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I was thinking of following a vegan diet for health reasons. I tried it for a week during a "cleanse" and it wasn't so bad, even though I love steak and eggs. I was just curious though if honey is considered vegan or not. It's an animal (bee) byproduct, right? The only difference maybe is that it's something bee's make naturally, although if we farm them for the honey it's not exactly humane (see A Bee Movie).

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    If you're doing it for health reasons, I don't think this is the important question. Yes, it's an animal product - but does it share the nutritional characteristics of other animal products that you're trying to avoid? Corn syrup is vegan, but is it really going to be better for your health than honey? – Cascabel Jul 6 '11 at 23:33
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    To be honest I do not understand the problem. You do not seem to be concerned with the fact of eating animal-derived products, so if your only reason to follow a vegan diet is to eat healthy food, well then honey is quite an healthy food if eaten correctly, pretty much as any other food. Sola dosis facit venenum :) – nico Jul 8 '11 at 17:47
  • Well I don't actually tend to eat that much sugar or sugar substitutes anyway. The question was mainly just a matter of curiosity. Regardless, I think having some kind of strict rule helps me to avoid temptation, so the theory is if I can just pretend to be vegan I'll generally eat better. I grew up on microwave dinners and cheese-filled hot dogs so I'm trying to retrain my diet and I'm trying to become better educated in the nutrition department. – redbmk Jul 8 '11 at 18:16
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    If there was ever a question tempting to just put a complete answer of "No." .... :) – rackandboneman Feb 13 '17 at 14:34
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Honey is not vegan. In short, the core tenet of veganism is living without exploiting anything in the animal kingdom, and most (if not all) vegans consider taking honey from bees a form of exploitation.

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    A direct corollary would be milk. Also, honey can sometimes contain insect parts apparently. – mfg Jul 6 '11 at 21:27
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    +1: If you take anything (other than excrement...Probably) from anything that has eyes or a face, it's not vegan. – Satanicpuppy Jul 6 '11 at 21:55
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    All vegetable mater has animals or animal parts in it. You try growing something without bugs getting in to it! – TFD Jul 6 '11 at 22:28
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    @TFD: There are some ultra-orthodox Jewish and Muslim communities who are actually refusing to eat or serve broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, etc., because they might have tiny insects. Wouldn't be that much of a stretch for the truly obsessive vegans to start doing the same... once they cotton on to the trend. – Aaronut Jul 7 '11 at 0:33
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    I've met one person who was otherwise vegan who had an exemption for honey. Her reasoning was that bee keepers set up environments that allow the bees to create far more honey than would be 'naturally' possible, with the same amount of work. As a result they produce more than they actually need, so taking the excess is ok and not exploitation but more of a reciprocal relationship (bees obviously cannot be imprisoned - if the conditions are not to their liking they will leave). YMMV, obviously. – jam Jun 18 '13 at 10:39
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I'm vegan, and don't eat honey, but I think it very much depends on why you went vegan. If it's for health then I don't think it makes a difference. If you want to get into a moral argument you can make the case that it's closer to using wool than using milk... (I don't make the argument, but I respect that people can) but the choice is yours - it was a pretty easy choice for me as I didn't like honey to start with... :)

  • As for environmental, economic, and animal cruelty reasons, wool and milk and honey are equivalent. They all rely on support of "exploitive" animal economies. I don't want to come across as argumentative as honey can make for flames with some vegans, but I fail to see your argument contrasting milk and wool, could you expand on that in your answer? – mfg Jan 20 '12 at 22:34
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    Um... I was being quite careful not to make the argument, I was mentioning it in the context that I've been in the presence of people who used the same reasoning. :) – Joe Jan 20 '12 at 23:46
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This is purely a semantics question. It depends on how you define "vegan." If you define vegan to mean something like "contains no animal products," then honey is not vegan. Can you be vegan if you eat honey, or can honey be part of a vegan diet? Those are more slippery questions. I know many people who identify as vegan and practice veganism for various combinations of health, environmental and ethical reasons, who choose to consume honey.

In my experience, there isn't really a such thing as being a vegan for health reasons, because I do not know of any vegan diets whose purpose is to optimize nutrition. For instance, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week. I have never met someone who identifies as vegan primarily for health reasons. The only people I know who never "cheat" on their vegan diets are vegan strongly for ethical reasons. However, it may be a healthy step for you to take in your diet because exposing yourself to the vegan community may lead to you eating a lot more food that is healthy for you and a lot less food that is unhealthy for you. Would the vegan community accept you if you still consumed honey? Depends on the people, but in my experience with vegan communities as someone who still consumes fish, probably.

