You Ask, I Answer: Why Don’t You Eat Honey?

Yesterday, in my post on natural allergy remedies (great comments and tips—thank you all!) a reader inquired about why vegans don’t consume honey. I’ve never addressed this before, so I thought now would be a good moment to talk about it on CR! I don’t consume honey myself, but some vegans do. I’d probably say that honey is the one non-vegan food that I find myself consuming by accident most often, which is to say that I don’t check labels for it carefully enough (I’m getting better at this). I was eating an otherwise exclusively vegan diet for a while before I stopped consuming honey, so I also know from experience that it’s a little tricky.

If you’ve just started exploring veganism, it may seem to you that all vegans have the same positions on matters to do with vegan lifestyle. Not so! Though most vegans agree on certain core issues, we often disagree on subtleties. Should we continue to wear our pre-vegan shoes/bags for the sake of avoiding waste, or should we give them away, because wearing leather sets an example for others? Should we buy used leather on eBay, or should we support cheap labels that mass produce synthetic leather, which can be harmful to the environment? If we were to keep a hen as a companion animal, would it be acceptable to consume any eggs the hen laid (in other words, is private animal husbandry, not for profit, OK)? Is it OK to eat oysters?

Believe it or not, vegans have all sorts of different viewpoints on these matters. I think this is a good thing! All movements can benefit from some healthy debate and variety of opinion; it allows us to remain open-minded, receptive to criticism (and adept in responding to it), and it means that we aren’t so dedicated to a principle that we lose our capacity to raise individual concerns. I think it’s also important for non-vegans to see that veganism does allow for some wiggle room when it comes to minutiae, and to be reassured that going vegan doesn’t mean you have to surrender to one single ideology. Long after you go vegan, you can be curious about the logic of the lifestyle, and ask questions.

When I think about my own vegan choices, I always return to The Vegan Society’s definition of veganism: “a way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practical—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals.” Sometimes, determining what constitutes “exploitation and cruelty” is a little tricky, and I think that’s where a lot of the honey debate comes in. So let me share what I responded in my comments section to the reader who inquired about honey. (I’ve edited it a little, because I responded early this morning, before I’d had so much as a sip of coffee!!)

I know vegans who don’t care about honey at all (though those are primarily those who only identify as health oriented vegans, or plant-strong eaters). I know vegans who are adamantly opposed to consuming honey, and I know vegans who enthusiastically support small scale, local beekeeping. I’ve heard excellent, intelligent arguments from both pro-honey and anti-honey vegans. As someone who has listened to both viewpoints, I’ll just give you my personal perspective.

For many vegans, the choice not to consume honey just feels like a question of moral consistency. If you’ve vowed not to eat any other sentient beings, keep them in captivity, or take anything that comes from them, honey feels off limits. It’s worth saying that a certain amount of stress and injury to bees does result from beekeeping operations, large and small. In industrial-scale honey production especially, smoke is used to pacify the bees, queen bees are often killed by the beekeepers, bees are fed artificial diets (more on that in a moment), and some bees are invariably crushed in the hives or when honey is collected. So regardless of how extreme avoiding honey may seem, it’s really just an extension of the logic from which a vegan lifestyle grows.

Some people have a hard time empathizing with bees in the first place. My feelings can be summed up in this post: to me, veganism is all about finding empathy for all living creatures, even tiny ones!

What about CCD (colony collapse disorder)? It’s a tremendous problem, and I think vegans and non-vegans alike share in scientists’ bafflement and desire to help to stop it. Some believe that beekeeping is actually key to preserving and protecting colonies, but there is another point of view: BeeCulture magazine (which is actually a magazine for beekeepers) recently reported that beekeeping may actually be a culprit in the disappearance of bee populations: “Beekeepers move infected combs from diseased colonies to healthy colonies, fail to recognize or treat disease, purchase old infected equipment, keep colonies too close together, [and] leave dead colonies in apiaries.’ Artificial diets, provided because farmers take the honey that bees would normally eat, leave bees susceptible to sickness and attack from other insects. When diseases are detected, beekeepers are advised to ‘destroy the colony and burn the equipment,’ which can mean burning or gassing the bees to death.”

Others have suggested that migratory beekeeping, in which bees are packed into trucks and shuttled across great distances, is a part of the problem. And other commonplace beekeeping practices, such as splitting or combining hives, applying chemical miticides, or administering antibiotics, may also be playing a role. This is all yet still a topic of debate, and the causes of CCD remain unclear.

It may well be that small, local beekeeping operations manage to avoid any of the injury that takes place on the industrial scale. But I must also admit that I feel inherent discomfort with all forms of animal farming, small scale or not, because it continues to share the message that it’s acceptable to keep living creatures captive and take their products, so long as we do so in a particular way. That “particular way” can quickly start to include all kinds of abuse, evidenced in the fact that many “humane” dairy and egg farms still perpetuate injury/stress to animals, and end up participating indirectly in animal slaughter by selling old or young animals to neighboring farms in which slaughter actually occurs.

Then there’s the issue of the public example we set with our food choices. Whenever I’m asked that famous question about keeping a hen as a companion animal, and whether or not I’d eat her eggs, I say that the main reason I wouldn’t do it is because my eating the eggs would share the message that it’s desirable or necessary to do so. And as long as people think animal foods are necessary or desirable, they will find cheaper, quicker, more efficient ways to produce them than the small-scale, local model. They also may think, “well, if I can find a way to eat eggs, surely I can find a way to eat beef, too”—and now we’re talking about breeding and slaughter, rather than taking an egg. So my personal feeling is that I can do more for animals by simply living a life in which I don’t eat them or their products at all.

