This post is the fourth of a six part series titled, ‘Why I Stopped…’ in which I’ll be discussing my reasons for cutting out fish, caffeine, alcohol, honey, meat and dairy. Keep an eye out for these posts once a week!
This sweet, sticky substance is perhaps the most hotly-contested food amongst vegans. Some people swear that it’s cruelty-free and actually helps the declining bee population, while others believe that consuming honey goes against the very definition of a vegan.
It’s taken me a lot of research, but I can now say that I fall into the second camp. Like many people, I believed for the longest time that bees make their honey for us! I had a mental image of a cute little hive way out in the countryside, with a friendly beekeeper scooping out this golden nectar while bees buzz merrily above his head. Unfortunately, this idyllic scene couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bees make honey to support themselves and their colony, and they work pretty damn hard for it! According to GentleWorld.org and numerous other sources, ‘To make one pound of honey, a colony must visit over two million flowers, flying over 55,000 miles, at up to 15 miles per hour to do so.’ Do you really think they go to that much trouble so that we humans can enjoy the fruits of their labour spread on a slice of toast? I don’t think so. In fact, we take the honey from bees and replace it with a sugar substitute which doesn’t come close to supplying them with the nutrients that they need. It would be like someone replacing all the fruit in your house with fruit-flavoured sweets! The bees then work extra hard to replace the missing honey, and often die from exhaustion.
That cute beehive you’re imagining? It’s actually a square box in which thousands of bees are crammed and shipped around the country. When beekeepers remove the honey, the bees naturally sting them. Sadly, as most of us know, a bee cannot survive after using its stinger. Many bees are also squashed by the frames of the box, or trodden on by a careless beekeeper.
Another thing they don’t tell you on the shiny yellow bottle is that many hives are culled during winter in order to keep the costs down for farmers. Thousands of bees are killed with cyanide gas every year, just so that we can save a little money after we’ve taken away their honey! I don’t know about you, but I just can’t support that practice.
But if the bees don’t like it, they can just leave, right? Unfortunately not. The queen bee’s wings are often clipped, leaving her with no means of escape. The colony revolves around the queen – if she stays, they all stay. If a lone bee did leave, they would find it almost impossible to be accepted into a new hive and would almost certainly die. Beekeepers capture any small swarms of bees that try to migrate into more natural homes, such as hollow trees, and will force them back into their box.
It’s not just the bees that suffer in our quest for honey – the environment takes a hit too. We import many different kinds of bees into the country and then combine them into one hive. This can cause diseases which are then spread to other pollinators like bumblebees and small birds. We rely on these little guys to fructify our land, and so do many other animals. If they’re dying off due to disease, where does that leave us?
It’s true that the population of bees is declining rapidly. If they die out, our entire ecosystem will be at risk. If you’re worried about these fuzzy little creatures and want to help them, definitely don’t buy honey! There are a number of organisations that you can donate to such as the Honeybee Conservancy, and you can even adopt a bumblebee!
We can live quite happily without honey, but bees don’t have that luxury. Why not reach for maple syrup or agave nectar instead? They lend a natural sweetness to meals without the need to enslave another species. Go ahead and vote with your wallet – the bees need you!