In a recent survey, 90% of people who identified as vegan said they believe that honey can be ethical.
The survey conducted by The Vegan Insider polled 1,104 vegans, who identified as caring about animal rights and sustainability. Since honey isn’t vegan, the results were surprising.
Honey seems to be a gray area for many, vegans included, with a lot of people choosing to eat vegan “except for honey.” Only 8-9% of participants didn’t believe honey could be ethical, and the rest were unsure.
So, can honey be ethical? What about backyard beekeepers?
Many vegans are concerned that collecting honey directly kills bees. Larger-scale commercial operations may gas their bees, clip their wings, and/or feed them sugar water. But what about backyard beekeepers? Is it possible to collect honey in a way that does no harm? We interviewed two backyard beekeepers to find out.
The beekeepers we interviewed have bees as a hobby or for their immediate families and plants – not as a commercial operation. They are known to have the “best” possible practices when it comes to beekeeping. We’re masking their identities for privacy and they will be referred to as Keeper 1 and Keeper 2.
It’s important to note that we’re exclusively exploring backyard beekeeping with the best attempts to cause zero-harm, which is unrelated to commercial operations or honey you’d buy in a store.
Do the bees get killed during harvest?
From knowing hobby beekeepers in the past, we were primarily concerned that bees could get squished during harvest. “I’m not going to pretend that can’t happen,” said Keeper 1. “There is no harm to the colony. There is ALWAYS a chance some may accidentally get squished or get into your hood, or sting you (and die)…Bees are lost when they sting, they can get squished every now and then. It happens. You can not watch where you put your hand and kill 3.” He did note that those things happen, despite the best efforts to cause zero harm.
Keeper 2 revealed that every honey harvest kills around 24-48 bees out of a hive of 40,000. She said, “They get squished during the removal of the box, or refuse to leave the box and ride it to the honey house, (and eventually the freezer).”
So killing bees during honey harvesting is unavoidable in the best of practices. But there’s a reason so many people concerned with animal welfare still support honey.
As Keeper 2 explained, “A healthy colony can easily lose 600+ bees a day to natural causes.” Both keepers agreed that the few lost to honey harvesting have no impact on the health of the hive as a whole. Beyond that, beekeepers can provide a safer environment for the bees and prevent losses – ultimately, saving more lives than they take.
Is there enough honey for the bees? Does harvesting upset the hive?
One common fear is that if humans take honey from bees, then the bees won’t have enough for winter (which is why some keepers feed their bees sugar water). But is there enough honey for bees and humans in a backyard, non-commercial practice? Absolutely.
Keeper 2 explained, “The hive needs at least one full box of harvested honey to survive the winter. So I add an extra box in the Spring, with a queen excluder beneath it to prevent brood from being mixed in with the honey cells. I harvest that box alone and leave the rest for the bees to enjoy.” By adding in an extra tray, the bees fill both – and there is plenty to go around.
But do the bees mind having the honey taken? Other than the few that die in the process, does the hive get upset? The answer is yes.
Keeper 1 shared, “no creature enjoys having the roof taken off their home… but minimizing the timeframe of the disturbances is part of the process. Keeping bees is as much about keeping them happy and safe as it is about getting wax and delicious honey to use.”
He then urged people to check out a local apiary to get a better feel for the process. He said, “If you’ve never been a part of it, I recommend finding beekeepers in your area and finding out first hand what it’s all about.”
Do the queen’s wings need clipped?
In the vegan community, it’s a common belief that beekeepers have to clip the queen’s wings so she won’t fly away and take the whole colony with her. While this does happen in some practices, it’s not necessary.
As Keeper 1 shared, “There is no reason to clip the wings of a Queen, swarming activities can be prevented or mitigated by other means. I, and everyone that I know, let the hive decide when it’s time for a new queen, they’re much better at it than we are.”
Can Honey Be Ethical?
Being “ethical” is actually subjective. What some view as ethical, others would disagree with. But it’s important to have the facts and decide for yourself if honey is something you believe can be ethical.
Bees are always killed to harvest honey, but just a few dozen per hive and no more than in the wild.
Bees can produce plenty of honey to share.
Keepers don’t have to use gas or clip wings.
Is It Ok For Vegans To Eat Honey?
Honey is not vegan by definition. However, many people are vegan because they care about the consequences of their actions and the impact of their choices. In some situations, it’s more beneficial to the animals and environment to consume non-vegan foods, like in the case of freeganism.
When it comes to honey specifically, it’s usually best to avoid it. Large-scale commercial operations are doing a lot of harm. However, there are situations in which honey may cause less harm than an alternative like agave.