Last point: what about the fact that some bees are used in the production of a huge number of vegetable crops? Here, please allow me to admit some ignorance. I’m not quite sure which farming operations do this–whether it’s all farms, some farms, etc. Having seen a lot of small vegetable farms in action as a child in New Hampshire, I never saw bees being used as a part of the process, so I don’t imagine they’re a vital part of all farming. I’ll do what I can to research this.

As for another common argument—some insects get killed and squashed in vegetable farming, too–what do you have to say about that, eh vegan??—well, it’s a good argument, but I return to “possible and practical.” Whereas it’s 100% possible and practical for me not to buy honey, my diet would surely be limited (nearly nonexistent) if I were to stop eating vegetables, too. And it would not be a diet I could realistically promote to other people, which means I couldn’t help anyone else to go vegan, let alone vegetarian, or even vegetable-centric!. So I just do my best to shop organic whenever I can (which at least eliminates the chance that pesticides have killed a lot of insects), all the while humbly acknowledging that, yes, there are some inconsistencies in my actions and outlook. I do what I can to minimize them, but they’re there.

A year or two ago, an author of mine—a law professor at Stanford—asked me about oysters (which some have speculated cannot feel pain at all). I responded that, although I hear what folks are saying, I continue to feel uncomfortable because I fear the slippery slope syndrome. We don’t know for certain that oysters cannot feel pain, but even if we do, what’s next? Mussels? Shrimp? Soon, you’re finding ways to justify all sorts of seafood consumption. “I know what you mean,” he said. “To some extent, it’s helpful to just have a couple of bright line rules.” (If you don’t’ know what these are, I didn’t either.)

That idea is a part of what governs my choice not to eat honey, or oysters. But there’s also the fact that those foods don’t feel very essential to my diet. If I were to seek them out, and eat them—or go about adopting a hen so that I could eat her eggs—it would feel as if I was purposefully trying to make exceptions to my veganism. My diet seems so abundant to me; I guess I don’t really feel this impulse. In the case of honey, I have agave, maple syrup, yacon syrup, dates, coconut crystals, and stevia. So many delicious options to choose from! Tomorrow, I’ll share at least one delicious recipe that is delightfully sweet, yet honey free.

Bright line rules aside, I see the danger of allowing a matter of principle—vegan or other—to become arbitrary, or occlude one’s capacity for nuance. That’s why I think conversations like this are healthy and interesting; they allow everyone, vegans and omnivores alike, to think about subtleties! And there’s certainly a lot of subtlety in the great honey debate. I hope you guys have found this conversation interesting; I sure do. As usual, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Funny: as I was writing this, I thought about the first time I heard about the vegan diet. I thought the whole thing was pretty bonkers, but the honey bit in particular struck me. “Now that’s just silly,” I thought.” It’s so funny to think about how much my own views have changed over time.

Till tmw, folks!


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  1. Great post, Gena. Coincidentally, I posted about why I no longer make beeswax candles on my blog. It was a difficult decision. I’ve added a link to your article in the comments.

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  3. “I don’t consume honey myself, but some vegans do.”

    EXCEPT they are NOT vegans. Honey and bees ARE animal products so by definition, a vegan doesn’t consume or use anything that has honey or beeswax in it. This is not an optional animal product for a “vegan.” If someone does consume or use anything that has honey or beeswax in it, s/he is NOT a vegan. PERIOD. Donald Watson who coined the word “vegan” back in 1944 and co-founded the Vegan Society defined what constitutes vegan food on the following link:
    On the same site, it clearly states that vegans do not use bee products:
    Veganism is against speciesism; therefore, it is against the exploitation of ALL animals of ALL sizes, including but not limited to bees and silkworms who ARE animals

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I am not vegan, so I was uncertain about the honey thing. I had assumed at first that honey was not-vegan because it was produced by animals, but then I saw honey and bee products in the vegan sections of health stores and websites, so I was very confused. It is nice to know there are nuances to veganism, and you make very compelling arguments about honey in this post.

  5. Great post, someone was asking me the other day if I ate honey, since I was a vegan and I quickly responded with a “yes, why wouldn’t I”. You’re so right that the outlooks of veganism alter a lot which is great. I do it for health reasons and have been feeling great!

  6. Thanks for this! I have trouble articulating myself on this issue (and the having your own chickens one..) and I love your point about how one’s actions can give tacit approval/acceptance to an idea (here, consuming animal products). I will share this article with my family.

    I also remember giving a MASSIVE eye-roll to someone I heard asking if there was honey in a cafe’s vegetarian & dairy-free soup and then declining the soup when the answer was yes. If only I could have looked a couple years in the future! 🙂 We are all always changing and evolving.

  7. Hi Gena,

    Very interesting post! I never really thought about the abuse bees receive from beekeeping before! I don’t consume honey to begin with since I am a diabetic and I avoid high-carb sweeteners like honey, but it still is something to think about.

    I also wanted to take an opportunity to thank you for this blogsite in general. I’ve been reading for awhile now and this is the first time I’ve commented. This blog has been one of my inspirations to eating healthier. I’m slowly but surely heading towards vegan. I’d say I’m at the vegetarian stage at this point. I’ve tried many of your delicious recipes and I look forward to trying more and more! 🙂


    • Thanks so much, Lindsey! I’m thrilled you’re on a vegan path, and can’t wait for you to discover more joys of plant-based eating.

