Should Vegans Eat Honey? – Vegan Life Issue 3

When you tell somebody you’re vegan and they ask you what it entails the honey aspect is usually what tips them over edge to thinking you’re ridiculous. “What harm can a bit of honey do? The bee’s give it to us for free!” is one of the most common arguments I hear. It’s not just between vegans and meat eaters either, I’ve seen many vegans arguing about honey online. So what’s the real answer?

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Vegan Life Magazine have tried to tackle the controversial argument in their January/February issue by comparing the for and against arguments. As usual they have left it up to their readers to decide what to believe but I don’t think this is a difficult decision at all.

The yes camp use the argument that not eating honey is what gives vegans such a bad name. People think we’re pedantic and over the top. Why do we care about bees? It can’t have escaped your attention that bees are in dramatic decline all over the world. Colony collapse disorder is causing hives to literally become empty shells overnight and scientists are baffled as to why. It is thought that it could be pesticides which are killing off our bees or possibly the changes to their natural environment. What is certain is that the extinction of bees would be extremely dangerous to human kind with many of our foods disappearing with them as they are not being pollinated.

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Honey is a natural food and can be harvested without harming the bees but unfortunately that usually isn’t the case. Bee’s create honey so that they have food to eat over the winter when pollen is hard to come by. If we take that honey we have to then feed them with an artificial alternative so that they can still feed. This is usually made with processed sugar, a very unnatural alternative. Honey is extremely nutritious which is one of the reasons we take it, can you imagine what happens to the bees that are fed this ridiculous alternative?

To keep up with the demand for honey beekeepers often add new layers to the hives so that the bees carry on reproducing and therefore produce more honey from their offspring. This is not natural and causes increased stress and often death. A bee would rather work itself to death than let it’s offspring die and yet the honey isn’t going anywhere near the young but being taken for humans to enjoy instead.

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The vegan lifestyle is about caring for animals and not taking advantage of them for our own benefit. While people may argue that keeping bees is stopping them from becoming extinct, nothing could be further from the truth. Keeping these vulnerable insects in hives and stealing the food they would give to their children is not what I call care. Someone who exploits bees by eating their honey cannot call themselves a vegan.

Bees and Honey – A Vegan Perspective

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As a vegan I am proud to say that I do not eat honey or use products which contain beeswax. One of the questions I get asked all the time when I tell somebody about my lifestyle is why I don’t consume or use bee products and it surprises me how little is known about where these substances come from. Most people know about the factory farming of chickens for eggs and meat but did you know that bees are put through a similar experience so that beekeepers can obtain their natural sweetener?

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The structure of a hive is a complex and interesting one. Each hive contains thousands of bees with a queen in the centre. Thousands of these are workers which carry out a number of duties, including collecting nectar and building honeycomb. Workers fly from flower to flower, collecting nectar and storing it in their stomachs where is mixed with saliva and other substances. Once back at the hive the nectar is regurgitated so that another bee can drink it and mix it with more secretions from their own stomach. This process is repeated multiple times before the honey is placed in the honeycomb and stored for the winter when they will be short of food. A single worker bee visits thousands of flowers a day but in its life will produce less than a teaspoon of honey. It is therefore a valuable commodity to populations of bees.

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Beekeepers harvest the honey in their hives early in the autumn and replace it with sugar supplements for the bees to feed themselves on. This is the equivalent of removing fruit from a child’s diet and replacing it with sugary sweets. They may keep the child alive but it will definitely not be healthy! As a result, there is a higher death rate in manmade bee hives than in the natural alternatives. Viral infections spread by mites are rife in the hive and there is also a condition called “colony collapse disorder” which kills off entire colonies of bees for so far unknown reasons. Add to this the unnatural living conditions of the flat white boxes and it becomes a familiar factory farming environment.

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Queen bees live for around seven years in a natural environment. When a new queen is provided by the workers, the current queen and a large number of the colony will “swarm”. They leave the hive and find somewhere new to nest. If this happened in a commercial hive it would cause a decrease in honey production and keepers therefore try their best to prevent it. They usually clip the wings of the queen to prevent her flying and will kill her every year, replacing her with a new queen. They will also add more wax cells to the hive to trick her into laying more eggs than she naturally would.

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It is commonly known now that bees are becoming more and more rare. The number of native species have halved in Britain in the past 50 years and many more are close to becoming extinct. If bees disappeared then we would easily lose one third of our diet due to their importance in pollinating plants. It is more important than ever to conserve our current bee populations and do what we can to ensure their survival. The bees which are not kept for honey are threatened by pesticide use, loss of habitat and climate change but we can help populations increase by organically farming and planting wildflowers which bees are attracted to.

