[Image: A honeybee perches on a red flowering plant with waxy leaves.]
Honey is a perennial topic of debate among vegans. On the face of it, whether or not to eat honey should be a simple matter: Bees make honey, bees are animals, vegans avoid exploiting animals to the extent possible, eating honey is avoidable, therefore vegans should not eat honey. Yet many vegans continue to rationalize that eating the food made by these amazing animals is consistent with vegan ethics.
I know, because I was one of those vegans myself. From 2011 to 2014, I called myself vegan because I did not consume any flesh, dairy, or eggs. But I still occasionally ate honey, mostly in products like bread. When asked about it, normally by people who were not vegan and had no interest in animal rights or welfare, I gave various excuses, but eventually admitted that I just couldn’t get all that worked up about the plight of bees.
Even then, I knew that eating an animal product was inconsistent with a vegan diet, but I didn’t yet see animals as people, not property. In addition to eating honey, I still used some animal-derived clothing and other products, and visited a zoo once or twice. I stopped doing all of that, to the extent possible, when I became an animal rights activist in 2014. I could no longer justify exploiting any animal – including insects – if I could reasonably avoid it.
I’m bringing this up now because I read a recent article by KD Angle-Traegner about additional reasons to avoid honey; namely, the use of honey in animal testing. The same author had previously posted a more comprehensive guide about the problems with honey, which I recommend reading, as it addresses many common questions and objections. Whether you’re vegan or not, having additional information on this subject cannot hurt; it’s troublesome, though not surprising, that the author notes that many people have unfollowed her on social media just for posting about honey. (If you’re tempted to do the same to me, go ahead; I don’t self-censor to get more “likes.”)
The timing of this article’s publication was fortuitous because I’ve been watching the series Inside Man by Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame) on Netflix, and had just gotten up to the episode where he investigated honey and bee colony collapse. I like Spurlock’s documentary style, but as with other episodes of this series where he’s covered issues involving our fellow animals, it was difficult for me to watch because of the overt speciesism. To the commercial beekeepers Spurlock worked with (more for pollination services than for honey), these animals were nothing but mindless automatons, and when they died off in massive numbers, the only mourning was for the loss of income. Even the smaller beekeepers he visited actually hunted and captured wild bees to breed them with their existing “stock.”
Whether on a large or small scale, to me, beekeeping is forced labor, indistinguishable from dairy or egg farming. Bees make honey and royal jelly to feed themselves, not humans. The fact that bee pollination is responsible for a large portion of the plants we eat just makes it even more unfair to take their food away from them. If large-scale agriculture cannot be sustained without commercial beekeeping, that’s just more evidence to me that humans are taking up far too much space on this planet.
While I do not consider eating honey to be compatible with veganism, my point of writing this post is not to shame people who call themselves vegans despite eating honey; as I said, I was once one of those people myself. My goal is to provide information about animal exploitation so that people can make informed decisions about what products and services they buy. While I have no authority on who merits the title of “vegan,” I expect that if I buy a food or other product that is labeled “vegan” at a grocery store or restaurant, it should not contain honey, pollen, royal jelly, or beeswax. These are animal products, period.
Bees are remarkable, hard-working animals. Let them keep the product of their labor.