With so many people starting to eat a vegan diet there are many questions about some ingredients. As a vegan can you eat honey? Some people say categorically no, some say yes. Why is it not straight forward? It depends partly on why you choose a vegan diet and partly where you are getting your honey from. Let’s look at the issues…
Benefits for the environment
One motivating factor in the rise of people adopting a vegan diet is the damaging impact on the environment that is caused by producing animal products for food in large quantities. Raising livestock uses a huge amount of water in comparison to agriculture which is a big concern with aquifers drying up. Industrial agriculture of all kinds pollutes water sources but a third of the world’s grain is fed to animals. Chemicals from their food plus anti-biotics used routinely gets into the water sources that humans drink. Greenhouse gasses from animals in factory farms and deforestation for land use for their food impact climate change. Because of this more people are making the choice to cut down on meat consumption and to choose much better quality (e.g. grass-fed, free range) or to go vegan.
The best raw honey comes from countryside and parts of the world that are untouched by these intensive practises. Small independent beekeepers, who work in harmony with bees and the environment, are spokespeople to protect these precious reserves and to return to food production practises that are more balanced with nature. The impact of agro-chemicals and mono-crops on bees, including colony collapse disorder, has provided a focus for campaigns against methods that harm the environment.
Exploitation of animals
Another reason for adopting a vegan diet is to avoid cruelty to animals for food or other purposes. For most this means adopting a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey - as well as products like leather and any tested on animals.Why is honey included in this list of foods?
Most people are completely unaware how supermarket honey is harvested and the way bees are treated to maximise honey production. Commercial beekeepers take honey from the hive and replace it with sugar solution (devoid of nutrients). They breed bees for their productivity which lessens the gene pool diversity meaning they are less disease resistant. They feed the bees anti-biotics to fight these diseases. Hives are moved around the country (especially in the USA) to pollinate crops leading to stress and disorientation of the bees (and spread of diseases). Queen bees have their wings clipped to stop them from forming new colonies. Industrial harvesting of honey takes frames from the hives and feeds them through a factory production line, killing the bees in the process.
Beekeepers using traditional methods do none of these things – these are the only beekeepers that Balqees work with. We have formed cooperatives in rural Yemen and other countries so that the beekeepers can continue to work in harmony with the bees while making a living and not having to bow to the pressure of quantity at any cost.
This is why some people adopting a plant-based diet will still eat raw honey provided they are absolutely certain of its source and the practices of the beekeeper who harvests it.
There is a lot of debate about whether a plant-based diet is healthier for you. Claims such as weight-loss, heart health, protection against some cancers and diabetes are the deciding factors for becoming vegan for many people.
Cutting down on sugar is also a factor is eating healthily. Raw honey is the only sweetener that is unrefined and actually contains health promoting nutrients and enzymes. The intensity of sweetness in pure, raw honey also means that people with a sweet tooth can eat less to get their fix.
We all have to make decisions every day about what we eat, where our food comes from, the way food is produced and impact on our health and the environment. We respect every individual’s choices including vegans who avoid eating honey. At Balqees our aim is to harvest raw honey with minimal intervention with the bees and in harmony with the natural environment.