While bees are struggling as they are I consider honey to be a luxury which we can not afford to keep taking. As a vegan I will not eat or use any substance which has been created by bees as I object to the exploitation of animals. However I would urge everybody to consider reducing their use of honey or beeswax and helping these vulnerable creatures. Honey is relatively easy to omit from your diet with the use of other sweeteners such as maple syrup or agave and many cosmetic companies have also stopped using beeswax in their lip balms and make up. Are you willing to make a minor change to your life so these creatures can live?

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Shared on Food Renegade

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Vegan Mofo #5 – A-Z of Gluten Free Veganism (Calcium)

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Welcome to day 5 of vegan month of food! We’re carrying on with our a-z of gluten free veganism with C – calcium.

All vegans are probably used to the question “where do you get your calcium?”. It’s well known that vegans are more likely to be calcium deficient which can lead to brittle bones, increased fractures and even osteoporosis. However it is a common misconception that dairy is a crucial source of calcium.  Studies have shown that dairy (cheese in particular) is not as effective at increasing calcium levels in the body as some other plant based sources. Although dairy foods have a large amount of calcium, when in the body they can also cause calcium loss which means they are not the best source for this essential mineral! Studies have also shown that high salt levels, large amounts of protein and lack of potassium can cause calcium loss. It’s therefore not as easy as it sounds to increase the amount of calcium in your diet.

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A vegan diet does have its benefits. Many types of fruit and vegetables are high in both calcium and potassium which means that calcium loss is not as big an issue. Green leafy vegetables such as kale and spring greens are particularly good for this as they also protect and strengthen bones with their vitamin K and vitamin C.

Protein also effects how calcium is absorbed. The right protein levels are essential for bone growth but too much protein can cause calcium loss, as can the wrong kind. It has been shown that increasing protein intake using white meat or fish can cause calcium loss whereas increasing protein intake using dried beans and pulses has a neutral effect. This means that a meal including beans and kale is more beneficial in terms of calcium intake than a meal of chicken and cheese.

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Other good sources of calcium in the vegan diet are almonds and enriched soya based, coconut or other nut milks. Tofu and tahini can also be good calcium sources depending on how they were made and how much salt they contain. Salt is extremely bad for calcium absorption so low salt alternatives should be used instead.

The Vegan Society have an extremely useful page on how to keep up calcium levels on a vegan diet. It includes advice and recipes so be sure to check it out here!

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Source – Vegan Society

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How do you keep your calcium levels up?

 

My Food Week (13th-20th January 2013)

As part of my new diet (that you can read about here – http://writingbeckles.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/a-new-year-a-new-me/) I’m going to be doing weekly blog posts on the foods I’ve eaten and any recipes/blogs that I’ve used. My new diet started very well with a vegan/wholefoods New Years Day dinner but then the week after I caught some kind of stomach bug and went back to eating beans on toast. I have now cut processed foods out of my diet and started cooking from scratch again. I’m therefore eating a vegan/gluten free wholefoods (as much as I can) diet and am trying out lots of new recipes. Here was my week.

Breakfasts

Every day this week I’ve been eating brown rice puffs with sliced banana, hazelnut milk and maple syrup.

 

Lunches

Rosemary "Flatbreads"

Rosemary “Flatbreads”

 

These were from Simply Gluten Free and Dairy Free by Grace Cheetham.   They were supposed to be flatbreads but mine ended up more like rolls. I pressed some rosemary into the top of them to give them some more flavour. Yummy dipped in soup!

Stir fry

Stir fry

I had some marinated tofu pieces by Cauldron in my fridge that needed using up so I made a quick stir fry with button mushrooms, red peppers, leeks, walnuts and red cabbage. It was a good quick lunch.

Broccoli Soup

Broccoli Soup

This was today’s lunch and it was perfect for the snowy weather. It’s the Cream of Broccoli Soup from the Meat Free Mondays Cookbook. I didn’t have enough broccoli though so my version had savoy cabbage and spinach in it as well.

Tea/Dinner

Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie

On Sunday I made a huge cottage pie loosely following this recipe – http://thesmithsontour.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/lentil-cottage-pie.html . The base of this pie is mushrooms and brown lentils and the topping is a mixture of potato, carrot, sweet potato, parsnip and cauliflower. I also threw some leeks and spinach in the base for extra veg. I currently have Tupperware containers of this filling my freezer drawer.

Taco Soup

Taco Soup

I had a go at this slow-cooker taco soup on Wednesday. Unfortunately I decided on it too late to use a slow cooker so I made it on the hob. I also didn’t have any sweetcorn so I used garden peas. It was really nice if a bit too spicy for me! I got the recipe from here – http://peasandthankyou.com/2012/09/24/slow-cooker-taco-soup/

Quinoa burgers

Last but not least… today’s meal was amazing. I made quinoa burgers using this recipe – http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=95685 and sweet potato fries using this one – http://speltforchoice.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/baked-paprika-sweet-potato-fries-not-sticking-to-healthy-eating-regime/.

So that’s my week of food! Next week I’m going to start recording what I eat more so I can see my progress a bit better.

Have you eaten anything new/interesting this week?