The great honey debate: Why honey is not vegan

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I live in Johnson City, Tennessee; therefore I don’t meet many other vegans. On the occasion that I do, there is often one difference in our opinions about what is vegan and what is not. That difference is honey. 

I have participated in many discussions and debates arguing on the side of bees, alone. I am going to ask you now, why do you think honey is vegan? If you think that it is, I want you to think about the reasons why you think so. I will now explain to you why I feel honey is not vegan, and then I will ask you the same question again.

The number one reason why honey is not vegan is simply that the bees are literally enslaved. They live in giant man-made bee camps where they work hard to make honey. This honey is then stolen by humans who either consume it or seek to gain profit from the bee’s hard work. If you are vegan for ethical reasons, then it is likely that you have accepted the idea of specieism. So what is the difference between consuming dairy and consuming honey? There are ways to harvest honey without harming bees just as there are ways to harvest milk without harming cattle. Assuming these methods are being applied in both situations, the cow produces the milk with much less effort than the bees collectively produce honey. Thinking about it in this way, I would say I would feel less guilty about taking the milk. I do not know anyone who calls themselves vegan that consumes dairy.

Assuming that you are not speciest, if you are vegan and you are using honey then you must also be alright with the idea of human slavery. I know this is a dreaded comparison, but when we are talking about specieism then what is the difference? Most likely, you are not in favor of human slavery although you support the slavery of an animal, the honey bee. If you are an anti-speciest vegan, then this makes you a hypocrite. I believe slavery is wrong no matter what, regardless of the treatment of the slaves.

It is possible to get honey where the royal jelly that the bees need is not harvested. You can get honey from beekeepers who wear a suit that does not allow the bee to sting them, resulting in bee deaths. You can also obtain honey where the bees are not smoked out of the hive first before harvesting. But just like with the myth of humane meat (free range cattle/chickens/etc.), how do you really know where your honey is coming from and how it is harvested? The only way to know is if you are harvesting the honey for yourself or if you personally know the beekeeper and you have visited and investigated their facilities.

What does vegan mean? I know that everyone’s personal definition of what being vegan means to them is different. The literal basic definition of a vegan is a vegetarian that omits all animal products from the diet. Does this mean you don’t credit bees as being an animal? In that case I guess a whole new world of insect cuisine is about to open up for you! In fact, it should be ok for you to start using silk now! While you’re at it I guess wool is ok as well. I mean, you can harvest wool without hurting the sheep. Oh wait…. Sheep are mammals not bugs so they deserve respect, I almost forgot.

Bees are living creatures that are enslaved by humans. If you are ok with this, then you are speciest against bees. I don’t see any other way you can argue on the side of slavery other than if you are speciest. I want you to keep in mind that honey is so important to bees, they will die to protect it. So I am asking you again, why do you think honey is vegan?

With all that being said, even I am guilty of exploiting the bee slaves. I do not consume honey but I do consume almonds, apples, and other various crops that are pollinated by bees in a way that is pretty much horrific. So don't feel too bad from my opinion piece calling you a hypocrite, for I also am a hypocrite. It's honestly hard to be vegan and be perfect, it's hard to be anything and be perfect. As I've said in previous articles, being vegan is about sticking to what you think is right and doing the best you can, just always remember that.


Steven Garnett | Facebook | @stevengarnett
Steven is currently pursuing a B.A. in history and women's studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the founder of Vegans and Vegetarians of the Tri-Cities and a student animal rights organization at ETSU. Steven is a vegan, active feminist, and environmentalist. He enjoys film, art, and delicious vegan cuisine and wishes to educate others about oppression, regardless if it's animal oppression or human oppression. Steven's blog.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/curiouskiwi

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