earlier than the colony would replace them in an effort to increase production. A hive that is doing poorly and is non-productive may be destroyed.
Wings of queens may be clipped to prevent them leaving and there are other management practices that some people do not feel okay about.
Large scale honey production with thousands of colonies in one location can have a negative effect on the local ecosystems too. Native pollinators may be pushed out.
As part of the agriculture system, large fields of mono-crop farming create food desserts for pollinators that need a variety of food sources.
This affects the health of the bee colonies as well. Healthy honey bees eat a variety of types of nectar and pollen.
However, beekeeping is like any other type of farming. Many of those involved do their best to avoid bee deaths – adhering to the principles of natural beekeeping wherever possible.
But, that is not always possible when running a large bee farm or business for profit.
Honey is Not Plant-Based
There are several reasons one may choose to follow a strict vegan diet. Some do so to promote a healthier lifestyle and perhaps avoid some diseases that result from eating a lot of red meat.
For people who follow a strict vegan diet, any food from plants is okay. But, foods that come from animals is off limits. Right away you can see that burgers, steaks and chicken tenders are not on the menu.
But, this restriction is not limited to meat. It includes products harvested from animals such as eggs, cheese, milk and yes… honey.
The issues of honey purity is also brought into question. Some of the products sold in grocery stores have been adulterated with additivities. Expensive lab tests are the only true way to check for pure honey.
The feeling is that when you purchase pure honey from a local beekeeper you have a better idea of what you are getting. Always read any honey labels carefully – true honey has only one ingredient.
Why Some Vegans Do Eat Honey
However, this food from the beehive is a controversial issue for many who practice veganism. Some say they are not sure the idea of avoiding animal exploitation extends to beehive products.
Some vegans do not adhere to a strict diet. They choose to eat honey while avoiding other animal based foods. They feel that bees are insects and not subject to the same restrictions as other animals.
In addition, they also consume bee pollen and other hive products that are harvested without killing the hive.
Vegan Honey Substitutes
You may hear the term vegan honey – in reality these are vegan honey alternatives. By definition, true honey is made by bees from plant nectar. However, there are vegan honey substitutes you can purchase.
Plant based sweeteners are available and used in the same way. Examples of honey substitutions include:
- agave nectar
- brown rice syrup
- coconut nectar
- date sugar
- maple syrup
- and other sweet products derived from plant juices.
Honey is not allowed for those who adhere to a strict vegan lifestyle. This includes any recipes made with honey. But, those who adopt a softer approach to this philosophy, can keep it as part of their diet.
For others, try a vegan honey alternative if you want to have more variety in your choice of sweeteners.
The Avocado Controversy
To add even more controversy to the vegan issue-what about foods that depend on the work of bees like almonds or avocados? Neither crop can be successfully grown without bee pollination.
Thousands of hives are shipped into the field at bloom time by migratory beekeepers. Does this make these products – even almond milk- off limits too?
If you consume avocados or use almond milk – you have a honey bee to thank for their work in the field.
According to the dictionary definition, honey is made by bees using plant nectar. However, there are plant based honey substitutes that share some of the same vitamins, minerals and taste.
No, nectar is carried to the hive in the bee’s honey stomach. It never reaches the major digestive tract of the bee.
For strict vegans, the honey is still coming from bees – no matter how carefully the hives are managed.
Whether or not to include honey in your diet is your choice. Some vegans do not consider insects as animals (in the same category as cows etc.). It is your choice.
It is important to respect the lifestyle choices of all individuals – even if you feel differently. For now, some of those who adhere to a strict vegan diet will not be eating honey. Others, who feel the rules do not apply to insects-may be able to eat a chunk of beeswax on occasion-with no guilt.