Raise your hand if you’ve ever used honey instead of straight-up table sugar and given yourself a slow clap because of it. Yep, thought so.
The jury’s out on whether honey is actually any better for you than refined sugars, but if you’re vegan, you might want to steer clear of that innocent-looking plastic bear.
I know what you’re thinking: seriously?! Let me break it down for you…
Wait, why wouldn’t vegans eat honey?
Technically, The Vegan Society—which helped make the modern idea of veganism a thing in the 1940s—defines veganism as:
So, yes, honey is derived from bees. And you could also make the argument that honey “exploits” bees—so it’s off-limits for vegans, explains New York-based R.D. Jessica Cording.
But…there’s a totally legit reason some vegans used to eat honey!
When The Vegan Society was first becoming a thing, it was just six people who considered themselves “non-dairy vegetarians” and felt like they needed a better name for themselves. As you probably figured, they happened to be vegetarians who also avoided dairy. So it makes sense that, for more than 20 years, The Vegan Society left it up to vegans to decide for themselves whether they wanted to consume honey, says Victoria Moran, author of Main Street Vegan.
The definition of veganism evolved over the years, and in the late ’80s, it was set as the above—which means vegans have been told to avoid honey for the past 20 years. The Vegan Society is also now clear that they feel honey is produced using “unethical practices”—and that it has negative effects on the environment.
Most people today agree that, no, honey is not vegan.
“It does come from an insect,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet, “and vegans do not consume any food that is an animal product.”
Still, it’s understandably a little complicated, especially if you want to take a really close look at the ethical reasons behind this decision. “Bees are factory-farmed as pollinators,” Moran says. “They’re put in trucks and taken to pollinate blueberries in Maine or almonds in California. Vegans are eating these foods, and it’s a little tricky to say that honey from a small beekeeper who is in love with bees is less vegan-friendly than the blueberries and almonds grown with the help of bees.” 🤷🏻♀️
If you follow a strict vegan diet and you love the taste of honey, there are a few substitutes you should look into.
One is something called Bee Free Honee, which is a plant-based sustainable “honey” made from organic apples. “They have several varieties, including one infused with flower pollen,” Moran says.
Maple syrup or agave nectar are other good options, Cording points out.
For the record, the vegan police are not going to fly in and beat you with asparagus stalks if you consume something with honey in it. But if you want to be strict about your vegan diet, it’s probably best to take a pass.
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