  8. If you have ever done any vegetable gardening, you would know that small bugs such as earthworms are killed when the soil is dug, turned over, replanted, etc..Have you ever seen an earthworm go through its spasms after being injured? Not a pretty sight. Perhaps we vegans should also stop eating all vegetables as well. Maybe live on wild greens and fruits. We are in effect, using and killing soil insects in order to eat veggies.
    I think focusing on bees is counterproductive. Honey bees farming is necessary due to the collapse of natural pollinating populations. Unfortunately, our agriculture and civilization would be endangered without it. I don t particularly eat honey and I think its up to each vegan to decide if they want to or not. I definitely avoid harming insects where possible, but focusing on bees may make us look somewhat too extreme.

  9. I simply don’t agree with the idea that use of any animal product or by-product is inherently exploitative. All creatures form an interdependent web of existence. I do believe in minimizing harm to others, human and non-human. I am far more concerned about the exploitation and abuse of immigrant and undocumented workers in all forms of industrial agriculture than the stress caused to bees in bee farming. Anthropocentric of me? Yes, it is, but I feel that human beings sometimes get lost in these discussions. I don’t eat animals, but when I eat animal by-products, and non-animal products, my priority is in whether the treatment of animals and humans involved was humane (at minimum), and whether environmentally friendly practices were followed.

    • Hi Laura,

      Of course, we should also give care to human beings and their treatment in food production. I think we’re often able to do that by supporting local and organic farming, because it’s beneficial to the environment, to animals (ie, the insects being spared from massive insecticide use), and from what I understand, less injurious as a rule to human laborers. I’m aware that some organic companies are still guilty of abuse, but I’m also under the impression that the very egregious and traumatic experiences are most often found in factory farms. And of course, supporting local farms where you can actually ask farmers questions and examine their practices up close is ideal. But the larger point is that putting animals first doesn’t have to mean putting human animals second; it means keeping everyone’s best interests in mind at the same time. I’d rank concern for ALL animals equally, the environment a close second.


      • I agree with that- I guess I mean that I don’t always morally rank “vegan” above “organic”, to the extent that organic implies local and humane practices for the care of humans and animals. Morally speaking I’d rather buy local honey than Dole bananas from Equador, whereas most vegans would prioritize their vegan-ness (say, eat only dishes labelled “vegan” at a potluck) rather than rate their meal choice according to other dimensions of its origin. Of course they aren’t mutually exclusive, and it’s easier to see whether something is vegan, but I feel like we usually have to choose the best of non-ideal options, and my choices (or values, since my choices are imperfect) reflect a slightly different weighting of the issues. Similar to your discussion of vegan clothing- I’d opt for used leather boots before new sneakers known to originate from a sweatshop, but ideally I’d avoid both.

        • I totally agree; we often do have to choose the best of non-ideal options, and create a hierarchy (whether we like it or not) of concerns. Thank you for sharing your perspective!

  10. Thank you for an awesome post on a nuanced topic, yet again! I love your ability to remain open though I’m sure you must have your own personal opinions about the whole thing. I loved reading the comments and seeing how many other open and accepting vegans there are! It makes me feel great to know there are so many other vegans out there who are thinking for themselves and not just following a definition, label, or doing something because “that’s what most vegans do.” So thanks fellow commenters! I rarely eat honey but I’m not against purchasing the local one my Whole Foods carries in bulk. I just got into the habit of using other sweeteners.

  11. I never have heard the position that oysters could be considered vegan. Personally, I would never eat an oyster as a vegan or as a vegetarian. Even though I loved them as an omni. I think what I really loved anyway was the tabasco on them, so that is easily replicated.

  12. Great post on honey, thanks! It took me a bit to fully give up honey because many of the raw vegan food demos and classes I went to used local raw honey. And it’s one of the harder things for me to avoid as a vegan because so many cereals, snack bars, and treats contain it. 🙁

  13. WOW I cant believe someone would call a vegan on “killing insects” for the production of veggies!!! That’s Crazy! Thank you for the blog it’s wonderful! Keep spreading the good word 🙂

  14. This does give one a lot to think about! It’s definitely an animal product – but one of those “extra ones” like eggs and milk where the animal produces more than it needs.

  15. Someone may have already pointed this out because a lot of people have already posted but bees play a major role in pollinating most almond trees (as well as other trees such as apple). And we all know how important almonds are to vegans! It’s impossible to be perfect. The best thing is to keep educating yourself and make decisions that feel morally right to you!

  16. Thank you for writing this.

    It was interesting reading the comments and to see how many readers still say they are “vegan” and consume honey. It’s honestly head-scratching to me. I will be judgmental here, and have no problem doing so:

    Honey is an animal by-product. If you practice veganism and define yourself as vegan, you abstain from animal by-products. There aren’t any exceptions to this. There is no humane way to exploit. You don’t make honey an exception because it’s “yummy” or because your family does beekeeping or because no bees supposedly died in the process. If you consume honey knowingly or use products with beeswax knowingly, you’re not a vegan. You’re not a “vegan eating honey” – you’re just “eating honey.” It is that black and white.

    You have every right to make whatever food/lifestyle choices you like, but if your food/lifestyle choices are of animal by-products, you’re not a vegan, by definition. I know we like to define ourselves this or that, but if you are going to use the vegan label, please understand that doesn’t mean “vegan, except…”

    Honey, or any animal by-product, is not “yummy” when you as a vegan, think about the exploitation of creatures behind it.

    • Hi Jocelyn, I consider myself a strict ethical vegan… but I occasionaly eat honey. I don’t have a very sweet tooth so it is not very often that I eat it, and when I do it is organic and local honey.

      My justification is that I would kill a mosquito if it landed on my arm and was biting me, so my ethical line falls between an “animal” (like a hen, cow, fish etc) on one side, and insects on the other.