Many vegans consume agave in place of honey. However, agave provides necessary food for bats. The increased demand for agave is putting a strain on the bat populations. According to NPR, some of the bats threatened by agave crops are already endangered species, including the Mexican long-nosed bat. So while honey, done properly, can support pollinators, agave is actually hurting them. But again, this is the exception and not the rule since most people who consume honey don’t source it carefully.
Beyond that, there are sustainable and ethical sweeteners, namely, maple syrup. Maple syrup is one of the best honey substitutes because of its minimal environmental and animal impact.
Ultimately, every decision makes an impact – and it’s up to you to decide if that impact is one you’re going to make. We just want you to be aware and conscious of your choices!
Many people are unsure if Oreos are vegan. It’s actually pretty controversial within the vegan community and there’s a good reason for that.
For starters, most Oreos don’t contain animal products. However, they are manufactured in a space that uses animal products, so they’re not suitable for those with milk allergies because there’s a risk of cross-contamination.
It’s not black and white.
Though many Oreo products contain vegan ingredient lists, when we asked Oreo in an email if they had any vegan products, they replied that they couldn’t guarantee any of their products are vegan and their products are not suitable for vegans. We suspect this is due to no Oreo products being labeled or certified as vegan.
Beyond that, some Oreo flavors may be vegan in one country and not in another country – even if the ingredient list is the same.
Oreos contain plain white sugar, which may be processed with bone char. Bone char helps the sugar achieve a bright white color – but it’s not listed as an ingredient on sugar that uses it. Since sugar is only processed with bone char and doesn’t contain bone char, it’s hard to know if one sugar company is vegan or not. With Oreos specifically, we don’t even know what sugar brand or company they work with. In some countries, the sugar may use bone char, but it might not in other countries – it really depends on the specific sugar in that region of the world.
White sugar is not something all vegans avoid, but if you prefer to avoid it then it’s best to avoid Oreos.
Confectioner’s glaze is a nice way of saying lac bug resin. It’s made directly from shellac, a resin secretion produced by lac bugs, primarily in Thailand and India. We contacted a shellac harvester from India and they shared that it takes about 300,000 lac bugs to produce 1 kilogram of shellac. Lac bugs naturally have short lifespans and aren’t intentionally killed during the harvest of the resin, but many female bugs and eggs do die. Peta quotes that ~100,000 lac bugs die to produce 1 pound of resin, which is misleading since that number includes those lac bugs dying of natural causes, like old age. Even so, much like honey, it’s nearly impossible to harvest shellac without some death to the bugs – especially in large-scale operations.
Confectioner’s glaze is currently found in the Birthday Cake flavored Oreos.
Though vegan by nature, those who are vegan for animal welfare often avoid palm oil which is found in nearly all Oreos products.
Vegan and Non-Vegan Oreo Flavors
We’ve listed all of the current vegan Oreos and non-vegan Oreos below, along with their ingredients. Note: We gathered this information directly from Oreo’s website.
Shortly put, all non-dipped Oreos are vegan except for the Birthday Cake Flavor Oreos that contain shellac (confectioner’s glaze). Vegan Oreos include the limited-edition Lady Gaga Oreos and Brookie-O Oreos.
Any Oreos that contain a dip or glaze are not vegan, including the new OreoiD “make your own.”
Going vegan is so exciting! There are so many reasons to go vegan (we’ll touch on that below), and whatever your reason is – you’re here. And you’re at least curious about making this lifestyle change
Before we dive in, I want to touch on some specifics. Then, we’ll go over some tips for transitioning to a vegan diet. Lastly, we’ll answer the most commonly asked questions about going vegan.
What is a vegan?
A vegan is someone who makes a conscious choice to avoid animal products to the best of their ability.
This includes meat, dairy products (cheese, yogurt, butter, etc.), eggs, honey, leather, and fur. Some products contain animal products that are harder to identify, like carmine (a red food dye made from crushed beetles), vitamin D3 (made from the fat found in sheep’s wool), and bone char (used in processing sugar).
What’s the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian?
A vegan tries to avoid all animal products. A vegetarian doesn’t eat meat but may eat animal by-products including eggs, honey, and dairy products. Vegetarianism extends only to the diet, whereas veganism extends beyond diet and into lifestyle (like avoiding leather clothing or fur coats).
What’s the difference between being vegan and being plant-based?
“Vegan” and “plant-based” are often used interchangeably, though they’re actually quite different.
Vegan has a very specific definition (avoiding all animal products to the best of your ability). Plant-based is more flexible in definition, with the core meaning that you eat primarily foods derived from plants.
Some people eat plant-based and include some animal products in their diet, like fish or eggs. Others use plant-based to describe a vegan diet that excludes all animal products (but doesn’t extend to lifestyle).
A vegan may or may not be plant-based, and a plant-based eater may or may not be vegan (some are vegan and just prefer the title of plant-based).
