Is Honey Vegan?
Okay, so this is an interesting one, and something I read a lot about when I first decided to make a conscious effort to reduce my meat and dairy intake. I should probably state, for the record, that I am no longer 100% vegan. I was, for about a year, and whilst my working hours where fewer and my life was less hectic it was easy to find ways to ensure I was getting all of the vital nutrients my body needed. Then came a promotion which now sees me working up to fifty hours a week whilst trying to do a degree, and I found myself simply not eating, because there was no vegan food available, or eating foods that didn’t properly fuel my body. I became tired and lethargic, I was constantly grumpy because I was constantly hungry and craving non-vegan food. Put that together with a very non-vegan boyfriend (more on that in a future post), and you have a very unhappy lady. It just didn’t feel worth it. I plan on going totally vegan again one day, but for the minute I eat dairy two days each week. I talk about this in a bit more depth in this post.
Back to the point. Is honey vegan? Every person I’ve spoken to about this seems to have a slightly different opinion, and I don’t think there’s a completely right answer to this question. From the research that I did, it seemed clear to me that mass-produced honey is not vegan. It seems that most (although I can’t speak for all) mass-harvested honey is taken from beehives to be replaced by a synthetic substance which has no where near the same nutritional value as honey, which they work year-round to build stores of. Bees then end up over-working to replenish their stores, dying throughout the winter due to lack of resources, or even dying when they sting farmers during harvest. In addition to this, selective breeding to increase honey production narrows the gene pool which increases susceptibility to disease. Vegan or not, I think most people will agree these things are awful to read, not only for bees themselves but for the devastating effect their demise may have on our entire ecosystem.
However, just like many vegans will eat eggs if they come from happy hens (I don’t mean the kind you can buy in the supermarket, I mean the kind you get from the chickens living happily in your back yard with ample room and food), you can also buy “happy” honey. Obviously it’s down to individual farmers and whether or not you really believe that honey can be harvested completely ethically, but many local beekeeper practise “balanced beekeeping”. Balanced beekeeping focuses on bee welfare and facilitating the natural behaviour of bees, whilst harvesting honey and other bee products only when it is appropriate, i.e. in excess. You could argue that you can never tell when honey is excess, just like you can argue that you can never know whether or not a chicken on a field is truly content.
These arguments are things every individual has to weigh up in the context of their personal situation (for example, I don’t eat honey because I couldn’t afford to buy from a local beekeeper, even if I knew of one). There isn’t a simple answer to this question.
Burt’s Bees used to be one of my favourite brands, and I stopped buying from them completely when I went vegan. However, after scouring the Internet for vegan lip products I have stumbled upon them all over again, which inspired this blog post. Burt’s Bees have an amazing bee philosophy which you can read all about on their website; they support many wonderful organisation’s that promote bee welfare, and have their own foundation: The Burt’s Bees Greater Good Foundation. And, get this, they’re eco-friendly, too! They are certified carbon-neutral and send zero waste to landfill. Companies like this set an example for ethical trading, and it’s for this reason that I have decided to start purchasing from them again. I won’t be purchasing anything that contains other animal products (for example, many of their lip products contain lanolin), but as far as bee by-products are concerned, I think they’re doing just fine.
I’d be interested to hear your own thoughts on the matter, vegan, vegetarian or not! Let me know in the comments or @kirstyisabella0