      I don’t go around killing insects for fun. I will always save a spider or other insect if I can. But I will swat at flies and mosquitoes and bees if they are trying to sting me.

      As someone who is extremely careful about the lifestyle choices I make, I am proud to call myself a vegan and resent you saying I am not a vegan because I eat honey.

  17. Gena – for what it’s worth, as a newly transitioning vegan, I applaud you on this post! So insightful, informative, and forgiving. My journey has been an interesting one. I did not set out to become vegan, my eating has just evolved into where I am now. While I’m unsure of whether I will ever be able to ‘label’ myself vegan, for lack of better phrasing, I appreciate the open dialogue and teaching moments. Thank you!

  18. I wanted to chime in as a new beekeeper and vegan. I adopted a wild hive from a friend’s garage a couple months back and I see their place in my yard as part of bigger ecosystem. I grow organic fruits and vegetables so the bees pollinate not only what I grow in my yard, but everything within a 3 mile radius. Some thing that I am going to be trying is going to an organic method of raising and harvesting honey, which I kind of figured out by digging around and researching. Instead of constantly feeding the bees a supplemental diet of sugar water so that I can harvest more often, I intend to only harvest honey in the spring (bees live off their honey in the winter when they aren’t given sugar water). So far my bees seem very content to forage and I just make sure they have plenty of water near by.

    I am also considering adopting chickens and a rabbit, mainly for the fertilizer and pest control they provide. These too I am planning on planting enough food to allow them to have free run and forage, I would love to hang out in the backyard with chickens and a rabbit running around (and hopefully bats at night). My goal as with all my gardening and beekeeping is to provide more food for myself and provide a better habitat for wildlife, it is amazing just how alive my yard has gotten over the last few year.

    • Amazing! You have a lovely lifestyle. It is the right way of thinking, so smart and so sweet. The nature’s balance perspective.

  19. I love this post and I love you for creating a space where mindful and respectful discussion of differing views is welcome! I’m always interested to hear how other vegans make decisions regarding the practicality of avoiding animal products. I think the Vegan Society’s definition is helpful, but I do think it’s important to always take the situation at hand into consideration. I am one of the “waste not” vegans. I still have a leather belt that I purchased 10 years ago and will probably continue to wear it until it falls apart. If there is a mistake in my food order, I rarely send the food back. I usually scrape what I’m not comfortable eating off to the side and deal with it. Though this happens only once in a blue moon, I can’t stand to see food wasted and that compromise is the only way I’ve managed to ethically marry my desire to eat in a compassionate way as well as adhere to my desire to not waste precious resources (I still feel bad though about even the little bit of cheese or butter etc. that will be tossed in garbage!). I’m sure I would be criticized by some vegans for my stance but that is the only way I’ve figured out how to be morally comfortable with balancing both values. If I were to open my home to a rescue hen, which probably isn’t in my future, I would definitely find a way to not waste the eggs. I believe up at WFAS they feed the unused eggs to the other animals, specifically the dogs.

    Thanks for all the information on bees. I don’t actively seek out honey but I suppose it’s one of those things that I didn’t really consider a big deal if accidentally purchase or consumed. You’ve definitely given me something to think about and perhaps this means I will be more careful when eating out and reading ingredients.

    Such a great conversation! I used to struggle with where to draw the line, but I’ve accepted that my views are ever evolving and as I learn new information, it’s ok to adjust what I am comfortable with.

  20. Well-written, Gena! I think for me the honey question comes down to the question of necessity, like the oyster debate. Perhaps there’s question about whether honey is harmful, but if it isn’t, honey isn’t something I need. It’s important to me to extend compassion to all living creatures when possible, and just as I wouldn’t take an egg from a hen no matter where she laid it, I wouldn’t take honey from a bee. Anyway, you’ve said it far more eloquently than I!

  21. Great post! You always have such great, well-thought-out arguments to address some of the nuances of the vegan lifestyle. I agree that when we start valuing one creature over another (mammals and sea life over insects, for example) it becomes a really slippery slope. I know for me the bright line rules work. And it’s true that there are so many delicious substitutes for honey there’s really no need to ever use it!

  22. Gena,

    I respect your reasons for being a vegan, especially as becoming vegan has helped you overcome an eating disorder. However, if you really think about it, more creatures are killed to produce a vegan meal than to produce a carnivorous one. (e.g. killing one cow versus killing countless insects in the course of agriculture and food processing). Denise Minger, a former vegan, addressed this issue in a recent interview. I think she brought up a good point, so I will quote her here: “Humans typically have more empathy for creatures that are similar to us—facially expressive animals like cats and dogs tend to be easier to bond with than pokerfaced fish and snakes, for instance—and even if we find theoretical ways to argue that all animals should have equal rights, it’s harder to enforce that in reality. There’s a natural hierarchy where we favor some creatures more than others. I doubt even the most passionate vegan would rather see one kitten die than see ten mosquitoes die, even though the latter is quantitatively more deaths. PETA protests outside of KFC, but not in front of insecticide companies. Seal hunts make us sad and outraged, but we’d never lose sleep over the dead bugs on our windshield. Why is this? Is a cow’s wellbeing worth more than an ant’s? How do we rank the value of a life, or judge a creature’s capacity to suffer?”

    • If I can answer at least one point: all the fodder wasted on the cattle in large industries are also produced with heavy insecticides. On top of paying for the death of a cow when you buy beef, you’re also paying for the harvesting of crops which would have killed the insects you mentioned, as well as poisoning rivers and airways with insecticides. They’re also usually GMO products now, which further upset ecological balances.

      eco-vegans (is this a term?) will be vegans who buy local, organic foods as much as possible. Organic means the pesticides and insecticides aren’t poisoning our planet or killing insects. Local means that human suffering by big agro-business is minimized. Death is minimized.

