Honey has long been a staple in our homes, both in the kitchen and in the medicine cabinet. There’s no denying its health benefits or the fact that it is super tasty. Unfortunately, it comes at a cost far greater than the dollar amount on the price tag.
Bees are being exploited and even tortured for their wares. Add to that the fact that bee numbers are declining globally due to pesticides, habitat loss and climate change. This report from the Center for Biological Diversity explains why that’s so problematic.
“As the world’s primary pollinators, bees are an essential component of functioning ecosystems. Without them, much of the planet’s flora —particularly cultivated crops— would not survive.”
These guys need our protection now more than ever. And not just for the sake of their wellbeing —though that is of tantamount importance— but for ours, too.
Bees Are More Than Just Honey-Producing Insects
Bees are incredibly complex creatures with a unique language that scientists have yet to fully grasp. They’re capable of abstract thinking and enjoy similar memory triggers from smell to that of humans. Bees are also extremely community-oriented, with each member clear on its role within the hive. They’re also genius mathematicians, as you’ll see in the video further down.
Why Bees Need to Keep Their Honey (and Everything Else They Produce)
The honey that bees produce provides vital nourishment for them, particularly during the cold winter months when nectar isn’t as freely available. Making the honey is no easy task either. Consider that a worker bee can visit 10,000 flowers in a day and yet produce only a teaspoon of honey in an entire lifetime.
The royal jelly (or bee milk) produced by nurse bees goes to feeding the babies and is also used to grow the queen larvae into a queen bee. Bee venom is the latest fad in the beauty industry and yet it takes about a million bee stings to produce just one dry gram of bee venom. These industrious creatures also secrete wax to build their hives and collect propolis from the buds of trees to use as cement and as an antiseptic. Everything they make has a purpose.
Factory-Farming Bees Is a Bad Idea
The well-known animals rights organization, PETA, claims that profiting from honey requires the manipulation and exploitation of the bees’ desire to live and protect their hive. Factory-farmed honey bees are victims of unnatural living conditions, genetic manipulation and stressful transportation.
Beekeepers force their hives to live in boxes to make it easy to transport them as well as to harvest the honey. This TED-ed video explains why bees love hexagons and would never voluntarily live in a square.
When a new queen is born, the hive will instinctively split. Since this causes a decline in honey production, bee keepers will clip the new queen’s wings to prevent her from leaving.
Queens are artificially inseminated, either instrumentally or through the use of drones (who are then killed afterwards).
Large commercial operations sometimes take all the honey instead of leaving enough for the bees to get through the winter. The honey is then replaced with a cheap sugar substitute.
Most beekeepers remove all the spring-season honey and in colder areas, they’ll often burn the hives with the bees inside before the onset of winter.
If their colony becomes infected with deadly parasites, beekeepers opt to burn the entire hive with the bees still inside rather than go to the trouble of relocating them first.
Okay, so What Are the Alternatives?
Fortunately, all is not lost. There are plenty of vegan alternatives to honey to satiate our desire for something sweet. A lot of sweeteners nowadays are quite processed. If you’re not all that keen on those, then try using dates in your cooking and baking.
Beeswax is used in a wide variety of products, from lip balm and the coating of tablets to candles and cosmetics. Vegan alternatives to beeswax are available, it’s just a matter of looking for them. If you’re a surfer you’ll be happy to know that you can get cruelty-free surfboard wax.
Honey and propolis are both used as natural antibiotics, but there are plenty of others that work just as well. Next time you’re sick, try combating the infection with grapefruit seed extract instead.
Is There Such a Thing as Ethically Sourced Honey?
No matter how you cut it, honey creates some sticky ethical questions. Most vegans won’t eat it, but some think it’s okay. Friends of the Earth shared an ethical honey guide, while The Guardian posed this question in their Ethical Living section: Should vegans avoid eating honey?
There are plenty of reasons to stop eating honey. When you consider the size difference between humans and bees, it’s not hard to grasp that our needs are significantly greater than theirs. It makes sense, therefore, to let them keep their goodies and figure out a way to make or collect our own that doesn’t involve exploiting them in the process.
“Bees are hard working animals who deserve to keep the labor of their work.” —Vegan Peace
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