So you may have noticed that I've been spending time debunking veganism lately but I've really only focused on the vegan diet and I never planed to write more than I did, but I find the more I go down the rabbit hole the more I find that is worth talking about. A true vegan would tell you that veganism is not a question of diet but rather a question of ethics, in this way it is really a religion (even though many vegans wouldn't like that) based on an anti-animal suffering philosophy. Vegans seem to believe that just about every relationship a human has with an animal (except an owner/pet relationship) causes the animal to suffer. This is not true.
Anyways, today it sunk into me that honey is not vegan and I found that quite ridiculous. While I was growing up my dad decided to pick up beekeeping as a hobby so he picked up a couple books to learn how to do it and I read them as well. Because of this I'm an educated and moderately experienced beekeeper and I know what goes on inside a beehive and I understand the basic functions of the commercial beekeeping industry. Most importantly I understand that beekeepers care a lot about their bees and do the best they can to keep them alive (which is even more important once you realize that honeybees would likely be extinct if it were not for beekeepers). Most people are uneducated on the topic of honeybees and beekeeping, if all of your bee knowledge comes from the Bee Movie than you know absolutely nothing because that movie fails to get a single thing right. I'd like to set a few facts straight and establish the idea that if honey isn't vegan than no plant is either.
Honeybees are quite the interesting animal and we humans would benefit from picking up some of their habits. One of these habits is food storage. All animals have to make preparations for winter, bears will fatten up throughout the year, squirrels will hide nuts in various places and bees will produce honey. I could go into much more detail on this but all you really need to know is that bees will extract nectar from flowers and bring it back to the hive to be converted into honey, scientists haven't figured out how exactly the nectar is turned into honey, and that really isn't all that important. What is important is how much honey is made, a typical beehive will need 60 to 70 pounds of honey to survive the winter so they are always working to make sure they have enough.
The interesting thing about bees is that they don't stop once they have enough honey, honeybees are probably the only animals in nature who will produce a surplus of resources, a healthy and established hive could easily produce 150 pounds of honey and we've seen hives produce over 200 pounds in one year. When we harvest honey we only take the bees' surplus honey, we leave the 70 pounds they need to last the winter to them. By taking the excess honey beekeepers are not taking anything from the bees that they really needed, nor are they forcing them to produce anything that they wouldn't already be making.
Sure the act of taking the honey of course disrupts the hive a bit, so do necessary hive inspections but a good beekeeper will do these things as carefully as possible trying not to kill any bees or set back their production too much. Despite what the Bee Movie says smoke is harmless to the bees and their reaction to it is completely natural. Would you stop taking your sick dog to the vet if you knew they didn't like going? No of course not, the same is true of inspecting a beehive and even taking honey in the fall (it is much easier for a hive to keep a small space warm in the winter). Just like any good pet owner or parent beekeepers try their best to keep their bees healthy.
Of course understanding honey production is one thing but surprisingly to most people many commercial beekeepers don't even bother to collect or sell honey, they make all their money off of pollination. Plants need pollination in order to thrive. When I was a kid my family moved to a new city and our new house had a few fruit trees in the backyard that didn't produce much. We became friends with a person in our neighborhood who was an avid gardener and one day my dad asked him about the typical production of fruit trees and the gardener said that they typically don't do too well and he just assumed that it was because we were in a dry area with poor soil. This proved to be true over the next few years as our apple tree would typically only produce five to ten apples.
However this changed once we got bees, they pollinated our trees when they were in bloom and that year many of our tree's branches broke trying to support the load of all the apples it produced, that year, rather than producing five apples, we probably filled five boxes with apples from that one tree, our pear tree also produced like crazy along with our peach tree. And of course we weren't the only ones whose gardens benefited from pollination, our gardener friend gave us a bunch of tomatoes that year because that was their best year ever for tomatoes. This trend continued in the following years, our trees grew stronger and were able to produce even more, our gardener friend eventually decided to get bees as well to add to the local population of pollinators, and by the time that my parents moved out of that house we had trees bearing fruit that we didn't even know were fruit trees when we first moved in.
As we see here proper pollination is absolutely vital for good crop production, the American agriculture industry understands this perfectly and farmers pay beekeepers to keep hives on their property while their crops are in bloom. Beekeepers make their money by taking their bees to various farms across the country.
For example, 90% of the world's almonds are produced in California (so if you want to be environmentally friendly and don't live near California you should stop eating almonds), almond trees bloom in January and all almond farmers understand the importance of pollination and all beekeepers understand that their bees will start the year off better if they are somewhere with flowers in bloom, so in January virtually every commercial beekeeper will have hives sitting on an almond orchard in California so that the world's almond supply won't run dry. Once the almond trees are no longer in bloom the bees will be moved to an orange orchard, then an apple orchard, and then to the corn fields. Basically every farmer who has crops in bloom will be paying a beekeeper to have bees there so that he can maximize his crop yield. Researchers estimate that if this were not the case crops would not be getting the pollination they need to thrive and the country's overall crop yield would be halved.
To make a long story short, if you believe that beekeepers treat their bees inhumanely and you refuse to eat honey because of this misled belief then you should also refuse to eat any farmed plant because beekeeping is among the most vital parts of modern farming. If honey is not vegan then neither are almonds, or oranges, or apples or anything grown on a farm.