Can Vegans Eat Honey or Consume Other Bee Products?
This has to be the #1 question asked in vegan Facebook groups: can vegans eat honey? And the short answer to that question is no. Well, in all fairness, everyone is allowed to do whatever they please, but if you are interested in veganism as a way of life to minimize animal exploitation, you will not eat or purchase products that contain honey, beeswax, royal jelly and bee pollen, to name a few.
Some people justify their consumption of honey and other bee products by stating one of the following:
- Bees produce honey in excess, and we only consume the excess so to not have it go to waste
- Bees do not get harmed or killed when honey is harvested
- Bees are not really animals, they’re insects
All of these statements are false. Let’s look at each one of them by getting to know the fascinating animals that are bees.
Can Vegans Eat Honey Since Bees Do Not Need It?
For bees, honey is actually food, it is what the larvae eat to become adult bees. It is true that honey is produced in excess of what the hive can consume during the height of the season, when pollen and nectar are available in abundance. However, this excess is carefully stored by the bees to be consumed in the cold months. It is this excess that is harvested, pasteurized (or not) and sold to consumers.
If we harvest their winter food, then what happens to the bees? It can go one of two ways: either the bees are fed a cheap replacement, such as sugar syrup or corn syrup, or the entire hive is simply killed, often an option that ends up being more economically viable for the big producers than having to maintain hives during the cold season.
Harvesting royal jelly could also put a hive at risk, as this is the food normally reserved for the larvae set to become the queen (as well as drones and workers, for a much shorter length of time). This unique food is key to helping “grow” a new queen when the existing one is getting too old.
Can Vegans Eat Honey Since Bees Are Not Killed for Their Honey?
If the killing of an entire hive at the end of the season (done by some beekeepers) is not enough of an example of the unethical treatment of bees in commercal honey production, then consider these other situations where bees might be harmed or killed:
- In commercial beekeeping operations, queens are only kept for a few years, as their productivity tends to diminish in their third year. Old queens are killed to be replaced by new queens. Normally, queens would live up to five years.
- As queens need to be replaced often, there is a market of queen bees where these creatures are sold and shipped around the country wrapped in packages. Given the state of some of the packages I receive at home, one can only imagine what the queens go through on their journey to a new hive.
- To maximize honey production, entire hives are moved to different areas to follow pollen and nectar cycles. Some of these trips, on the back of large trucks, take hour if not days during which bees are kept in dangerous conditions. The move also causes stress on the hive.
- During harvest, as panels are pulled out of a hive and then placed back in, bees often get crushed and killed.
Can Vegans Eat Honey Since Bees Are Not Animals?
By now, if you have been a regular visitor of the blog, you know that vegans do not eat or purchase products of animal origin, and try, as much as possible, to limit their actions that could, directly or indirectly, harm animals. But if bees are insects, then are they not excluded?
In fact insects are also considered to be part of the large family of beings called animals. Insects are part of a large subgroup called anthropods (another large subgroup is mammals).
This is where you might start rolling your eyes at me thinking that this entire vegan thing has gone overboard. Yes, it’s very hard, I’ll admit, not to kill any insects, just walking down the street might be compared to a killing spree. However, in the case of bees and honey, it is especially the mass commercialization for our consumption of this animal by-product that warrants its exclusion from the vegan pantry. Honey is not plant-based and therefore, it cannot be vegan.
Vegan Alternatives to Honey
Lucky for all vegans who were big fans of honey, there are many suitable alternatives to this sweetener.
Produced from a plant called Agave that is found mostly in Mexico in South Africa, agave nectar is an ingredient you’ll often see mentioned in vegan recipes as a replacement for honey. A little goes a long way with agave nectar, it is sweeter than honey and has a very high fructose content.
I personally use the Madhava Organic Agave Nectar (dark version) in my cooking.
Being from Quebec, where three-quarter of the world’s maple syrup is produced, I basically grew up on this sweetener and absolutely love the taste. One interesting detail to note: maple syrup contains very few micronutrients, except for appreciable amounts of zinc and manganese.
Not only is maple syrup great for cooking, it is also fabulous on pancakes, in oatmeal… In Quebec, we tend to abuse of this stuff when Spring comes. Families get together at the Sugar Shack to consume eggs in maple syrup, sausages in maple syrup, ham in maple syrup… you get the drift!
CANADIAN FINEST Maple Syrup | 100% Pure Certified Organic Maple Syrup from Family Farms in Quebec, Canada – The #1 Rated Maple Syrup on Amazon! – Grade B Dark Amber (B is the Best!) – Natural, Rich, Deep-Bodied Flavour & Loaded With Minerals, Vitamins & 54 Antioxidants – 16.9oz – LIFETIME GuaranteeButternut Mountain Farm 100% Pure Vermont Organic Maple Syrup, 12 OunceStonewall Kitchen Maine Maple Syrup Onc
If honey is being used as a sweetener, it can obviously simply replaced by sugar. You simply need to make sure you are purchasing vegan sugar!
Vegan Alternatives to Beeswax
Keep your eyes opened when purchasing lip balm and other such waxy personal care product, as they often contain beeswax. And obviously, beeswax candles are out in vegan households. Fortunately, there are vegan alternatives to both these items:
- candelila wax, or other plant-based way used in lip balm
- soy wax, often used in candles
Hurraw Balm Night Treatment Lip BalmMerry Hempsters Organic Hemp Lip Balm Vanilla — 0.14 ozOld Factory Candles Scented, Natural Soy Wax. Burns Clean and Even for Hours. Made in the USA – FRESH & CLEAN themed gift set of 3 different 4 ounce candles: Lemongrass, Olive Blossom, Fresh LinenCandlecopia Summer Breeze 3-Pack Scented Soy Candles – Includes Honeysuckle Jasmine, French Lavender & Sweet Rose – 80+ Hours Burn Time in three 4-ounce Travel Tins