Why should I go vegan?
Going vegan is a big decision. After all, a vegan diet is classified as being restrictive. And the lifestyle entails even more – like avoiding leather and fur. But the reasons to go vegan far outweigh the inconveniences for many people.
The biggest reason to go vegan is for the animals. Using animal products contributes to animal suffering. Despite attempts to justify this, there’s no getting around the suffering you’re causing by consuming animal products.
Every single person can make a massive impact in regards to animal welfare. One less animal eaten is one life saved – and that life can be saved by just one person making the switch to a vegan diet. For me, if I spare the life of one animal, a whole lifetime of being vegan is more than worth it.
There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance surrounding animal products. Marketers try to make it seem like the animals are well cared for and happy, when that’s rarely the case.
While meat is pretty self-explanatory (an animal has to be killed to get meat), animal by-products can be more confusing.
What’s wrong with dairy? See here. What’s wrong with eggs? See here. (warning: graphic images) What’s wrong with honey? See here.
For eggs, there ARE some who argue that they can be consumed ethically when properly sourced. For example, a pet rescue hen lays an unfertilized egg. Eating that egg isn’t contributing to any form of animal suffering. However, coming across an abandoned egg laid by a pet rescue hen is an extremely rare and unlikely scenario.
What about eggs from non-rescued backyard hens? They seem happy! The problem with eggs from backyard hens is that those hens were sourced from somewhere – most likely purchased from a breeder or feed/farm store. The industry producing those chicks to be sold to backyard hens is gruesome and 100% contributes to animal suffering (after all, they have to dispose of the male chicks that no one wants – it’s pretty grim).
Ultimately, increasing demand will increase supply. And vice versa. By saying no to animal products, the market will see less demand, create less supply, and less animals will suffer as a result.
Save the Planet & People
“The farm animal sector is the single largest anthropogenic user of land, contributing to many environmental problems, including global warming and climate change,” – EHP journal.
There are a lot of ways to reduce your environmental impact. Going vegan is just one of those ways. However, the impacts of avoiding animal products, especially meat, are massive.
For instance, the majority of soybeans grown are used to feed livestock. They could be used to feed people…AND the space used to raise the livestock could be dedicated to plant-food sources, resulting in a much larger production of food. Less people would go hungry. Global warming would slow.
Ultimately, the impacts that going vegan can have on the environment also contribute to minimizing suffering. When the environment thrives, plants thrive, wildlife thrives, and humans can survive – and less sentient beings suffer.
There’s no denying that eating more plants results in better health. Study after study has shown this to be true. However, just because you choose to go vegan doesn’t mean you’ll choose to eat more plants. MOST people do end up increasing their fruit and veg consumption and reducing “junk” food consumption. But not always. So I just want to put it out there that going vegan isn’t inherently healthier.
That said, many people experience health benefits when transitioning to a vegan diet that’s largely plant-based. A lot of people experience desired weight loss, clearer skin, and reduced risk for disease.
In general, vegans have… Lower rates of high blood pressure (see here and here). Lower risk of type-2 diabetes (see here). Lower risk of cancer (see here and here). Lower cholesterol levels (see here).
Tips For Transitioning To A Vegan Diet
Once you decide to make the transition to a vegan diet (and lifestyle), you may be unsure of how to get started. After all, if you’re going vegan to reduce suffering, you probably want to be successful. Unfortunately, most people who become vegan actually don’t last as vegan – the turnover rate is pretty high. This isn’t because there’s something wrong with the vegan diet or lifestyle, but there is a lot of misinformation out there that can really set you up for failure.
Transitioning to a vegan diet slowly and thoughtfully will help you ensure success for years to come.
Check out these 7 tips to help you transition to a sustainable vegan diet:
Start slowly. While it’s easy to get caught up in emotions of wanting to reduce suffering, starting and transitioning slowly can reduce a lot more suffering in the long run by helping you establish a really strong foundation.
Trying to go vegan overnight often results in binges of non-vegan foods. It can lead to feelings of failure when you don’t eat enough and end up too hungry – and “quit” as a result. Allow yourself time to properly plan out your meals and buy ingredients.
Go into the vegan lifestyle with a mindset of “progress” over “perfection” and you’ll be much happier. Veganism isn’t a destination,, but a way of choosing to live every day. It’s ok if you’re not perfect. Nobody is. What matters is that you’re trying your best.
Make a “transition list.” Do you ever think, “I’d go vegan, but I love cheese too much.” Or, “I’d go vegan, but I could never give up ice cream,”? It’s normal to feel hesitant about giving up your favorite foods. Food and eating are complex and can be tied back to childhood, fond memories, culture, and identity, so give yourself some grace.