      Eating local, organic, free-range meat still requires the same amount of minimized insect deaths as eating local, organic vegan foods, but with the added death of another animal. Veganism is the way of eating that reduces the amount of death to the lowest factor (or so we hope).

    • Actually, people like me and my husband who have been vegetarian and then vegans for a long time do care about insects, snakes, reptiles, birds and all creatures and we try to minimize harm to them when we can.
      Humans and many farm animals are mammals with larger brains and complex nervous systems. I do think it’s normal to feel a connection to other mammals especially since it has been proven over and over again that animals like pigs and cows actually feel and express emotion and personality traits that are not purely biological. They may not have the same “higher” sentience like humans, but they are sentient creatures. Insects on the other hand have not demonstrated the same level of sentience.
      Of course, I would rather help a human over an animal if I was faced with that choice, but the reality is we are never confronted with that choice and it seems silly to use it as an excuse to continue to eat animals. It’s the same with animals and insects, I would much rather preserve the life of a pig than a fly, but does that mean I should just continue to eat pigs? I don’t think so because we can easily prevent the pain and suffering to the pig (i.e. by not killing them or eating them), while we cannot easily prevent suffering to an insect. For people in North America (and many other places in the world), we do not need to kill animals for meat to survive or live a healthy, vital life on earth, so I don’t believe we should abandon a cause to reduce animal suffering in as as far as “possible and practical” way. I don’t expect everyone to adopt my choice, but I do wish for the world in general to be more compassionate and peaceful toward all creatures – humans, insects, animals included and abstaining from animal products is an easy, pain-free way for me to do so.

    • Hi Angela, justify wanted to jump in. This argument is bandied about pretty frequently, but it’s a fallacy and simply doesn’t stand.

      In ecology we are taught about trophic levels (ie the food chain) and how biomass inputs increase as you move towards the top – a magnitude of about tenfold at each step up the chain.

      So in your argument, a vegan eating, say, corn, could consume 100 calories of pure corn, and would be responsible for the deaths of the bugs and field mice that it took to produce 100 calories of corn.

      Or, an omnivore could eat 100 calories of beef. However that beef came from a cow, a cow which had to have consumed 1000 calories (tenfold) of corn to produce it’s 100 calories of beef. Thus, the beef-eater is responsible for the death of the cow PLUS the deaths of the bugs and field mice required to grow the 1000 calories of corn it took to feed that cow. So, ten times as many bugs and field mice plus 1 cow.

      Obviously, these are very rough numbers, but it proves the point. Eating LOWEST on the food chain (plants) is always the most environmentally and humane way to eat.

      Hope that helps to clear it up!

      • Awesome, Sayward. Thank you so much.

        Another answer that you can support organic farming, in which less insects lose their lives, rather than conventional farming. It’s more money, but the more of us do it, the cheaper it will become.

  23. I have always loved bees. I find them absolutely facinating, intelligent and cute. Oddly I’ve never really liked honey, so now that I am vegan I don’t have a problem with honey. Thank you for this post on bees because I was wondering what others though about the whole thing. It is interesting to see others perspectives. I love it how we can have such differing ideals on things yet still be a community. 🙂

  24. I want to raise a hen because I love birds, especially chickens and ducks! But, I hate eggs. They were the least of my concern when I adopted veganism. So I’ve spent the last few years wondering if, if I ever do decide to adopt a hen, what I would do with the eggs? Would I use them in baking, give them away to family members or food banks? I also worry about setting examples and the slippery slope, but getting eggs from me would at least reduce my family or friend’s dependence on factory farms. So many things to consider!

    Like you, I also don’t see a need in my diet to eat honey. Thank you for this insightful article!

    • Great question, Chelsea. I’m pondering it and consulting another vegan friend or two. Stay tuned 😉

      • Thank you!

        And thank you for inspiring the only food concoctions of mine that actually taste good!

    • Wow, this is such an intriguing question, it’s making my head spin because I don’t know what I would do either!

      It feels like it wouldn’t be right to just let the eggs go to waste, yet I feel odd that I feel this way about it when I don’t eat eggs or think eggs are necessary as a food source.

      The practical thing to do seems like to give them to friends and embrace the idea of backyard, local produce. But then like you say, it just encourages the eating of eggs. But, if you feel ok about that, and it’s just that you personally don’t like eating eggs, then surely this is better than those people eating factory farmed eggs?

      Sorry, I don’t think I’m helping! Could you just get boy ducks? 😉

      • I boy duck would be better suitable to my living, but I was thinking of urban hens — so a hen inside of an apartment. A duck wouldn’t be happy without a pond, right? Though I’m not sure about that. I feel like I could get a litter-box style thing, or make a hen-happy room (right now i have a room devoted to my kitties<3)

        I'm glad the question intrigued you, I've really been thinking about it for a while. I guess the best thing to do would be to just not adopt a hen, but they're such beautiful birds and left to my own devices I'll have a flock of pigeons (or a murder of crows ;)) on my balcony before long, nesting amongst my would-be veggie balcony-garden

        Oh, and maybe you feel bad about it because waste is still waste? Eggs are still (unfortunately?) a food source and there are starving people in the world? I was taken to a dinner today where I passed my pork along to someone else (it was a set meal–no choice at all) and they didnt eat it and i felt horrible!

        I can't wait to see what sort of answer Gena will have.

        • Oh, Chelsea, I wish I had some sort of brilliant wisdom here. If you told me you wanted to raise hens in order to produce and consume eggs, I’d have a relevant answer, not from me, but from my friend Jasmin, who wrote this piece for Farm Sanctuary when she was working there:

          But that’s not really what you’re asking about. Do note, however, her warning about the cost of veterinary care!

