What's Wrong With Honey?

I know that a lot of vegans out there choose not to eat honey because it's obtained from animals. But honestly, since it's not made from animals, you really should look into the whole beekeeping enterprise before you put beekeepers into the same group that you would beef farmers and an unfortunate selection of wool farmers who torture their sheep with hair-growth hormones.

Ok, so do beekeepers steal honey from their bees? Well, I guess so. But you must remember, bees make honey to be eaten, and they make way more than they can consume themselves. I don't know of a single beekeeper who takes all of the honey (pollen, etc.) away from his/her bees. These people are (usually) experts and know that bees need honey. So would you rather that this extra honey just go to waste? (and I'm talking upwards of 90% of the honey made by bees - bees are very efficient creatures, and will fill up any extra space they can with honey)

Most vegans I've talked to say that they choose not to eat honey because the act of harvesting it is dangerous to the bees, often resulting in death! Honestly, bees have a very short life cycle (only a few weeks during the summer months when they're active), and if you choose not to eat honey because a few bees are squished when the honey is extracted from the hives, you're missing the full picture.

Wild honeybees are extinct in the U.S. I'm not sure exactly when, but recently, a mite infestation (a natural phenomena) managed to wipe out every single colony of wild bees in all/most of north america. Domesticated bees (and yes, there are special domesticated breeds) were protected from this infestation by antibiotics and other means. So a few bees get squished - isn't that better than losing an entire species?

If all of these bees are extinct, do you know where all those vegetables you eat come from? Nowhere. Without bees, your favorite food plants wouldn't get pollinated. Thanks to the care that most beekeepers give their bees, we still have bees to pollinate all of those foods that don't come from animals and aren't grown in some lab somewhere (ok, so I do like Quorn, but I was referring to the infertile, genetically modified crops that some farmers are starting to use these days).

Unfortunately, though you'd think they would know better, many farmers don't seem to get this whole pollination thing, and have started using pesticides so strong that they kill bees (another reason to buy organic produce). As I understand it, bees are particularly resistant to most normal pesticides, but many farmers can't tolerate the other bugs that are, too. So instead of finding a better solution, they just go and wipe out those friendly, helpful bees. Hopefully these people will learn before there aren't any bees left to pollinate their produce.

Alright, I'll agree that there are a few bad beekeepers out there - particularly the kind who run large farms and sell the watered-down stuff that you buy in the grocery store. My answer to this is simple - don't buy it! It's not really that good, anyway. If you want good honey (and trust me, once you eat "real" honey, you'll never want to eat that mass-produced crap again), do the right thing and contact a local beekeeper (all of the ones I've talked to have been quite friendly) or healthfood store (going straight to the beekeeper is a bit cheaper, but you might have to do some driving if they don't frequent any local farmer's markets). Make sure that you what you buy is raw and unfiltered (almost all honey has the bigger stuff filtered out, but "filtered" honey usually refers specifically to the kind that has had even the smaller stuff like pollen bits, etc., filtered out, which detracts both from the flavor and the nutritional value).

Also, as good as it may taste, do not feed honey to children under one year of age. Honey can sometimes contain a weak form of botulism that newborns are succeptible to (older children and adults are completely immune to this, so don't worry about them).

Posted on February 14th 2005