Lately for breakfast, I have been eating vegan yogurt, muesli, cut up strawberries and honey. I finally made the switch from Greek yogurt to vegan Greek yogurt, and honestly I haven’t tasted a difference. They’re both deliciously refreshing and light.
Vegan greek yogurt has 5g of protein per 100g, while ‘normal greek yogurt’ has 11g of protein.
The price difference is not that great either.
This morning, while I was pouring honey over my breakfast meal, I began thinking : Should I not be eating honey?
Vegans say no!
From the traditional definition of veganism, hard liners argue that beekeeping, like dairy farming is cruel and exploitative. Bees are forced to construct their honeycombs in racks of removable trays. Colonies are split up to increase production, queens imprisoned in certain parts of the hive and hives pumped full of smoke to stop bee’s communication by masking the scent of their pheromones. Queen bees are forcefully inseminated and are replaced after a mere two years. Queen bees generally live for up to five years, but human intervention ensures exerting control over the hive. If a ‘vegan’ therefore chose to consume honey and not milk, are they claiming bees and cows experiences are incomparable?
How would this expand to other cases of insect exploitation? Including silk worms, crickets and cochineal bugs? Where would the line be drawn between other invertebrates? Is eating scallops, oysters or snails ok?
An increasing number of flexiterians, defined as a plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat products, argue that drawing the line on all animal exploitations makes veganism an extremely restrictive diet.
Bees in the Wild
Wild bees need long-lasting, undisturbed nesting sites in sunny, relatively bare patches of ground with a diversity of nectar and pollen rich plants nearby. The greater the variety of flowering plants, the greater the number of bee species will be attracted. One of the major risks to plant and bee diversity, is their separation through increasing fragmentations of wild uncultivated areas. Without bees, wild flowering plants do not set seed, and without plants, there is no food for bees. Planting native plants therefore, is one of the ways to help bees in their natural habitats.
Honey is made by a colony of honey bees living in a nest (in the wild) or a hive (if kept by a bee keeper). A typical bee hive will house around 60,000 bees, most of them workers. These workers forage for flowers, even letting their colonies know when they’ve found a particularly good crop. David Attenborough has an incredible segment about honey bee communication in his documentary series of Micro Monsters. The nectar they collect can come from as much as 6km radius from their hive. Bees have glands which secrete an enzyme which when mixed with the nectar and put in the honeycomb becomes honey. Bees aid this process once the mixture is placed in the honeycomb by fanning their wings to help the water to evaporate creating the honey we know and love.
Once the bees are happy with their creation, they will add a layer of wax over the hexagonal shaped honeycomb cells they have created. This is the point at which beekeepers know it is time to harvest the honey.
This constant hard work put into creating honeycombs is the bees safety mechanism to ensure they have enough to eat over winter. Some beekeepers remove all the honey, replacing it with less nutritious sugar solution while others take away only what the colony can afford to lose. Honey is more than just sugars, containing small amounts of fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals vital for the bees over winter. Honey bee workers are born and active during spring and summer months, working through all the daylight hours and travelling tens of km. Either way, with human’s taking away their food, the bees exhaust themselves by flying to collect honey for our consumption.
To produce 1kg of honey, they fly up to 70km.
Each honey bee will only produce around 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in their life.
A foraging bee visits up to 100 flowers per foraging trip.
556 foraging bees to visit 2 million flowers, just to make kilogram of honey.
Bee Keeping Industry
Before delving further into this argument, I wanted to learn more about the honey industry and beekeeping facts. If we consider the U.S alone, in 2013 there was 2.64 million bee colonies producing honey. Hobbyists used to make up majority of this number, however in the last several years mass bee production has over taken the individuals owning and taking care of less than 25 hives. Commercial beekeepers are those with 300 or more hives. Commercial beekeepers migrate their colonies during the year to provide pollination services to famers and to reach abundant sources of nectar.
Agriculture depends on bees pollination. Millions of acres of U.S fruit, vegetable, oilseed and legume seed crops depend on insect pollination. Particular crops such as the almond crop, depends entirely on the honey bee pollination. Without the honey bees, there would be no almonds. In California 80% of the world’s almonds are produced, which require more than a million colonies of honey bees. Many other crops are 90% dependent on honey bee pollination. Some of these include my favourite fruits of all time.
Apples, avocadoes, blueberries, cherries, cranberries and sunflowers. Cucumbers, kiwi fruit and melons. Livestock feed to sustain the meat and dairy industry also depends on the bees. Honey bees gather pollen and nectar for their survival as they pollinate crops. Honey bees are an enormous part of successful agriculture. No human ingenuity could replace the work of bees. Bee pollination is vital to create healthy and well fruiting trees and accounts for a billion-dollar industry.
All this information has told us, that modern day agriculture would be impossible without the help of the honeybees. While the honeybees are carted around the country to reach the enormous plantations of fruit, nuts and vegetables, they are making honey. To say that bee pollination is a form of animal exploitation is not only valid, but seemingly vital to sustain the vegan diet.
Even without the concern of exploiting bees, their population was decreasing for many years. In 2015, the bee population reached an all time high. Before this, TIME magazine published warnings about the Bee-pocalypse while Morgan Freeman set up a bee refuge. I don’t know about you, but that’s just about the best thing I have ever heard.
Do Vegans Eat Honey?
Some do, some don’t. It all depends on their own definitions. This is one of the reasons people prefer to call themselves ‘plant based’. (Get’s them less hate)
Would every vegan be ready to cut out every plant that has been pollinated by bees? Will they argue that wild bee pollination is okay while commercial pollination is exploitation? How would those people suggest to feed the enormous population
This just shows how every individual needs to make choices about where to draw their lines in their diet and their lifestyle. I personally love honey and would love to keep eating it, however, how do I know the honey I eat is the one taken from responsible beekeers? I know that honey is almost a byproduct for the gigantic pollination industry, but is that reason enough?