          If I were you, I’d probably forgo the urge to adopt a hen, and consider fostering another companion animal. But I do really sympathize with your dilemma and desire to give a hen (especially if you fostered an ex-battery hen) a home.

          If I did end up fostering a hen, I would most likely talk to leaders at a bunch of Farm Sanctuaries to get their opinions about what to do with the eggs — a reader commented here that the WFAS folks feed eggs to the other animals (probably those that are obligate omnivores). I doubt I’d share with relatives, because I think any encouragement of egg-eating just validates the consumption, and also begets more desire for it. But your own conscience will and should lead you 🙂

          • I find it shocking that all your heads are spinning. What do you think (legitimate) animal sanctuaries do with the hens eggs? They feed them back to the hens! They need them for calcium. You are not “doing the hens a favor” by eating their eggs, they would eat them and will gobble them right up. Go visit some animal sanctuaries so you can ask these questions!

    • I’ve read that chickens will eat their own eggs if you crack them open for them! Apparently different hens prefer different parts of the eggs. Laying as many eggs as we’ve bred them to do taxes their bodies so eating the (raw) eggs helps return those nutrients to them

    • This is just one person’s humble opinion, but I think your giving eggs to family and friends is not wrong. Everyone is in charge of their own choice of what to eat and I really doubt that your family and friends would get to the point where they want to go vegan and then say to themselves, “Well, I would like to go vegan but I’m getting these free eggs so I guess I can’t.” Most people aren’t black and white and don’t switch to 100% vegan overnight. For most people it’s a process, and by receiving backyard eggs they are being exposed to a different way of doing things and that combined with other information may interest them in becoming vegetarian at some point down the road. Sounds like a long shot, but who knows? These people are definitely going to keep eating eggs in the short term and you will be making a positive difference by supplanting factory farmed eggs with yours. I highly highly doubt that giving those eggs to them makes them less likely to go veg. So my vote is do it because I think the other position is a bit rigid and off-putting to some people. I think you would be doing more good than harm!

  25. This is a fascinating article. As a vegan I still eat honey, but alway the local, natural, small operators kind of honey. A lot of the hardships towards bees during the bee keeping process that you outline here I hadnt heard of before and I’m glad to have been provided this insight. From my own reading and understanding, beekeeping can be very gentle, albeit probably not on the larger scale I admit, the bees don’t have to stay in the hive and frequently leave to set up new colony’s elsewhere.

    I also love the notion that bees and bee keepers form bonds. A beekeeper needs to talk to its bees and let the bees know of changes that might be coming. And bees can tell when something changes. I don’t know how real this is, or if it’s a romantic, old wives tale, but I like the idea that the bee keeper is working WITH the bees.

    Many cities are setting up urban bee hives on rooftops to give bees places to go. With the lack of trees in urban environments bee numbers are reducing and creating beehives gives them somewhere to go. Scientists have suggested that it would take four years in a world without bees for the human population to die out because of the extent to which bees pollinate our plants and crops. Now, I’m no scientist and I have no idea if this is a bit hyperbole but to a certain degree it makes a lot of sense and is why CCD could be such a disaster.

    Bee keepers who manage their hives in a kind way, also understand how much honey they can take and how much they need to leave for the bees.

    I guess what I’m saying is, Im ok with honey, on a small production scale (like most things) and I think that it is great that BeeCulture mag pointed those things out, because maybe it’s a matter of making all bee keeping practice address these issues to make bee keeping more friendly and to also ensure the bee population can survive.

  26. Hi Gena,
    A wonderful article put together with thought and consideration.
    This use of bee products is one I think about a lot even after 12 years as a vegan. As a herbalist I make a lot of salves for people and have tried candellia wax, carnuba wax and beeswax. Ultimately I decided to use locally produced beeswax because the airmiles involved in the other options did not seem environmentally sustainable (I live in Europe!). I think this angle does need to be involved in any debate on the issue as, for me at least, coconuts, dates, maples and agave all come from a very long way away. I live in the countryside now and am looking at getting some hives for my allotment as the best alternative. I also now have some rescued ex-battery hens, really just because we had some space in the garden to give them a second chance at life rather than because we wanted eggs. People think keeping animals is against being vegan but to me being vegan is about caring about the welfare of animals and doing the best you can to protect them and not exploit them as commodities. There are so many facets to this thing we call ‘veganism’ and the one thing I have discovered over the years is to remain open to what seems like the best alternative in any given circumstance when weighing up all the facts available.
    I have never heard that about oysters before! They used to say that animals didn’t feel pain and use it as an excuse for doing horrific experiments on them. The truth is that even plants express reactions to positive and negative stimuli which is why the vegan society definition is so nice. We can only try to do the best we can and live lightly on the earth with gratitude for all that is available to us.
    Thanks again for a great post!

    • Thanks so much for this comment! I think it’s so important for vegans to remind each other that there are many ways for us to regard our responsibilities as vegans; as you point out, caring directly for animals is one of them. Certainly you’re doing that for your hens 🙂

  27. Really interesting subject, Gena. It is really enlightening to read different point-of-views about honey. I’m not a vegan, but I think what you are doing is making the world a better place. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Gena, this is a great treatment, especially considering you’re not a beekeeper!

    As you may know, I worked bees while I lived in Hawaii, for the last couple of years of bee paradise there, before the varroa mite arrived and started changing everything. I removed swarms from people’s buildings, and sometimes the same buildings would have swarms take up residency years after year.

