When A Kids’ Movie Sparks Philosophical Debate

When A Kids’ Movie Sparks Philosophical Debate
What’s the Deal with Honey?

by Laura Beaulne-Stuebing, April 3, 2008

I used to eat honey – with peanut butter on toast, as a dip for apples. It was sweet. It was yummy. It was a special treat. But when I chose to adopt the title “vegan” I stopped any and all honey consumption. I didn’t really think of why – I just knew that vegans didn’t eat honey, and if I wanted to call myself vegan, I couldn’t eat honey.

With the recent release of the Bee Movie, I’ve started thinking – what’s the deal with honey? Why is it a problem for vegans?

Commercial honey practices aren’t very… well, let’s just say kind or natural. The bees are smoked into submission, so that they don’t attack farmers, and often killed when farmers extract the honey. That’s not kind at all. And often, bees are fed sugar and produce honey from of that, instead of the pollen from flowers. That way, you end up with fake, sugary honey. And that’s not natural at all.

But do bees feel pain? Are their lives worth preserving? From what I can tell from the science behind things, bees feel pretty much nothing. And as for whether or not their lives are worth preserving, that is entirely a matter of opinion – something that people have to decide for themselves.

And are we exploiting bees by using their honey? Are we taking something that doesn’t belong to us? Indeed, producing honey on a large scale is exploitation. I agree. But think about this: an apple from a wild fruit tree doesn’t belong to anyone, and I’m sure no vegan would be against picking the apple and eating it. It’s nature’s bounty, as some might say.

As such, organic and small-scale beekeeping is an entirely different story – and I don’t really see it as exploitation. Often, beekeepers take pride in what they do and treat their friends, the bees, with respect. The honey that’s produced is real and takes on particular flavours of the area – based on what flowers are available to collect pollen from. Of course, some bees will be injured and may die when honey is extracted – but certainly not on the scale of commercial honey production.

But the honey and bee issue opens up a whole other can of worms… Vegans respect all forms of life. So, what is the value of the life of a bee?

If a vegan who won’t eat honey swats at and kills a mosquito, is s/he still considered vegan? If a vegan knowingly plays a role in harming other creatures, is said vegan cheating? Can said vegan still be vegan?

To be honest, there really is no way, unless we totally isolate ourselves from people and the world, to live without harming others – it’s the unfortunate nature of living in our society. When we buy a can of beans from a store that also sells slabs of meat, we’re indirectly supporting killing animals for our consumption by directly supporting that store. When we spend our money anywhere that sells animal products, we’re supporting animal exploitation, even if such exploitation goes against our values.

To me, that solves the question of whether or not vegans are still vegans if they directly, or more likely indirectly, harm other creatures. It’s something we can’t really get away from. We wouldn’t have any vegans if we lived by that philosophy.

When I officially made the switch to veganism, I didn’t question honey – I simply didn’t eat it. But now, I realize there is much more to honey than I had thought. Personally, I’m not too concerned about bees. I won’t freak out if I realize that, after eating something, there was honey in it. But the whole issue has been confusing for me. I’m not confused about why vegans don’t eat honey, I’m just confused about whether or not I’ll eat honey, and if I do, will I still be vegan?

The Bee Movie makes one point very clear. We need bees. They pass pollen from plant to plant, and keep our greenery green. Without bees we wouldn’t have any plants – and we vegans would starve. So I thank you, my yellow and black-bellied friends. I thank you for pollinating and helping spread the seeds of my favourite foods. I thank you for making sweet nectar, which I haven’t tasted in months…

Does it sound like I’m going to break vegan rules and eat honey? I wholeheartedly disagree with commercial honey practices and would never buy a container of it from the corner grocery store. But if I ever do crave the sweetness that only honey offers, I’ll seek out a local and organic source. I’ll go to a Saturday morning farmer’s market, check out a stall with honey, shake the beekeeper’s hand, and ask about organic beekeeping practices.

If that ever happens, I’ll still call myself vegan. Go ahead and argue with me. That’s fine. I value life and I don’t think eating honey that is produced ethically undervalues the lives of bees.

The end.

Laura is a university student in London, Ontario.

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