Updated: May 31, 2022
“The term vegan was coined by Donald Watson in 1944 and was defined as follows: Veganism is a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom and includes a reverence for life. It applies to the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk and its derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or in part from animals” – Joanne Stepaniak, The Name Game: Coming to Terms
The simplest reason why honey isn’t vegan is by definition. I knew this but only recently learnt the lengthy process associated with making honey and indeed, what honey actually is:
The bees search for a source of nectar.
When they find a suitable flower they dig in and swallow the nectar into their ‘crop’ (like a stomach).
The bees then chew the regurgitated nectar, mixing it with saliva to add enzymes.
Then they swallow it again.
Then they regurgitate it again.
This process is repeated
Again and again
Honey is bee vomit. Tasty.
Apparently, during a bee’s lifetime she will only make approximately one teaspoon of honey. Honey is essential to bee’s health in winter and other times when nectar is scarce. Even more difficult to comprehend, bees must consume around eight pounds of honey to produce a pound of bees wax! When honey is harvested it is common practice for a bee keeper to replace it with a sugar-based honey alternative.
As honey is a food commodity, they are farmed like any other animal. Most hives are now confined to large boxes very different to their natural hives. These are commonly shipped around the country to pollinate crops and produce honey. This is stressful and confusing to the bees’ natural internal navigation systems. Along the way, bees are lost and killed, and may spread diseases from one infected hive to another.
You may or may not be aware that bees are disappearing. Over the past couple of years, stories about the disappearing of the bees and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) have been reported. There are three theories on why this is occurring:
Pesticides: “The EPA identifies two specific neonicotinoids, imidacloprid and clothianidin, as highly toxic to bees. Both chemicals cause symptoms in bees such as memory loss, navigation disruption, paralysis and death. Both chemicals have been linked in dramatic honeybee deaths and subsequent suspensions of their use in France and Germany. Several European countries have already suspended them. Last year Slovenia and Italy also suspended their use for what they consider a significant risk to honeybee populations.” – Environmental Protection Agency (2009)
Mites and Viruses: Weakened immune systems from stress, poorer food sources and pesticides mean bees have become more susceptible to viruses, fungal infections and mites. These have spread as hives are moved around a country or around the world. A work mate was telling me about the varroa mite. The Varroa destructor mite is a destructive pest of the European honey bee that spread worldwide during the late 20th century, killing unprotected beehives. Globally, only the Australian honey bee industry remains free of the pest, but it is likely to be established here in the future.
Phones: “According to a Swiss researcher who recently published a paper on the subject, the electromagnetic waves from mobile phones have a significant impact on the behaviour of honeybees and could potentially be harming honeybees around the world… To test the relationship between honeybees and buzzing phone’s, he placed phones inside bee hives and then monitored the bees’ reaction. He found that in the presence of actively communicating phone’s (those not in standby mode), bees produced the sounds known as “worker piping,” which tends to indicate disturbance in a bee colon”– ABC News
Bees are currently understaffed, underfed and overworked. Aside from not stealing their food by choosing maple syrup or agave nectar, you can help bees in other ways, by planting their food. In return they pollenate our food. Get in the garden!
Staying in the insect world, silk is the shiny fibre made by silkworms to form their cocoons. Silk worms are boiled in their cocoons to get the silk, which is then used to make cloth or taffeta. Silk powder is obtained from the secretion of the silkworm. It is used as a colouring agent in face powders, soaps, etc. Silk alternatives include nylon, cotton and synthetic silks. I recently upgraded my winter bedding with latex pillows, a cotton and polyester quilt and a synthetic silk quilt cover. Bedding is a difficult department to avoid animal products such as down, feathers, wool and fur but it can be done and I’ve never had a better night sleep!
Rennet is a vegetarian’s worst nightmare. If the meat industry offends you but the dairy industry doesn’t, discovering rennet might be a turning point for you. Rennet is an enzyme from calves’ stomachs used in cheese-making and in many coagulated dairy products. There are rennet alternatives such as microbial coagulating agents, lemon juice, or vegetable rennet, but vegan alternative such as cashew cheese is worth trying.
Gelatin is a protein obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones of cows and pigs in water. Gelatin is used in shampoos, face masks, and other cosmetics as well as a thickener for puddings, jelly, lollies, marshmallows, cakes, ice cream and yogurts. Gelatin can also be found in vitamins coating and capsules. Gelatin alternatives include carrageen, seaweeds (commonly agar-agar or kelp—used in jellies, plastics, medicine), pectin from fruits, cotton gum and silica gel.
I’m not a huge sweet tooth but finding out about gelatin in lollies was very sad time in my life. Fortunately, Sour Patch Kids which are stocked at Coles and most other supermarkets are vegan-friendly (that is, do not contain gelatin) chewy lollies. They certainly do the job!
Those are but a few common weird animal products, for a comprehensive list of all weird animal products see the resources list below.
Thanks for reading,
References and Resources
Primary sources of information on honey: http://www.vegsource.com/jo/namegame.htm and http://gentleworld.org/3-reasons-not-to-eat-honey/
Informative TED talk about Why Bees Are Disappearing I watched a few years ago: https://www.ted.com/talks/marla_spivak_why_bees_are_disappearing?language=en
Australian Government information about Verroa mite: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/pests-diseases-weeds/bees/honey-bee-pollination-continuity-strategy/statement-research-development
Animal Product List: http://www.peta.org/living/beauty/animal-ingredients-list/
Animal products in common, unexpected food: http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2011/05/09/12-seemingly-vegan-vegetarian-foods-that-really-arent/
10 Surprising Animal Products Lurking on Store Shelves: http://vegnews.com/articles/page.do?pageId=7529&catId=5