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 as 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.
Honey is Not Plant-Based
Veganism is described as a way of life that attempts to exclude any form of animal exploitation. This includes animal products. There are several reasons one may choose to follow a strict vegan diet.
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Some do so to promote a healthier lifestyle and perhaps avoid some diseases that result from eating a lot of red meat. Others feel strongly about harming animals and do not want them to be killed, subjected to cruelty or exploited.
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.
Why is Honey Not Vegan (for most people)
Most vegans avoid consuming honey because it is taken from the bee colony. Some bees are killed during the harvest process. Also, the colony is being “used” to produce food that they will not be allowed to keep.
No one can deny that some bees are harmed in any honey harvesting operation. This is especially true in large commercial beekeeping companies. These beekeepers have to work thousands of hives each season.
Trying to ensure that no bees were killed or harmed would be impossible in commercial honey production. Even hobby beekeepers do inevitably cause some harm to individual bees – with thousands in a hive – it is impossible to prevent.
I strive to avoid harming any of my bees but truthfully some do die in the process of caring for them. Even without taking the process of harvesting honey into account. And, yes – I do feel bad about it.
Colony Health Risks
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.
However, beekeeping is like any other type of farming, there are many ways to make it work. Many considerate beekeepers only take the excess crop. Leaving the colony plenty of their own food for Winter.
These beekeepers also do their best to avoid bee deaths – adhering to the principles of natural beekeeping wherever possible.
They keep bees for the joy and connection with nature, honey production is not the main goal. But, that is not always possible when running a large business for profit.
Some Vegans Do Consume 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 add honey to their diet while avoiding all of the other animal based foods. They feel that bees are insects and not subject to the same restrictions as other animals.
In addition to honey, they also consume bee pollen and other hive products that are harvested without killing the hive.
These people search out beekeepers who are extra conscientious about hive management. Tending their colonies to avoid any harm to the bees to the extent possible.
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.
The Avocado Controversy (Resulting From Bee Pollination)
To add even more controversy to the 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?
When large numbers of colonies are shipped in to pollinate these mono-floral crops, bee health does suffer. During the weeks they are in the field, their nutrition is poor due to a limited variety of food.
If you consume avocados or use almond milk – you have a honey bee to thank for their work in the field.
Vegan Honey Substitutes
You may hear the term vegan honey – in reality these are vegan honey alternatives. By definition, true honey is a product produced by bees from plant nectar. However, there are vegan honey substitutes that are used.
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.
FAQs Regarding Vegans and Honey
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.
Though there is some controversy, most vegans do not eat honey because to them it represents exploitation of bees during the production and harvest.
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.