Ask a vegan why they made the lifestyle shift and often they’ll tell you that it’s to minimise animal exploitation and cruelty. We know that vegans avoid eating animal products like meat, eggs and dairy, as well as foods made from these products. However, what about foods made from insects, like honey? Are bees harmed to satisfy our sweet tooth?
Honey is a controversial food among vegans and is probably the product most frequently mistaken as being vegan-friendly. There is a common myth that honey bees make their honey especially for us, but this isn’t true.
To make the most money, many commercial bee farmers use unethical business practices, including clipping the wings of queen bees to prevent them from fleeing the hive and killing off entire colonies to prevent the spread of disease.
Essentially, honey farming exploits bees and threatens their health. Honey is intended to provide bees with carbohydrates and other essential nutrients like antioxidants, amino acids and natural antibiotics. Bees store honey and consume it over the winter months, helping them to stay healthy and survive during cold weather. When it is sold, the honey is taken away from bees and is often replaced with sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup. However, this doesn’t provide bees with the nutrients found in honey and these artificial sweeteners could harm the bees’ immune systems.
The number of bees worldwide is declining rapidly; just in the US, honey bees declined from about 6 million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million in 2008, a 60% reduction! With the planet getting warmer, and human development damaging bees’ habitats, this number is likely much lower now.
Bees are vitally important for us and our health; they pollinate plants when they collect nectar, allowing plants to produce fruits and seeds so that new plants can be made. When bees thrive, plants thrive, and that’s important for us to have a sustainable source of food!
Vegan Alternatives for Honey
Here are some of the most common plant-based options that can replace honey:
- Maple syrup – made from the sap of the maple tree, maple syrup is a healthy option, containing several vitamins and minerals with more than 20 protective antioxidants.
- Blackstrap molasses – this comes from boiling sugar cane and is a thick, dark-brown liquid. Another healthy option, blackstrap molasses is rich in iron and calcium.
- Barley malt syrup – with a golden colour and a flavour similar to that of blackstrap molasses, barley malt syrup is a sweetener made from sprouted barley.
- Brown rice syrup – this is made by exposing brown rice to enzymes that break down the starch found in rice to produce a thick, dark-coloured syrup. It’s also known as rice or malt syrup.
- Date syrup – as the name suggests, date syrup is made by extracting the liquid portion of cooked dates. You can make it at home by blending boiled dates with water.
The next time you have a smoothie or cup of tea, consider drizzling it with one of these plant-based options instead – the future health of bees (and humans) could depend on it! This is arguably the easiest thing that we can do in our personal lives to protect the future of these vital insects. Many of these plant-based options are identical in taste and can be used in the same way, so there’s very little extra effort needed on your part!
See also: 8 Plant-Based Milk Alternatives