To get started, create a list of 3-5 foods that you’d never want to give up. Think of specific things, like your favorite gouda cheese with your salads or your daily tea with honey. Try to avoid broad items, like “beef,” or “milk.” Instead, write down “hamburger patties,” or “2% milk in coffee.”
When you’re working to transition to a vegan diet, cut out all animal products – except for the items on your transition list. This allows you to more comfortably and realistically work towards a vegan diet.
If you try to be really “strict” and cut out, say, your morning coffee creamer – you MIGHT struggle so much that you give up altogether. But if your coffee creamer is on your transition list, then you can enjoy that with a vegan breakfast and still make a massive impact.
Create vegan versions of your favorite meals. When going vegan, a lot of people wonder, “What do I eat now?” Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules to what to eat. Just like there are a ton of ways to eat a non-vegan diet, there are a ton of ways to eat a vegan diet as well.
To get some ideas of what might work well for you, look at your favorite non-vegan meals. Then, try to make them vegan!
Love spaghetti and meatballs? Try spaghetti and Morning Star “Meat” Balls.
Eat a breakfast burrito every morning? Try subbing the eggs with tofu, the cheese with a veg version, and the meat with a mock meat. You’d be surprised at far how vegan alternatives have come – there’s still a long ways to go, but you can make some pretty delicious meals with them.
Some meals are even naturally vegan, like lentil stews, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a lot of breakfast cereals, and more.
Eat protein-rich foods. Protein is important to get on any diet, but especially a vegan diet. A lot of new vegans make the mistake of replacing protein sources like meat and eggs with carb-heavy foods like bread and pasta. This results in feeling unsatisfied, struggling to build muscle, and possibly overeating.
Pay attention to the nutrition facts of the food you’re eating. Make sure that every meal and snack you eat has a protein source.
Good vegan protein sources include lentils, tofu, tempeh, some mock meats, and beans. There are also some bagels, wraps, soy yogurts, and other pre-made foods that have a lot of protein. You just have to seek out the protein-rich versions.
Eat enough calories. A lot of new vegans eat high volume, low-calorie foods, like fruits and vegetables, which can result in undereating. It’s important to eat enough food and make sure you’re meeting your body’s needs.
If you’re struggling to eat enough, try including more calorie-dense foods, like certain mock meats, breads, crackers, peanut butter, nuts, or seeds.
Learn to cook. Take some time to learn how to make a few different staple vegan meals. A good way to do this is to choose a few meals (maybe meals you love pre-going-vegan and veganized) and get really comfortable cooking them.
It’s a good idea for anyone to know how to cook, vegan or not, and life in the kitchen will be SO much easier if you learn some basic skills, like how to chop vegetables properly, or how to press tofu.
Get familiar with your local takeout menus. Even if you eat at home most of the time, there are usually instances in life when you’re going to eat out. Whether that’s for a work meeting, a get-together with friends, or a takeout and Netflix night, you’ll probably be eating out at some point after going vegan.
Take a look at the restaurants in your area and learn which ones offer vegan items. Even if they don’t list “vegan” on the menu, there’s a good chance they offer something – like french fries, a pasta dish, or something with beans instead of meat. Knowing what places have what will help reduce the stress of eating out, especially eating out last minute.
Answers To Commonly Asked Questions
Can I get everything I need from a vegan diet? Yes, but it requires proper planning! B12 – This needs to be supplemented, or consumed in fortified foods (like B12 containing soy milk). Iodine – Consume iodized salt or seaweed on a consistent basis. Or, opt for a supplement that contains iodine.
My favorite foods have animal products – what do I do? You don’t have to go all-in overnight. Ultimately, if you go vegan EXCEPT for those few foods you aren’t yet willing to give up, then you’re still making a massive impact and reducing suffering.
Is soy ok to eat? I heard it causes hormone issues. Soy is a nutrient-dense, protein-rich food. Vegans and non-vegans alike can thrive eating soy and soy products.
What should I do with the non-vegan food I purchased before going vegan? That’s a personal decision. You can eat it or give it to friends or family. It’s best not to throw food away, as that contributes to unnecessary waste.
Can my kids go vegan, too? Absolutely. A properly planned vegan diet is suitable for all stages of life. Find more information on vegan nutrition for kids here.
What do I do if I fail and eat animal products? You’re not failing. And it’s ok. Just go back to eating vegan, but don’t beat yourself up about it.
Is being vegan natural? Aren’t we designed to eat meat? “Natural” and how we’re “designed” is subjective to personal interpretation. Either way, we’re not concerned about being “natural” – we’re concerned about being healthy and reducing suffering in our modern world.
My medication isn’t vegan. Does that mean I can’t be vegan? You can be vegan and still have non-vegan medications, procedures, and immunizations.