While most people understand why vegans choose not to eat meat and dairy, even some vegans are puzzled why they don’t eat honey! If we’re honest, a good many of us see this as much less of an issue than slaughterhouse products. Until relatively recently, even The Vegan Society viewed honey consumption as a matter of individual conscience.
So why should vegans give honey a miss? Well, firstly because of the general principle that we don’t need any form of animal exploitation to survive.
Secondly, because, whenever human beings exploit animals commercially, it almost invariably leads to some degree of suffering. Honey production is no exception.
And thirdly, because, while it may be harder to empathise with insects than farmed animals, the same truth applies – the more we learn about them, the more we realise that they live much more complex and sophisticated individual and social lives than we once imagined, and that all unnecessary interference is best avoided.
In commercial honey production, Queen bees are selectively bred and artificially inseminated. They are usually killed and replaced every year or two, while they are still relatively young. Some have their wings clipped to restrict their movement and prevent swarming.
There has been much discussion about the depletion of bees in the wild and the possible environmental consequences if there are not enough to pollinate plants and crops. There is some evidence that honey production methods are a contributory factor. The honey would naturally sustain bees through the winter months, when sufficient nectar from flowers is not an option. But commercial beekeepers take the honey for the human pot and feed them a sugar syrup instead. While this has enough calories to ensure survival, it lacks the nutritional value of natural honey and may compromise the bees’ immune system. Inbreeding, which is also common when beekeepers artificially create hives, may be another possible contributory factor to sickness and Colony Collapse Disorder.
Honey’s nutritional value to humans has been largely exaggerated. It has no unique qualities. It is essentially a sweetener, full of calories. Its benefits to the bees who naturally produced it, however, are enormous.
Vegan alternatives to honey include agave nectar (probably nutritionally the best option), and maple, rice, barley and date syrups. Chestnut jam (more popular in France than the UK) has a similar texture and taste, and there are recipes for homemade vegan honey available online based on things such as apple juice and dandelion flowers.