    Before I lived in HI, I was vegan with no honey for close to a decade, with occasional exceptions if I knew where the honey was coming from and felt good about the beekeepers. In HI, I found it helped my digestion so much, so I got into beekeeping as a direct corollary of my decision to eat honey.

    CCD is most likely due to the nicotinoid pesticides, which screw up the bees’ sense of direction.

    Rudolf Steiner’s followers have some amazing models for beekeeping–traditional hives are designed with the beekeeper’s convenience in mind and are completely upside down and disruptive to the bees–but it’s possible even with those to work the bees with love and bare hands, and never to squash a bee when moving around in the hive. The Steiner folks have some amazing alternate hive models. If bees are not moved around (which is completely against their nature) and if their hives are not taken apart all the time, they can develop their own hygiene and become resistant to the diseases.

    One more thought on that topic: it never struck me until I worked bees, but honey in the jar is not a whole food! If you take frames of honey and spin the honey out of them in an extractor, that’s not how honey comes naturally (not that “naturally” is a great argument). But it’s a convenience thing. You can take combs and press the honey out through a strainer. But the honey in the comb, with the bits of wax and propolis and all, feels so much more whole and nutritious…

    Bees are HUGE in agriculture! Apples, almonds, pears, cherries, nuts, melons, pumpkins, mac nuts, and many many more crops are dependent on bees for pollination. I can’t remember the exact statistic, but on the Big Island of HI, agriculture is one of the major industries (especially mac nuts and coffee), and I think it was close to 90% of the agriculture that was bee-dependent (but this could be off).

    I hope you don’t mind me going on and on! There’s so much more I want to say on this, but it’s late…

    • I love this detailed comment, Ela! Thank you.

      I did remember your saying that you worked with bees, but certainly you give a lot more insight and valuable information here, in this comment. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you, but my Mother has been an art teacher in a Rudolph Steiner school for about two decades, was educated in the Waldorf system (as was my father), and I myself attended Rudolf Steiner for Kindergarten, so I do know a little about the beekeeping teachings, and worked extensively with beeswax as a child. Nice to hear you mention that 🙂

      • Thanks, Gena!
        I had forgotten that, but now you mention it, I do remember you telling me you had that background. Neat!

  29. I love this post! I am currently a honey-eating vegan. I justified it because my primary motive for veganism is health. However, after learning more details about the treatment of bees, I will certainly think twice before I purchase honey again. Also, as someone who is attempting to be a role model for veganism, I believe that it would be best for me not to consume it on principle. Thank you for the thought provoking article!

  30. While I still can’t wrap my head around the choice to exclude bee products, your post elucidates the difficult choice that veganism is – something I haven’t always appreciated. While I’m not a vegan, I’ve had long-ish stretches as a dietary “beegan,” and I’d characterized them as mostly effortless. I like a bit of fermented dairy now and then, but if I can’t find dairy that meets my ethical criteria, I don’t fret because in the grand scheme of things, dairy’s something I could care less about. I’ve never really seen (dietary) veganism as a sacrifice because I just don’t crave animal products; I’ve always seen it as a kind of well-intentioned but philosophically misguided choice. Honey on the other hand? I can’t imagine life without it. It’s right up there with coffee. There are other foods I love (adore!) and eat nearly daily. Celery. Apples. Cacao. But I can contemplate living without those things more readily than I can contemplate living without bee products. Thankfully, for the moment, righteous options abound. Not sure what I’ll do if that changes!

    • Haha! I chuckled with “right up there with coffee” — which I manged to go two years without, but could never go longer. Heavenly stuff. I can’t say as I ever felt that way about honey or bee pollen, but I am pleased to read about your gustatory passion for them, as well as your thoughts on the nutrient properties.

      Yes, the philosophically misguided but well intentioned choice to go vegan (;-)) can be tough. For me, toughness resides in reconciling some of the inconsistencies I touched on here, as well as in battling prejudice from people who simply are apathetic about their food choices, and can’t understand why everything is “such a big deal” to me. I’m sure you’ve encountered such sentiments, too. And the real toughie is avoiding leather. But on the whole, I, like you, don’t feel much sacrifice on a dietary level. At least not since my early days. xo

  31. Thank you so much for writing this article! I myself was quite split on the debate of whether I should eat honey or not. When I first become vegan (3 years ago) I was very apposed to consuming honey, but when I though about it more I was less so. I though it wasn’t really an animal product because its not part of the bee, but your article has me thinking again, I strongly think that bees should be treated ethically and I don’t like anything that alters the way nature is supposed to work. So thanks for getting me thinking about honey again!

  32. This is a great post. Informative and non-judgemental. I’m a little confused about the mention of oysters, though. Why would a vegan find it acceptable to eat oysters?

      • Very interesting! Though I’ve never eaten an oyster in my life, you’re right that the article is thought-provoking in the least!

      • Late to the discussion, but I’m trying my best to find the least horrific foods for my cats (who must consume meat). I would dearly love to put them on a vegan diet, but it scares me because they have to have at least the taurine – and possibly other nutrients that we aren’t aware of yet – and they sicken and die without it.

        If I thought that oysters and other mollusks didn’t feel pain, I would supplement vegan cat food with oysters rather than simply ignoring the fact that I’m feeding my cats other animals while being vegan myself.

  33. Gena, I love this post. Not to take away from the honey content of the whole thing, but I particularly appreciate your attitude toward “open-minded,” veganism. Too often I find myself pigeonholed into the “crazy vegan” stereotype, and for too long I was ashamed (not to mention afraid) that I was vegan. People get so confused when I tell them that there are SO many reasons why I choose a vegan lifestyle. They assume that there’s one reason and one set of guidelines. But echoing what you said, I think it’s cool that we all have so many differing viewpoints, and can have healthy debates. So thank you for speaking to this.

