Most non-vegans seem to get why some people won't eat meat. It gets a little less clear when the topics are eggs and dairy products...but the reasons can be provided and debated. When things turn to bees and honey, however, the reactions range from incredulity to sheer mockery. In other words, a good explanation of why vegans eschew honey is needed.
It starts with a core understanding of what it means for most people to be a vegan. "Veganism is a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life," writes Jo Stepaniak. Well, as detailed by PETA, "Like other factory-farmed animals, honeybees are victims of unnatural living conditions, genetic manipulation, and stressful transportation ... Profiting from honey requires the manipulation and exploitation of the insects' desire to live and protect their hive." To which, Stepaniak adds: "Even the most careful keeper cannot help but squash or otherwise kill many of the bees in the process. During unproductive months, some beekeepers may starve their bees to death or burn the hive to avoid complex maintenance."
It should not be a surprise that many of those seeking to exclude "all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom," would avoid the conscious manipulation of bees. The goal is not purity, of course. Instead, veganism often comes down to an issue of intent.
I know what some of you are thinking: They're just bees. Lighten up. It just so happens that bees are extremely intelligent and studies have demonstrated that they feel pain. Plus, the standard retort of "they're only insects" ignores the above description of why some people would adopt a compassionate vegan lifestyle in the first place.
Recent events have provided the most powerful--and very, very green--reason why the earth-friendly crowd might refrain from honey consumption: Colony Collapse Disorder. Like many things about nature, we humans take honeybees for granted. But, as we're learning, a major portion of our food relies on bees at the critical early stages of its development. This is why the sudden disappearance of honeybees, a.k.a. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is all the more alarming. "The bee losses are especially distressing in light of a study last year that concluded that pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35% of the world's crop production, increasing the output of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide," writes Jasmin Malik Chua.
The cause (or causes) of CCD are not yet understood. Some of the proposed causes include "environmental change-related stresses malnutrition, pathogens (i.e., disease including Israel acute paralysis virus), mites, pesticides such as neonicotinoids or imidacloprid, genetically modified (GM) crops with pest control characteristics such as transgenic maize, and migratory beekeeping."
What does drizzling some honey on your morning granola have to do with all this? Here's PETA again: "BeeCulture magazine reports that beekeepers are notorious for contributing to the spread of disease: 'Beekeepers move infected combs from diseased colonies to healthy colonies, fail to recognize or treat disease, purchase old infected equipment, keep colonies too close together, [and] leave dead colonies in apiaries.' Artificial diets, provided because farmers take the honey that bees would normally eat, leave bees susceptible to sickness and attack from other insects. When diseases are detected, beekeepers are advised to 'destroy the colony and burn the equipment,' which can mean burning or gassing the bees to death."
All this for something not necessary for human nutritional needs. "Humans can live quite well without sugar or honey," says Stepaniak. "As a rule, extensive use of sweeteners is found only in affluent societies." In other words, honey is a novelty food that has not only spawned a massive global industry, it's also helped put one of nature's critical species in danger. *If the demand for honey were to lessen and ultimately vanish, the bees might be saved along with much of the human food supply.
Let's bring it down to basics: After a bee swallows floral nectar, it is partially digested in its primary stomach where the bee adds its own digestive secretion. It is then regurgitated. This bee vomit is called honey and is considered to be food by the people who take it from the hives. However, whether honey is produced locally or on an industrial scale, two realities remain:
1. Bees will inevitably be killed in the process
2. There is no nutritional reason for humans to consume honey