Honey – that golden, sweet, ooey-gooey sticky stuff. Whether it’s eaten by the spoonful, added to our oatmeal, or put in our tea, it’s a food that we can’t seem to get enough of. But have you ever wondered how honey ends up on store shelves and if honey is vegan?
When you think about honey, you might imagine bustling bees bouncing from flower to flower doing what comes naturally. And somehow, that organic, natural act magically produces the honey you purchase at your local grocery store. You know, the bottle or jar with the happy buzzing bees on it.
But it’s not that simple. And there’s a reason why many vegans say no to honey and all other bee products. In this guide we’ll explore the truth about what honey is, how it’s sourced, and its overall impact on bees and the environment.
What Is Honey And How Is It Sourced?
Honey is a thick, golden liquid made by bees and stored in beehives for use in times of scarcity.
And there are only two types of bees that make enough honey worth harvesting – honeybees and stingless bees. While bumblebees can produce honey too, they can only make it in minimal amounts. Honey production is actually a complicated process that keeps our bee friends working around the clock.
Bees gather nectar – a sugary substance extracted from flowers – to make honey. They do this by using their long tongue and then storing the nectar in their extra stomach or “honey sack.” The nectar mixes with enzymes from the stomach to transform its chemical composition and pH to make it ideal for long-term storage.
Once the honeybee arrives back at the hive, the nectar is passed to another bee through mouth-to-mouth regurgitation. This regurgitation process is repeated several times until the partially digested nectar is finally deposited into a honeycomb.
But the process doesn’t end there. Once in the comb, nectar is still a viscous liquid. So the bees use their wings to fan out the comb to evaporate the water and then seal the comb with secretions from the stomach that eventually harden into beeswax.
Since honey can be stored indefinitely, this provides the hive with enough food to get through the cold winter months.
Pretty impressive, right?
Why Vegans Don’t Eat Honey?
If honey production is such a natural recurring process and bees aren’t considered “animals,” then the big question is – why don’t vegans eat honey?
Well, depending on who you ask, the answer to that may vary.
Most people living a strict vegan diet don’t consume honey because they consider it to be an animal byproduct and can be extremely harmful and cruel to bees.
Unfortunately, bee farms are no longer the picture of small and sustainable. Gone are the days of beekeepers in white suits tending to just a few honeycombs in their backyard. And while some small operations do still exist, most commercial honey comes from large industrial farms.
And like all factory farms, the goal is to maximize profits and reduce costs. To do that, honey must be produced in large quantities in often overcrowded and inhumane conditions.
So while most bees in nature are busy storing honey during the Spring and Summer to get them through the cold winter months, the honey produced in factory farms is actually taken from them and replaced with sucrose or high fructose corn syrup.
And while these supplemental carbs are meant to keep the bees from starving, studies show that sucrose and high fructose corn syrup don’t provide the same essential nutrients found in honey. Bees become nutrient deficient when deprived of carbohydrates, amino acids, antioxidants, and natural antibiotics, causing their immune systems to weaken.
Not only is the bee’s health at risk, but many industrial farms use unethical practices. This includes clipping the queen bee’s wings to prevent her from fleeing the hive and killing entire colonies to prevent the spread of disease.
Sadly, many bees won’t survive factory farms for very long due to malnutrition, colder conditions, and weakened immunity.
Is There An Environmental Impact From Honey?
The honey industry has several damaging effects on the environment.
And due to the increase in large-scale production of honey, high densities of commercial honeybee colonies will inevitably replace native bee colonies, including species already at risk. According to Scientific American, this is currently happening.
Native bee species play a vital role in pollinating many rare plants and vegetation that we depend on for survival. And many native bee species are already declining due to environmental changes like increased pesticides, parasites, climate change, and destruction of habitats.
Unlike honeybees, native bees tend to live alone, which means they cannot compete with honeybees that operate by the thousands and can communicate to one another where there are vibrant floral patches. And considering honeybees are general foragers, they can compete to take over floral resources in any given area, leaving nothing behind for native bee species.
Selective breeding by industrial farms also results from the increased need for productivity, weakening the gene pool and making subsequent generations more susceptible to disease. These diseases can be passed from captive bees to native bees and cause the collapse of entire colonies.
While honeybees are great for agricultural crop pollination, ultimately an excessive honeybee population can negatively affect the environment.
What is Bee Pollen And Is It Vegan?
Bee pollen comes from the pollen that collects on bees’ bodies as they move from flower to flower. It contains vitamins, lipids, minerals, carbohydrates, and proteins. Studies have shown that bee pollen has some pretty incredible health benefits for humans like reduced inflammation, improved immunity, and wound healing, to name a few.
But if you’re wondering if bee pollen is vegan… well, just like honey, bee pollen is also considered an animal byproduct and has harmful effects to bees.
It takes a lot of effort for bees to collect even a small amount of bee pollen to deliver back to the hive to feed their young. And that pollen is essential for the health and growth of baby bee larva, as it provides them with protein and nutrients.
However, bee farmers will often smoke out the hive to abstract the pollen and sell it commercially, leaving the young bees struggling to survive.
Vegan-Friendly Honey Substitutes
We know that giving up something as sweet as honey can be downright disappointing. This is why the team at Vegancuts is here to ensure it’s an easy transition. And like with anything, it’s always a good idea to start with small steps when making significant changes to your eating habits.
So we’ve created a list of delightful and delicious honey substitutions that you can easily begin incorporating into your diet today.
We promise that the bees will be buzzing about your efforts to protect them and the environment.