Lil’ Omni: Wait, wait, wait – you said you don’t eat honey?! What’s wrong with eating honey!? They don’t kill the bees.
Lil’ Vegan: Well that’s not entirely true – they do (more on that in a second). But you’re not the only one confused by the exclusion of honey in a vegan diet. Not eating meat, drinking milk or eating eggs, however “extreme”, tends to make sense to omnivores because the bulk of these creatures are recognized as animals, and are killed or kept confined in poor conditions. Bees, on the other hand, aren’t generally categorized as “animals” in the eyes of most folk, and they don’t tend to register on the same scale as farm animals. After all, they’re free to do as they please, aren’t they? And beekeepers do everything they can to keep their bees “happy and healthy” so that they produce as much honey as possible, right? If that were the case, then wouldn’t most dairy farmers also strive to keep their cows “happy and healthy”? Unfortunately this isn’t how mass production works.
To most people, eating honey is as benign as it comes. Ask a “hardcore” vegan though, and they’ll most definitely say it is not. It’s a product taken from an animal and is therefore off-limits, regardless of whether the insects are killed. It just so happens that lots are killed, as with most intensive endeavours, and not all accidentally. Queens are routinely killed to rejuvenate and exert control over the hive. There are also companies that strictly breed queens and ship them all over the place in pathetic shipping conditions. So, it’s looking more and more like eating honey doesn’t jive with veganism. I mean really — most beekeepers need to wear protective suits to be able to gather the honey, so I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to believe that these animals are not in favour of working to collect the pollen to make honey only have it swiped. For many vegans, it’s also just a lot easier not to consume, support or otherwise engage in ANY activity that is based on the exploitation, abuse or neglect of animals, rather than to disallow most activities but to allow one or two.
All that being said, if you do not eat honey because of the exploitative nature of beekeeping, you open the door to questions like “What about mosquitoes? What about spiders? What about the insects that are destroyed to protect our fruits and veggies? What about the fact that commercially produced bees are one of the only ways to pollinate crops now that we’ve practically wiped out the wild pollinators?” True, only the last one really touches on exploitation and not self-preservation, but they are all very valid questions, and this is where the water gets very murky. Really, a perfect vegan cannot exist in this society. Most of us do our best to educate ourselves, to think about things based on our own personal experiences, and then draw our own lines in the sand as best we can. It’s relatively easy to issue the blanket statement “I’m vegan”, but what does that really mean? The more I think about it, the cloudier my definition gets, which really doesn’t help when I’m trying to clearly explain it to others. The definition of veganism is precisely what Keith Akers’ follow-up essay on Dr. Michael Greger’s article on Why Honey is Vegan discusses. It’s an interesting read, especially if you’ve first read Dr. Greger’s article which makes a lot of very good points, much to the anger of many a card-carrying vegan.
All of this comes down to, you guessed it, THINKING about my impact on other creatures and on the Earth itself, and not blindly stumbling along under some rigid definition of veganism, as one of my last posts hinted at. Am I doing more harm than good by touting the fact that I don’t eat honey, in terms of clearly explaining what veganism is to a non-vegan, as Dr. Greger so keenly points out (and yes, I’ve lived through the situation he describes)? I don’t know, but I would counter that every act of compassion is a good thing, regardless of whether I can extend it to its logical conclusion (i.e. I don’t support honey production therefore I don’t support the proliferation of captive pollinators which means I may not be able to ever eat a cucumber or strawberry ever again lest I be called a big ol’ hypocrite). You can see why the honey issue is a sticky one (heheh that was inadvertent but terribly à propos). All this to say that I haven’t eaten honey in 6 years, but I’m currently redrawing my line in the sand and thinking about which side to place the honey pot on.
Join me next for Part 4 in this meandering series, which explores what on earth vegans can POSSIBLY eat if they don’t partake of animal products.