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Vegans Who Eat Honey


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.

Causing Harm

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.


Vegans Who Eat Honey

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.

Addition 1

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.

Addition 2

13/06/2013

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.

Addition 3

27/07/2013

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.


 

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{ 63 comments… add one }

  • Kate July 14, 2016, 7:54 am

    You may like to know about Flow Hive. They have developed a unit that is kinder to both bee keepers and bees :)
    https://www.honeyflow.com.au/

  • Kaley July 14, 2016, 3:17 pm

    Yo I know I’m like way late in this conversation haha but I figured I’d just put in my input. Just as background info I’m not really vegan because I do eat meat, not a ton of meat but more meat than a vegan. But I do limit myself bc I feel for the animals.
    Okay so my mom “farms” bees. She likes to think of them more as pets. We have 1 happy be house in our backyard. The main reason we have a bee house is to help with the garden and our apple trees. The way I see it is we gave them a cool looking house, food, and an “unlimited” water supply (at least to them it is) and in return we get a plus in fruits and veggies.
    She does steal honey from them and she honestly feels bad about it every single time. But when you have terrible pollen allergies honestly I’ve not found s better natural solution than eating honey from your own backyard.
    Since having the bee house my family has a new appreciation and respect for bees. I never swat away or threaten bees anymore and its so sad when you see a little worker bee laying to her rest, but just know that it died doing what it was made for: working.
    Honestly don’t know how the bees feel but I feel like we have a nice little relationship going on.
    oh also having bees forces you to not use any pesticides or any chemicals really bc it will harm them and then it would be bad for both parties

  • Annie August 10, 2016, 11:44 pm

    That is an interesting take on the subject. As a vegan, I have heard all of the arguments. “You are stealing the honey from the bees!” Or “Who cares? Bees are just insects.” And basically everything else in between. I do not eat honey, but personally, it isn’t because of (as some have put it) “bee cruelty”, but rather the fact that I cannot get myself to eat bee barf. I respect your decision, and, maybe if I wasn’t such a barf-hater, I’d eat it, too. Good for you.

  • Kt October 16, 2016, 8:05 am

    Just wanted to say your article put things in perspective. Blindly following the doctrine set out by the guy who coined the term vegan is a step backwards. Those who say that you aren’t vegan for eating honey are hypocrites, as modern living in itself will envitably result in some harm being caused down the line whether in the shoes we wear or the phones we use. All we can do is our best and life is too short to stress about this stuff. Peace :)

  • Zoey Hickman October 18, 2016, 2:09 am

    I really want to go vegan, but I used honey in a lot of things as a sugar substitute (in tea, oatmeal, coffee, etc) so I wanted to find at least one person who would tell me that I maybe, possibly could still be considered vegan if I still ate honey. It’s not because I don’t care about bees, I promise. I even buy all of my honey from local vendors because I know they are treating the bees better, but I just don’t want to substitute sugar for it. Thank you for writing this and making me feel better about this!

  • Lizzie Hempel January 9, 2017, 1:26 am

    Great article.
    I myself have recently adopted more of a vegan lifestyle. My children and my partner still eat normally, so this has been a bit of a challenge for me.
    11 days into my veganism I discovered an almost completely untouched jar of local raw honey in one of the storage boxes downstairs. So I was faced with a bit of an ethical dilemma. Do I consume it or do I bin it? (I couldn’t give it away as I had already opened it, and the kids like their ‘normal’ honey). Besides which, is binning something that has already been produced and purchased an ethical choice? I figured not.
    Anyway, I awoke this morning with a nasty case of what looked to be pink eye, so it was most fortunate that I chose to keep the jar. It was so bad that the eyeball itself even appeared to be swollen. Salt water wasn’t licking it, so I added a small amount of raw honey to a dropper bottle, filled the remainder of the bottle with some warm water, shook it up and applied a few drops to the infected eye. Within half an hour flat….success! My pink eye was completely cured. No redness, no swelling, everything back to normal. Thank you intuition and thank you local bees!

  • Carolyn January 10, 2017, 5:25 pm

    Excellent
    To each his own

  • Cpiper January 16, 2017, 11:15 pm

    I am not a full vegan. I try, but sometimes because of my other dietary restrictions, if I know that my mother in law made a soup and she put chicken in it that her intent was good. I can’t call myself a vegan. I do have something to say about bees. My dad is a bee keeper. He is trying to help people and the environment. He really enjoys it. He will take hives away from people who are scarred and don’t want them in their yards or homes. He has been a beekeeper for 25 years. It is hard after seeing him do it and help the bees for me to think it is bad. He treats them well in my opinion. I think that bees are living creatures, but we have to eat something. A plant based diet is the best for most people’s health and for the environment. I enjoyed reading this blog post.

  • Leah Twitchell January 18, 2017, 1:15 am

    Thanks for writing this article, and for the updates. I like how after you wrote it, you changed your mind. And I love this line: “Stop trying to think you are perfect just because you are vegan.” We all do what we can, and that’s all we can do.

    I think if eating honey is the only issue stopping someone from going vegan, then they should just eat honey. I’ve been vegan for 3.5 months now and the first couple of months I avoided honey, but then one of my friends gave me a jar of honey from her backyard bees and I ate it. It’s really hard to avoid all products with honey in them because a lot of breads have honey as an ingredient. So while I’m not going to buy jars of honey in the grocery store, I’m also not going to draw a hard line against honey in other situations. If I want to eat at a friend’s house and the meal is vegan except for honey being an ingredient in the bread or something like that, I’m probably going to eat it.

  • enviroartiste January 25, 2017, 1:44 am

    honey has always made me think. i’ve been vegan for about 12 years now i think, and over 20 years vegetarian. i’ve been thinking about adding honey back in for health purposes. i was always turned off by bee vomit, and try to stay away. if it happened to be in something i had, i didn’t sweat it. my mother is an advocate for bees and believes they can die off if we don’t buy their products. i listen to all the facts i hear and it confuses me more than ever. TO BEE OR NOT TO BEE, that is the question. I have been researching my health issues and time again i’m told honey might help with that. i also get the is honey vegan question. i’ve never said no or yes, i say that’s debatable. it’s always something i’m perplexed about myself, still to this day.

  • Neil S February 9, 2017, 11:39 am

    I found this interesting and can offer a perspective as a 30-year Amateur beekeeper. My bees always have sufficient honey stores after I take the surplus. I treat my bees well and can say that modern hives are far healthier and safer for bee colonies than wild hive locations. Very few die due to my intervention but wild hives frequently suffer privations and extinction because of their tenuous circumstances. Yes, bee keepers do replace queens every few years but hives frequently do so themselves of their own accord and also brutally force out drones and injured, tired and imperfect worker bees. Ultimately, the choice for vegans is to slavishly follow Watson’s definition of veganism or make a considered and balanced decision about the pros and cons of a particular food (and wax) .source. I know which choice makes more sense to me.

  • Alberto February 12, 2017, 8:22 pm

    Hello, I agree with you. we are not perfect. but, to help you out, there are sooooo many substitutes for honey, though. all those syrups out there (maple, agave, etc). I am a vegetarian (whose goal is to be vegan) as much as I can in a country where there aren’t many affordable alternatives to eating meat. but I have made peace with myself and I am ok with it.

  • Rachel February 12, 2017, 9:10 pm

    Yes! I eat honey and then sometimes, mostly online, when I mention that I’m vegan but I occasionally eat honey people freak out and tell me I’m not really vegan or I can’t call myself a vegan. Great points, my thoughts exactly.

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