Could you identify as vegan if you still consumed honey? Sure, that's up to you. Will other people agree that you are vegan or accept you as a vegan? In my experience, non-vegans will consistently think of a honey-inclusive diet as vegan, partly because they, like you up to before you asked this question, haven't given it much thought. Strict vegans who don't eat honey might not, but I don't see any reason this should be important to you.

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Semantic question, I subscribe, but I'd like to add a consideration. Let's think to the reason why people became vegan.

  • Cultural reasons? Surely this is not the case of western vegan movement (on the contrary, not rarely vegans are despised for they choice)
  • Religion reasons? Surely some eastern religion push to veganism, but in western context religion plays no role in vegan choice. Personally, I'm atheist, like the few vegan I know.
  • Health reasons? Man is omnivore, why don't eat animal food should be healthier? (normally vegan diet is not dangerous, but evidently this is not a reason to became vegan)
  • Love for animals? I don't find this plays an important role in vegan movement. Personally, I hate that stupid and smelly being (but not so much to improve torture on them with my food choice)

In most of cases western people became vegan simply because they don't like causing terrible pains (castrations, spending life in a cage big as your body, violent killing, etc., look for example to mercyforanimals investigations and sites) for very frivolous reasons (meat taste, urban legend that veganism is normally dangerous for health, etc.). Maybe there are more important problems in the world, but none with a so simply and not demanding solution. Most of western vegan did this choice after consideration that only for very important reason (medical research, for example) we could eventually cause pain to a living being (I said "pain", so I'm speaking about living being with a complex nervous system, not about vegetables or micro-organisms). So veganism has many roots (economic, ecological, etc.) but fight against useless pain is surely the first one. Now, having said all that... what about honey? The question is: "bees feel pain?", or more precisely: "honey industry cause pain?". I'm vegan and I eat honey, because I suppose the answer is "not" (but I'd like to know biology answer).

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    However, for culinary purposes, above recommendation to not consider it vegan is proper. The fact that products with honey or beeswax in them do not usually get labelled vegan by manufacturers that do label their vegan/vegetarian products should paint a clear picture of the accepted norms around that term. – rackandboneman Dec 7 '15 at 11:51
  • Of course I agree, product labeled vegan in market doesn't have honey. Anyway I wouldn't use this fact as unquestionable criterion about the meaning of the word vegan. Food producers logically take a decision prudent, that doesn't give any trouble and match all potential buyer. Anyway I suspect that many vegan eat honey. I won't quarrel about this question, simply I think that the meaning of this word, as it is used in society, is a bit ambiguous. – Fausto Vezzaro Dec 10 '15 at 21:44
  • Most groups advocating veganism will also discourage honey. – rackandboneman Dec 11 '15 at 9:02
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For ethical vegans (i.e. for whom ethical reasons alone are enough to follow a vegan lifestyle) the question of whether honey is vegan largely a question of whether bugs feel pain, and if they do, how much of suffering does a bee life contain.

Since insect sentience is an open question, and knowing the farming industry's usual horrific treatment even of mammals and birds, honey is seldom considered vegan.

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    My visiting vegan ate our honey, because he knew for a fact that the bees had set up home in the (stored, empty) hives, and that we had moved the hives out of the shed for them and given them wax frames to store their honey in, saving them all the energy of making that wax, in exchange for which we took half the honey. (I know, they didn't fully consent to the deal, just moved into the hives, but hey, I didn't consent to their moving in.) He considered them volunteers and so ate our honey, but not honey from stores. Your vegans may vary. PS we never hurt our bees and we protected them too. – Kate Gregory Feb 13 '17 at 18:16
  • @KateGregory unfortunately, a typical bee farmer, for whom honey is a primary source of income, seems highly unlikely to be that benevolent toward the honey-producing machines. Personally, I deem irresponsible bringing into existence any sentient being. – Alexandr Nil Feb 13 '17 at 20:57
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    Typical bee farmers provide wax frames, insulate the hive to reduce winter kill, medicate to kill mites, and provide sugar water if the fraction of the honey left behind is not enough to sustain the hive. Unlike say dairy farmers (who choose when to breed cows and with what bull, then take away the calves after they're born) apiarists don't interfere in the reproduction process, except that a weak nonlaying queen is typically killed and replaced. My sister does that and has only one hive not kept for money but for the sake of her city ecosystem. – Kate Gregory Feb 13 '17 at 21:17
  • @KateGregory still winter kills, accidents, interspecies conflicts, and just a general expectation from a Darwinian life-form to be vulnerable and conditioned to suffering, make me prefer to not having bees in the first place. Alas, vacant places in nature never stay so for long: freed resources the bees currently consume would allow for more other bugs. Plus, agriculture still largely depends on biological polynators. Thanks for your story, btw. – Alexandr Nil Feb 13 '17 at 22:55

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