In the vegan community, honey can be a sticky subject. If you are against eating it, it can be the bane of your existence when it comes to scanning the ingredient labels of beverages, breads, or desserts. For other vegans, however, it’s not a concern in the slightest.
As the vegan movement grew in popularity over the 2000s, there came a rising lackadaisical attitude towards honey. In the grand scheme of things, it fell into a “grey area,” being not quite as egregious as consuming milk, but not as acceptable as strictly vegan substitutes, like agave nectar.
As author Daniel Engber noted in 2008, “(A) flexitarian ethic is beginning to creep into the most ardent sector of the meat-free population: the vegans … (The modern vegan) may be a little more accommodating when it comes to the ‘dairy of the insect world’: He may have relaxed his principles enough to enjoy a spoonful of honey.”
Others contend that honey is absolutely not vegan-friendly because it is, strictly speaking, an “animal product,” and because it harms bees by disrupting natural processes.
Where does this divide come from? If you’re trying to make your own decision regarding whether or not you should eat honey, it helps to consider the arguments. There are good points from both sides of the aisle. Let’s break down the arguments both for and against the consumption of honey:
Why Honey SHOULD Be Considered Vegan-Friendly
The first point many pro-honey vegans make is that removing honey from your diet is far too restrictive to be realistic. As previously stated, honey appears in many products, and nixing all of them can get pretty prohibitive.
Furthermore, as noted in Engber’s article, bees are involved in the production of many “vegan” foods, including “broccoli, canola, cherries, cucumbers, lettuce, peaches, pears, plums, sunflowers, and tomatoes” — and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. While you could argue that honey can be reasonably avoided, it is difficult to argue that we should avoid all of these products.
Of course, when discussing “reasonable” dietary choices, cost is a consideration. Depending on your lifestyle choices, some vegan alternatives can be prohibitively expensive. For example, bodybuilders who are on a vegan diet for the most part, often choose to consume protein powder with dairy in it because many dairy-free protein powders are more costly. While there are some more affordable dairy-free options, this common perception impacts consumption habits.
This brings up another point: extra restrictions could make omnivores reluctant (or even outright refuse) to try veganism in the first place. By loudly arguing against the consumption of honey, we may be turning people away from reducing their intake of meat, dairy, or other animal products.
Why Honey SHOULD NOT Be Considered Vegan-Friendly
A vegan, strictly speaking, is defined by Oxford Living Dictionaries as “a person who does not eat or use animal products” — and honey is undoubtedly an animal product. But for many vegans, this strict view does not apply to the case of honey; the ultimate concern for such individuals is animal welfare. “After all,” it’s reasoned, “I’m not harming any animals by eating honey.”
But is that true?
Those who argue that honey is not vegan-friendly contend that the consumption of honey actually harms bees. Honey is created by honey bees during periods of cold or poor weather and stored for future consumption. It contains essential nutrients that maintain the health and well-being of the hive. Being an essential source of sustenance, honey needs to be replaced after it is harvested.
Unfortunately, the sugar substitute that harvesters use to replace honey is devoid of the nutrients, vitamins, and fats that bees require to remain healthy. Furthermore, as bees scramble to replace the lost honey, the hive can exhaust itself.
There are other ethical considerations as well. Selective breeding, a process intended to maximize production and profits, has significantly narrowed the gene pool of the honey bee population. This makes the species susceptible to life-threatening diseases, which can be spread to other animals and pollinators that are required to continue the cycle of nature.
As we’ve seen with the unintended culling of bees throughout the past several years, the environmental impacts can be enormous.
Making the Decision: Should You Avoid Honey?
Given these considerations, what is the best choice for you? Ultimately, what you choose to do is a deeply personal choice; you can’t be verbally coerced into refusing to eat honey. Avoiding all products that involve the exploitation of bees is a difficult task, so eating honey can be seen as a relatively minor infraction. However, because the consumption of honey causes harm to bees and the environment, many vegans choose to avoid it.
When it comes to discussing this issue, it doesn’t help to insult other vegans in the community. Arguments between people on social media and message boards on this issue can give the impression that vegans are overly dogmatic or ethically inconsistent. The argument boils down to “reflecting on what we can realistically remove from our diets” versus “our desire to cause the least amount of harm possible.”
From a dietary standpoint, it can certainly help to remove honey from your diet. Lawmakers are looking to combat the obesity epidemic in the US by increasing taxes and imposing bans on sugary foods, and honey is a common culprit in high-sugar diets. Cutting it from your diet can have a positive impact on your health, as can replacing these types of sugars in your diet with fruit.
Consider your own feelings on the subject and act in accordance with your beliefs and needs. Keep in mind that, as a vegan, you share a set of common beliefs and goals with others in the community. Don’t let issues like this create a divide. With these considerations in mind, where do you sit on this issue? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!