I’m one of those vegans who eat honey. Once, someone told me I wasn’t even a vegan for eating honey, and other times I’ve met vegans who didn’t bat an eyelid at it. This article is for people who are in between, or are otherwise interested in a discussion about food ethics 🙂
My main argument in favour of eating honey is: I can’t be perfect. I kill trees for my toilet paper every day. I use modern technology which generally supports the rape of the environment and the bringing about of climate change (and probably the odd animal is tortured somewhere along the line too). Sometimes I accidentally eat something that has an animal product in, or accidentally wear clothing that has some leather in it.
Basically, causing harm is an endemic part of modern society, and unless I live like a caveman I can’t avoid it. It’s only by leveraging the power of modern society, though, that I can do good, which potentially could make all of the harm worth it.
A lot of meat eaters use the fact that we can’t avoid all harm as an excuse to eat meat. I don’t agree with that. I believe that we can and should try to minimise the harm we cause. But I also believe that it’s impossible to be perfect. At some point we have to draw the line where more effort in minimising harm isn’t going to be worth it. Or maybe we just don’t have more effort to spare.
I know making a dietary change is effort. I’ve wanted to be a 100% raw foodist for a couple of years now. I know that it’s the best diet in terms of environmental impact and plant welfare, to say nothing of the good effects it has on me. But so far it’s been much too much effort for me to maintain sustainably. I’ve accepted that. I’ve let myself not be perfect.
So it’s OK even if you’re a meat eater who can see that making a change would reduce the harm you cause. So long as you can stay aware of the impact of your actions, of the potential for (external) gain by changing them, then it’s okay to take your time and accept when you’re not strong enough.
I think later the resources (internal or external) to make a change will come. So long as you stay aware, and you don’t let your lack of resources be an excuse for sinking back into unconsciousness.
As for the ethics of being a vegan who eats honey, I see it as somewhere between eating animals and eating plants. At times, I’m even unsure whether the harm to plants might be more intolerable.
Bees, like plants, have short life cycles, making the death of a bee less tragic than the death of a long lived animal. I also get the feeling that the worker bees are made to be more “expendable” somehow than most animals are. They often die when attacking to defend their hive.
Whatever the reason, I don’t feel as connected to the hurt bees go through as the hurt an animal goes through. I’m sure it’s invasive and horrible to go through your hive being ransacked for honey, but somehow I don’t know if bees feel it all on such an intense level as animals.
I wonder if I would change my mind if I witnessed bee farming. I’m sure I wouldn’t do the worst practises myself if I was there – and maybe I wouldn’t do any form of bee farming myself if I came to experience it. I don’t know.
But here’s the clincher: I don’t eat much honey. It’s not daily, not weekly, and I probably go some months without eating it. Which is why making a big effort to give up honey isn’t worth it for me.
It may seem more effort to write this article than the subject deserves, then. Except that vegans often give honey eating a lot of thought, so I wanted to give my perspective. More than that, I wanted to write about self-acceptance and letting yourself not be perfect. Being vegan – or, in whatever way, trying to reduce the harm you cause – is enough effort without torturing yourself about the details.
By the way, I also reserve the right to be wrong. Maybe later on I’ll write an article about how I’ve decided that giving up honey permanently is worth the effort for me after all.
Well, it’s not worth the effort now; what I’m saying is that maybe I’ll feel it worth the effort later on, and that that’s okay, too.
Note before you comment: I do not allow flame comments through, and additionally, I don’t allow comments here that say “you are just NOT vegan if you eat honey, end of story”. That’s not an argument, that’s dogma.
It has come to my attention that some people consider honey to not be vegan because it’s part of the definition created by Donald Watson, the originator of the term “vegan”.
I think that’s a bad argument, mostly because it shows a sort of blind obedience to what an authority says, kind of like a religion. You have to be exactly how the God of veganism has deigned you to be?
Another thing to bear in mind is that a word is how you use it, not how it’s defined. I know most people would call the way I eat vegan; both the way I eat and my philosophy is in line with vegan principles. It would be a waste of time to try and invent a new word for the way I eat. No-one would understand it, and the only upside is that strict(er) vegans get to maintain the purity of their idealism.
The point is to make a difference. Not to be extremely successful in nitckpicking the fine details of a philosophy.
Funnily enough, almost immediately after writing this article, I started researching vegan arguments against eating honey a bit more and finally decided, “Well, I wouldn’t do this myself, so I’d rather not pay anyone to do this.”
It wasn’t a very passionate decision. And I didn’t write about it because 1) I didn’t care, and 2) I didn’t want to feel bound to my new tentative resolution.
Since then – it has been almost 2 years – I have never bought a jar of honey. I also generally avoid stuff that says it has honey in it, but if there’s a product I really want and can’t substitute easily, or if someone offers me something, I’ll take it.
That’s a very small amount of honey overall in the last two years. The amount of insect suffering this adds up to doesn’t come close to the massacre I partook in when I hired someone to rid my house of bedbugs. And I challenge any vegan not to do the same in the same situation. Bedbugs are evil.
What I’m saying is: I hardly eat honey now. I still think people who eat honey can call themselves vegan.
This article did well on Google so I occasionally get comments on it.
It shocks and disappoints me how vegans who want to consider themselves “conscious” can get so shaming, judgmental and negative when expressing their opinion. Rest assured that I won’t publish any comment in this vein.
What’s interesting is that yesterday I had a minute-long struggle with myself over killing a tomato plant which for some reason was on its slow way to an early grave anyway. (The leaves were going purple and dropping off, one by one).
As an experiment, I tried to maintain my full empathy with the plant and still go ahead and cut. And I just couldn’t.
I still haven’t killed that plant.
The lesson? The lesson is, who are you to have a problem with me placing a hierarchy on the suffering of living beings, with animals being more important than insects, and insects being more important than plants? You do the same, because plants have feelings.
We have to prioritise the suffering we aim to avoid.
No one is perfect.
Stop trying to think you are perfect just because you are vegan.