    As for honey, I’m currently a honey eating vegan (or beegan, I guess). I used to abstain completely, but now I do consume local, raw, honey. But who knows how I’ll feel in a couple years.

    Thanks for not being judgmental of how people personally define their diets!

    • Thank you so, SO much, Teresa! I, too, need to often gently explain that, while vegans all share a basically similar mission, we can and do individuate ourselves philosophically.

      • This reminds me of a dumb joke I heard the other day…

        How do you know when there’s a vegan at the buffet (restaurant, party, etc)?
        Oh don’t worry, they’ll tell you!

        I’m vegan too and get a kick out of the “crazy vegan” stereotypes…because for the most part they are true, and true for so many other eaters as well! I live in California though, where being restrictive about your eating is totally mainstream and being on some kind of “diet” is absolutely the norm. Just anecdotally, any time you go out to eat there’s always a vegan, a paleo, a gluten free, a freegan, a vegetarian but I eat fish, a raw foodie, an intuitive eater, an intermediate faster, a whole 30, a primal, a zoner, a low carb, a low fat, a honey eating vegan…hosting a dinner in 2012 is tough!

  34. Excellent post! While I am vegetarian, I have tremendous respect for your ability to reason out your choices and the need to draw a “bright line,” just as I do. And you can take credit for adding more vegan meals to my day, with your passionate posts and great recipes!

  35. I would like to compliment the research you put into this carefully thought out article! My uncle is a beekeeper, my parents had bees for seven years and my two brothers work as beekeepers every summer. So as you can imagine, I’ve heard a lot of bee talk and you sound very knowledgeable. Bees are a complicated issue, and I can appreciate different perspectives on them. Having seen beekeeping operations up close, I’m always impressed by the affection beekeepers have for their bees and I enjoy using my family honey in my tea. 🙂

  36. My father is by hobby, a beekeeper and does not mistreat his hives when he has them. Actually, quite often bee hives will swarm and establish hives elsewhere. I understand and respect one’s decision to abstain if they are vegan and to not purchase honey from commercial resources but I had to comment in defense of beekeepers such as my father who respect their bees and also produce very yummy honey!

  37. Hi Gena. Thank you for writing this very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. This is something that I often have to explain to friends, that not all vegans follow exactly the same guidelines, hold the same beliefs, or would live up to the common stereotype of militant animal rights activists. I like to think that following a vegan diet is one way to be a more conscious consumer,

    Now, I consider myself vegan while still occasionally consuming honey. That said, I approach that decision with the same care and consideration as the rest of my diet, and for the small amount I buy, I try to source locally or fair-trade (organic actually means nothing). And while I don’t consume eggs anymore, domestic animals have evolved to act synergistically with cropping systems (see tomorrow post!).

    Finally, I wanted to address your point about pollination. Bees actually provide critical pollination services for most nuts and tree fruits. While there are natural (although dwindling) populations of bees, any large-scale almond producer, etc. actually employs the services of commercial bees. Coming from an ecology background, I find how we have industrialized even the foundation of crop/plant reproduction yet one more example of how we are experimenting with processes we don’t understand…read: terrifying. I’ve written a few times on bees and CCD, so maybe check it out for more info and links:

    Thanks again for this post! Hope you will have some time to relax as the semester ends…

  38. Great post- there is a lot here I didn’t know in regard to bees. I am one that occasionally eats honey but it’s always raw, organic and local.from a small bee keeper. I believe bee keeping, when done properly, is essential. But that’s just me. I get what you mean by “slippery slope syndrome” though- I come close to justifying a lot.

  39. Gena,
    Another great post! It is amazing that you posted this today as I literally was researching honey as a cure for allergies as I am planning on doing a post about that soon. As a 6 year vegan, I also feel uncomfortable making those exceptions, however, my seasonal allergies have never been this bad and I thought for about an hour, well, I’ll try it but if I buy it from a local bee keeper, as the thought of putting chemical pills into my system horrifies me. However, all of the research I’ve seen shows no link between consuming local honey and allergy relief, so I guess I don’t have to worry about that any more.

    Again, I really great post. Thanks


    • To ethical vegans, the thought of a bee dying for a mere treat horrifies them as much as your thought of a chemical pill. That about sums it up for me.

      have you tried the sublingual drops that are like allergy shots made from the stuff you are allergic to? They have helped me before.

      • Thanks for pointing that out, Bitt, as I had (and still have) a hard time responding to the remark below, re: Zyrtec vs. honey.

  40. Thanks for putting it all out there, Gena. Funny that I wrote to you asking you about the honey issue a couple weeks ago. I know that most vegans say no-go on the honey but was just wondering who is okay with it, why or why not, etc…and this is helpful. Thanks for the details!

  41. I love this! Thanks for sharing what is indeed a nuanced issue. I picked up some great responses to some very common questions I have been asked–questions that sometimes flummox me or leave me searching for a understanding yet pointed response.

    And it’s funny, I remember working for a vegan and thinking to myself, “What in the world do vegans eat if they eliminate meat, eggs, and dairy from their diet?” I’m glad I remained open to the idea, and today I’m proud to call myself a vegan!

  42. “Funny: as I was writing this, I thought about the first time I heard about the vegan diet. I thought the whole thing was pretty bonkers, but the honey bit in particular struck me. “Now that’s just silly,” I thought.” It’s so funny to think about how much my own views have changed over time.”

    that says it all. really great post, Gena!

    ps-wanna catch one of Ali’s classes at lotus now that you’re both back in NY?

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