The Honey Debate: Should You Eat It?

the_honey_debate_should_you_eat_it_imageWhen talking about veganism, there are some pretty obvious jumping off points like the horrific factory farm conditions billions of animals endure every year. There are also the negative health issues connected with meat and dairy consumption. You can make a good argument against captive animals in zoos, in laboratories, and on fur farms (people actually still wear fur!). But, bees and honey production don't always top the list. In fact, some "vegans" actually eat honey, even though it's the product of a living creature.

It seems innocent enough, sweet, floral, gooey—honey is world's apart from the suffering of broiler hens, pregnant pigs, or veal calves. And it's healthier too, unlike the saturated fats in animal products, not to mention the hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified ingredients animals are routinely fed. Honey is a by-product of flower pollination; and what could be healthier than that? Honey (and other bee products including pollen and propolis) also contains enzymes, antioxidants, and other healthy attributes.

For the flexitarian or person adopting a healthier relationship with sweeteners, honey is a much better choice than refined cane or beet sugar, or even the dreaded high fructose corn syrup. Vegan sweetener darling agave is high in fructose making it other than the healthiest choice either. Honey has history; it's widely treasured in folkloric medicine and even ceremony. People tend to have a level of respect for honey that they don't have for, say, the deep-fried wing of a chicken.

honey_a_healthy_sweetener_imageBut don't tell a hardcore vegan to eat honey. No animal products means no animal products even if that’s regurgitated flowerstuffs. And it's true, commercial honey production is exploitive. Bees don't live in hives they build, but rather stackable trays that can disrupt their natural colony flow and create stressful environments for the bees. Some beekeepers even use antibiotics and other chemicals. The keepers also use smoke to control the bees, which can cover up their natural scent hormone signals so they are unable to protect their honey, which they aren't making for humans in the first place.

And just like the rest of the industrial food debacle that controls what most Americans eat, the honey industry is corrupted with mislabeled Chinese honey that's being brought into the country illegally. Higher levels of toxins can be present in this honey and you can be assured that these are industrial hives treating the bees much like any other imprisoned animal.

We know that while a bee may seem like just a tiny, insignificant insect, they're highly advanced and intelligent. And even more than that, they play a huge role in our food supply. As pollinators, they're responsible for helping us grow around 30 percent of all food—without them food supplies would be in jeopardy. 

small_scale_beekeepers_respectful_relationship_imageBut, when there's a respectful relationship with bees like some small-scale beekeepers have, the rewards can be highly beneficial, and delicious. In fact, with the number of bees dying off due to Colony Collapse Disorder (which is believed to be connected to exposure to certain pesticides), adding a beehive to your garden might be one of the best things you can do for bees and our food supply, whether you're vegan or not. And certainly if you are a vegetarian or healthy eater who does consume honey, make an effort to source from a small local beekeeper. They're all over the country and many of them will allow you on their land to see the bees in action and judge for yourself whether or not the honey is something sweet enough on all accounts for you to eat.

Learn more about Jill EttingerKeep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettingerResources:http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/honey-laundering-exposed-industry-giant-admits-mislabeling-chinese-honey.htmlhttp://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2008/07/the_great_vegan_honey_debate.htmlrn"

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