Happy Herbivore Blog

October 9, 2011

What is Honey? The Vegan Debate (& My Beliefs)

Earlier today I received an email from someone asking my opinion on honey and I thought I'd share my answer in a blog post. Honey, it seems, is a hot topic among vegans; one that's constantly debated, often with a good bit of fervor! 

That said, I don't know that there is a single answer or an answer that's suitable for everyone. My own feelings are complicated and conflicting, and I admit I'm a little nervous to share them.

[photo credit]

To get right down to it: I do consume small amounts of honey from time to time. I find it's difficult to avoid when you're trying to buy whole-wheat products. I'm not going to eat white bread and while sure, I suppose I could just not buy the bread, that's not really practical for me or my family. We have to eat at home every single meal and not having bread to work with on occasion would bring a whole new level of stress and challenges!

Now, when I lived in New York City, I would go around to all the different stores looking for whole-wheat bread that was vegan (no dairy or eggs) and also honey-free but here in St. Maarten (a tiny Caribbean island) I only have one store to shop at and the selection is really, really small. I'm doing the best I can. If we keep 100% vegan except for a dab of honey in our bread, I can live with that.

But then there is another consideration I grapple with. What about honey for purely medicinal purposes? 

My sister Courtney is vegan and going vegan actually helped eliminate her food allergies (read her story here) but it didn't completely erase her environmental allergies. To treat her grass allergy, Courtney can eat local, organic honey regularly or she can get allergy shots and take medication. She's opted for the more holistic approach, which I think is probably the healthier and more compassionate option anyway. I don't have a moral objection to what my sister is doing and I just can't see myself saying "no! take the pills instead! honey is not vegan!" Actually, if I did say that, I'm pretty sure Courtney would give me the finger...

Of course, I understand the vegan (animal rights) arguments against eating honey, namely, bees are insects, and therefore animals, and we shouldn't limit our compassion to one species. I also know that some bees die during honey extraction, and by eating honey, even small bits, I'm supporting this, but I can't turn a blind eye to the fact that lots of insects incidentally die in the cultivation of plant foods I eat everyday. I'm not saying this makes it okay, or its is a justification for my actions; it's just something I like to remember when talking about the honey issue. 

Then, as you may remember, my veganism is a 3-legged stool -- I'm motivated by compassion, the environment and my health, and it's that last one that bubbles up with the honey issue. 

On the one hand, honey is said to have many health benefits. On the other, we're reminded honey a simple sugar that can cause spikes in our blood sugar... I still haven't decided if I'm "for" or "against" consuming honey from a health perspective, but if I ever settled on "yay" I know that I'd make a point to get it locally, from an organic farm, and from a beekeeper that's passionate about being a beekeeper. 

For example, Scott's close friend Greg is a beekeeper (his motivations are entirely environmental: he wanted to create a safe habitat for bees as a way to help the ecosystem) and I know first hand the care he takes, and how much the bees mean to him. I'm not so sure I'd say 'no' if Greg offered up a sample of his honey. I wouldn't go hog wild with it because, well, it's a sweetener, and I think all sweeteners, including healthful ones, should accent to my diet, not be a big player... but just a taste? A little here and there? Maybe. Maybe not. 

So in a nutshell... that's where I am coming from; these are my feelings on honey. 

What are yours? Is honey vegan? healthy? 

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