The common definition of vegan is one who abstains from eating, wearing, using, or otherwise consuming animal products and by-products, so it is immediately clear that someone who identifies as vegan does not eat meat, eggs, or dairy. Honey, however, is often forgotten, and is also widely debated in vegan circles. I will admit that honey didn’t automatically occur to me when I first went vegan four years ago–but after I did my research, I decided to eliminate it from my diet. Admittedly, it is probably the ingredient I am most lax on (if I accidentally consume beer, for example, that I find out later contained honey, I feel guilty but not ill over it). I do, however, feel ill over colony collapse.
In 2006, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) started wiping out honey bees in alarming quantities. Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when worker bees abandon their colony and leave behind their queen. This phenomena startled scientists and beekeepers as few dead bees are found near the hive, and reserves of both honey and pollen remain. There are a few suspected causes of CCD – among them increased pests, new disease, pesticide, climate change, and stress from transportation.
Honey bees are critical to bountiful harvest, contributing upwards of $14 billion to the value of U.S. crops alone. When bees gather nectar and pollen, they provide the very important service of pollinating the very plants we harvest and eat. It is estimated that two-thirds of the country’s colonies travel the U.S. annually pollinating crops, and in California alone, one million colonies are used to pollinate the state’s almond crops.
Though CCD numbers have been improving, honey bees are still at risk, and thus, so is our food (and the food we feed our livestock). There are a few great alternatives to honey as well, such as maple syrup and agave syrup. Both options provide similar textures and sweetness, and can be used in many recipes that traditionally call for honey. There are great alternatives to the beeswax traditionally used in candles, as well. Soy candles, anyone? And, as someone who suffers from year-round allergies, it’s not long after a sneezing fit hits before the suggestions roll in to consume local, organic honey to keep the seasonal allergies at bay. Fortunately, this myth has largely been debunked.
I’ve found a great resource that explains the ins and outs of the honey cultivation process and explores the Great Honey Debate in detail, for those who are interested.
As with everything, I recommend educating yourself fully on the practices used to obtain and create the food with which you nourish your body. Be good to your body–it’s the best tool you’ll ever have, and you only get one.