Veganism’s most touchy subject, honey, is hotly debated, causes lots of confusion and raises many concerns. Ethical vegans avoid all forms of animal cruelty and exploitation, and often exclude honey from their diet out of these concerns. And rightly so, as some honey producers are exploiting bees, killing drones, clipping wings and replacing honey with malnourishing sugar syrup. For this reason, many people don’t consider honey (as well as propolis, bee pollen, bees wax and royal jelly) to be vegan. By rejecting these products, they take a stand against unethical beekeeping, and considering all of the above, it sure is easy to understand why anyone would avoid such a product. Clearly, beekeeping can be exploitative, and when it is, it doesn’t fit the definition of veganism.
Thankfully though, exploitative bee farming is not the only way honey is produced.
Natural beekeeping is a way of supporting bee colonies to live as they would in the wild, while attending to their wellbeing by cultivating a bio diverse and organic habitat around their hive. Devoted natural bee keepers keep plenty of pollen- and nectar-producing flowers, creating an ecosystem for insects, birds, caterpillars and all sorts of creatures, so the bees can buzz around in surroundings that are alive and teaming with life. By acting as custodians of the bee’s habitats, natural beekeepers don’t just protect the bee colonies, but they also have a positive impact on the planet as a whole.
Halting swarming goes against the idea of supporting the bees to live as they would naturally in the wild. In natural beekeeping the queen is cherished, and instead of clipping her wings, the colony is allowed to swarm while under observation, then collected and coached it into a new hive.
There is overproduction in nature, and under good conditions, bees produce a surplus. In fact, one single beehive can yield more than 1 ½ kilos of honey every day. Key to natural bee keeping is to only harvest the excess honey (about one third), which leaves more than enough for the bees themselves to eat.
At Alchemy restaurant we only use honey sourced from natural beekeepers, devoted to the art and craft of ethical honey production. As long as the bees are not harmed in any way, we recon our conscience is perfectly aligned with our principles. On the other hand, numerous conspicuous private messages and some public remarks regarding the subject have required us to face the imminent question;
Who’s got custodial right to the use of the attribute ‘vegan’?
Let’s look into the definition of veganism. In 1944, motivated by his care for animals, Donald Watson created the term vegan by merging the first and last part of the word vegetarian. He defined it as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom…. Whether for food, clothing or any other purpose”.
Just to be clear - if you’re an ethical vegan abstaining from honey because you care about the welfare of bees and insects – you’re an awesome human, no ifs, ands, or buts. While our ethos allows us to use honey produced by natural beekeeping, we wholeheartedly honor your wishes to stay away from it. At Alchemy restaurant we’ve got plenty of honey-free options for you, clearly marked on our menu to support your values.
Neonicotinoids are a type of insecticides that are systemic, which means the pesticides coat the seed before it is planted, which infuses the entire plant with toxins from the roots to the leaves and flowers. According to scientific studies, systemic pesticides are highly toxic to insects, and especially to bees. Yet approximately, 3,5 million tons of pesticides are utilized annually worldwide and the global insecticide usage is increasing every year. As a direct consequence of these toxins, we see a continuous decline in bee populations worldwide.
Consuming - and thereby condoning - food grown with neonicotinoids is causing more death of bees than anything else by far, yet this topic rarely – if ever – pops up during these honey debates. I can’t help but question – If anything should be blacklisted for the sake of the bees - shouldn’t it be neonicotinoids?
Systemic pesticides impact entire ecosystems. Because they are water soluble, the rain will carry them into the ground water. The roots of any plants can then absorb them, effecting not only the flora and the bees, but also other insects, birds, fish and wildlife. It’s obvious that the goal and purpose of the manufacturer, Bayer (formerly known as Monsanto), is to make a profit through any means at their disposal. We have seen laws broken, facts concealed, scientific studies influenced and critics threatened.
To BEE or not to BEE
Bees are responsible for pollinating more than two thirds of the food we eat. We need them for agriculture and plant life. If we loose the pollinators, our very existence is threatened. To quote Albert Einstein:
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man”.
Beekeeping, when done appropriately, is part of the solution to the environmental problems we face, not the other way around. Natural beekeepers are doing the bees and the earth a great service by acting as conservators of bio diverse landscapes, and thereby help us navigate away from pesticide fields.
Therefore, caring about our bees and our planet does not warrant a blacklist of honey products altogether. To protect bees, the thing to do is to support natural beekeepers and the wonderful and important work they do for the planet.
Another way to maximize the pollinating potential of the world is to support organic farming by eating an organic, plant based diet.Crops destined for animal feed are sprayed with 20 times more pesticides compared to crops destined for human consumption. The more land is used for animal feed production; the more pesticides are sprayed on the earth’s surface. This is why staying away from meat is the way to go if one wants to support bees.
The pertinent question here remains - who has custodial rights to the ‘vegan’ attribute? Are people who consume food drenched in bee-killing chemicals eligible for this title? What about those of us who buy honey from ethical, local and natural beekeepers?
My answer would have to be yes – to both. A pledge to cause as little harm to other beings as is practically possible is enough to warrant the attribute ‘vegan’. Striving for perfection can be great for some, but shouldn’t be mandatory. More often than not, conversations about veganism rush straight to the point. Are you a vegan or not? As if these are the only two positions available, otherwise you’re in some kind of no mans land. If the conversation continues further down the same path– it leads to questions like “do you use ink”, “do you kill mosquitos” or “what if you were on a deserted island?” In this sense, the label vegan does a disservice to the conversation by implying that you are either everything or nothing when in reality, the majority are somewhere in between. Having to do things impeccably, and being shunned when not being flawless will only turn people off from this important movement.
Let's make a sweet deal
Vegans, let’s get off each other’s backs, focus on what we have in common, and consider that we are all doing a great job navigating through a minefield of animal cruelty and exploitation. In a more broad sense we are on the same team with a greater mission at hand, at a time when the world needs our combined awesomeness more than ever.
Recipe developer and author