Let's Talk About Honey, Honey! | Is Honey Vegan?

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Bee Approved Vegan Honey Alternative

Whether honey is suitable for vegans is often debated amongst people who live on plant based diets. Honey is a product which is created by bees, however many people argue that since bees produce honey, whether humans eat it or not, it's not causing the animals any harm for it to be included in human diets. Other people argue that bees spend their lives working unbelievably hard to produce very small quantities of honey, only for humans to take it away from them and eat it. There is a lot of speculation around the topic, so lets take a look at the facts. Is honey vegan?

When I first went vegan, I transitioned away from animal products slowly, cutting out milk first, then butter and cheese, then products containing dairy (like biscuits or chocolate). For me, the very last thing I cut out of my diet was honey. This wasn't necessarily because I had any strong views on whether or not honey could be considered vegan, it was more that I didn't know anything about it at all. 

After a couple of months of eating plant based, I made the decision to start cutting honey out of my diet too. My main reason for coming to this decision was that I didn't want to be involved in the consumption of any foods where animals had been involved in the production. It wasn't that I thought the bees had been harmed or hurt in the same way that dairy cows or battery chickens are, more that it didn't feel right to me to be taking something which wasn't rightfully mine from the animals who 
created it.

The Facts on Honey Production

Honey is created as an energy source by bees who, without its sugar, would starve. Honey is made collectively by bees in their hives, with each bee having to visit around 1500 flowers before it has gathered enough nectar to fill its 'honey stomach'. Honey bees work to pollenate flowers and harvest honey for their entire lives, with the average honey bee only creating enough honey in its life to fill a twelfth of a teaspoon

When honey is harvested by beekeepers, the amount of honey which is taken from the beehive is enough to deplete their supplies. Although most beekeepers operate by replacing the honey they take with sugar replacements, this replacement has been proven to be worse for the bees health, shortening their lifespans.

Does Beekeeping Harm Bees?

The main argument for honey being okay for vegan and plant based diets is that bees would be making honey anyway, and so it's not harming them to eat it. Although this is strictly true, as with most dairy products, it's the way in which humans extract these products which exploits the animals that they've come from. When honey is produced in mass quantities, bees are put through difficult conditions which aren't particularly animal friendly. These include:

  • Selective Breeding: bees who are more productive and produce high quantities of honey are selectively bred by beekeepers, causing deformities and disease within the hives.
  • Wing Clipping: to stop the Queen Bee from fleeing the hive, beekeepers will often clip her wings, preventing her from flying.
  • Extraction: Although beekeepers who work on a small scale are often careful in how bees are removed from their hives when extracting honey, bigger corporations can use drastic methods, such as gas or leaf blowers to remove the bees from their homes.

Does Beekeeping Harm the Environment?

With beekeepers breeding honeybees on a mass scale, the population of other insects who also rely on nectar to survive is at risk. It was recently reported that the number of native bumblebees has declined and this number is decreasing at a dangerous pace. Although the over breeding of honeybees isn't the sole reason for this, it's only contributing to the greater issue.

What Vegan Alternatives Are There to Honey?

Luckily, since turning vegan and cutting honey out of my diet, I've seen a lot of really great alternatives to honey. The ones I've tried taste almost exactly the same, and make just as great of an addition to your morning bowl of oats!

A lot of different syrups can be used as a vegan honey alternative. The most popular ones include agave nectar, brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup. Even maple syrup is a viable alternative if you can get past the difference in texture! My most recent find has been from a new brand called Bee Approved, who make affordable vegan honey substitutes from brown rice syrup. It tastes exactly like honey, and has a really similar consistency.

Whatever your thoughts are on whether honey is or is not vegan, we can all agree that we need to spend a little more time considering how the planet is affected by our actions. Although you may not be against honey, its mass production of animal products which we all need to think about a little bit more. Why not try a honey alternative and see how you get on?

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