Honey: Health Benefits vs Negative Impact on Our Eco-System

I absolutely love honey, it’s something I’ve always considered “natural” and healthy (if consumed with moderation, of course… like most things). Many years ago, I met a vegan guy who told me that honey was a no-go in their diet. I thought it made no sense… Bees produce honey anyway, right? It’s a very natural thing for them to do, so we might as well include it in our diet. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to explain to me the reasons why they didn’t consider it ethical. It’s only now that I’m wondering how I have stayed in the dark for so long. Information is key, so I finally tried to find out more on the matter. What are the health benefits and what impact does it have on the planet? Does it compensate? Shouldn’t we care?

Honey has health benefits

On top of its appealing golden texture and delicious taste, honey is good for many things. You would have to get a high-quality one to get the most of it though, as in not mixed with syrup – just be careful and read the label properly before buying it. Honey is rich in antioxidants and is a great alternative to sugar, or is “less bad” for diabetics. It can help reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure but also help to lower cholesterol. Honey can help with your throat when you catch a cold too (in your tea, as a form of a sweet you can find in the pharmacy, etc).

Note that the health benefits of honey are counterbalanced by the fact it’s very high in calories and sugar, so moderation is always key! Otherwise, it is known that honey is a good antibacterial and can treat burns, wounds and other conditions when applied directly to the skin.

Why honey is not vegan

People would often assume honey is vegan-friendly, but it’s not. I used to think it was purely because this product came from bees (insects do matter too, you know) and in my opinion, it was pushing the will to “defend nature” a bit too far and at the time I simply discarded the idea, shrugging my shoulders at it. I was convinced bees would produce honey for us anyway so what was the issue?

Today, I know that was a common misconception that couldn’t be further away from the truth… Honey is something bees produce for themselves as a source of energy to survive during winter months, not for humans. But as the health benefits of honey are becoming common knowledge, the whole industry needs to meet increasing demands. It means that beekeepers, like any other businesses, will aim to increase their revenue and decrease their costs to maximise profit. How do they do that?

  • They specifically breed honey bees to increase productivity. This selective breeding narrows the population gene pool and increases susceptibility to disease. So, if you thought honey production was good for the environment, the diseases spread to the thousands of other pollinators we rely on would show otherwise.
  • When they remove honey from a hive, they replace it with a sugar substitute for the bees, who don’t even get the essential micro-nutrients of honey they produce for their survival.
  • They clip the wings of the Queen bees so they can’t leave the hive and produce a new colony elsewhere, as it would reduce their profit.
  • Post-harvest, it’s common to cull the hives to keep the costs down.

We’re basically using bees as our slaves to produce food that is not even meant for us. We’re disrupting our eco-system by artificially increasing production so we can steal away something that is not ours (and not even in a nice way). Veganism doesn’t just seek to exclude cruelty but also exploitation. Good news is there are several good alternatives to honey that are plant-based: date syrup, maple syrup, agave syrup, golden syrup, butterscotch syrup, etc.

Why bees are so important

We actually owe many thanks to these hard-working and under-appreciated insects! Some plants can rely only on the wind to pollinate but the big majority of them have to rely on animal pollinators such as bees, but also bats, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, ants, and beetles. They need their help to produce fruits and seeds. If bees were to disappear, our food options would look much different. Do you want to know what would be missing? Foods that rely on bees include: apples, avocados, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green onions, honeydew, kale, leeks, lemons, limes, mangos, onions, watermelons and zucchini (just to name a few!). At least a third of our food supply would no longer be available… In short, bees are easily amongst the most important insects to humans on Earth, and if they’re in danger, we have a big problem.

Further reading & Useful resources

So… Should we eat honey?

Whether you’ve decided to go vegan or not, honey stays a debatable topic that raises ethical questions. On my end, I’ve decided to finish the big pot of honey left in my cupboard and then replace it with maple syrup in the future. The rule is quite simple for me: if it’s an easy swap, then it’s definitely worth doing. What matters the most is to ask yourself the right questions, so you can be in a position to say that you know exactly WHY you’re choosing to consume this product – or not. Just remember that everything you buy is a vote for the industry which made it.

Would you replace honey with a vegan alternative?

Big Girl x

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