Down to Earth Advice from Four All American Vegans
We are typical American family: Mom and Dad, teenaged daughter and son. We live in the burbs. We drive a mini-van. We eat white bread, love baseball and a good barbeque on the Fourth of July. To look at us, you’d never suspect that we are vegan, and that’s just the way we like it. Why? Because we are living proof that the stereotypes so often associated with veganism just aren’t true. Not only can you be a vegan and relate to the average American, you can be the kind of vegan the average American can relate to as well.
Contrary to the images that come to mind when most people hear the word “vegan,” we aren’t health food nuts. We aren’t obsessed with Omega 3s or “gluten free” and we couldn’t care less what grains ancient people used to eat. We don’t visit Ayurvedic or homeopathic “healers.” We aren’t Hare Krishna or Buddhists. We are typical Americans who have made the simple choice to swear off eggs, meat and dairy products, and to consume the abundantly available alternatives to those foods instead. In fact, if you peeked inside our house while we are eating dinner you might not be able to tell we are vegan by looking at our food, either. Our meals look the same as those most Americans eat and in many cases taste very similar, but they are made with alternatives to animal ingredients instead of real ones. We eat hot dogs and hamburgers with French fries, fried “chicken” with mashed potatoes and gravy and BBQ ribs with cornbread and coleslaw. For dessert, we enjoy cookies, cupcakes, jello and, of course, apple pie a la mode.
As long time vegans, the authors of a vegan cookbook and the parents of two vegan-since-birth kids (our daughter, Riley is 16, our son, Willoughby, is 12), we are asked a lot of questions about being vegan. Some of them are simple questions about vegan products, such as “Are there any vegan chewing gums?” or “Do you have any recommendations for a good egg replacer?” Others involve social issues pertaining to veganism such as “How do you handle holidays with non-vegan family members?” or “How do you respond when friends or family are unsupportive of your choice to raise your kids as vegans?” Because some of these issues are common ones, we decided to make our answers public, to start a “Ask a Vegan” column to post our answers to these and other common questions we are asked and to encourage the submission of others.
Is there something about veganism you’ve always wanted to know but didn’t know who to ask? Have you been researching veganism and have questions about it, but are feeling a bit overwhelmed or intimidated by all the dogma unrelated to veganism that is so often associated with it, such as having to swear off processed foods, white flour or sweeteners that don’t meet someone’s preferred glycemic index? If so, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll keep it simple. We’ll keep it convenient. We’ll keep it ethical. And we promise to never, ever scold you for loving your food deep fried or covered with a sugary glaze. In fact, we’ve only got five rules: 1. No meat, 2. No dairy, 3. No eggs, 4. No honey, and 5. There are no other rules.
For us, being vegan is simple, delicious and more convenient than ever before, and we want to help you feel the same way about it, too. We’re happy to help, so please, don’t hesitate to ask!
Here’s a question about honey:
I sometimes use organic raw honey or bee pollen. I have been told that if you purchase from a responsible company that this does not harm bees in any way or contribute to their demise. However, the reaction I have received from some vegans makes me feel like I just ate a double cheese burger! What is your opinion?
Let’s assume that you could find a brand of honey that did not result in harming any bees and was produced in a manner that did not thwart natural bee behavior. You can’t, as we explain below, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend you can: would that mean that eating such honey is okay?
When you purchase and consume products that rightly belong to other living creatures, you condone the view that it is okay to regard those items as a morally neutral source of food. We believe that as long as humans regard honey as food, there will invariably be those who choose to meet that demand through less scrupulous means than others, especially given that in order to meet the huge overall demand for such products in our society, honey must be produced on a large scale and that inevitably means without regard for the suffering or killing of bees.
Thankfully, the consumption of honey, while an age-old practice, is one that can, with time, disappear, just like the eating of meat, eggs and dairy products eventually can. In order for that to happen, there must be people who reject the notion that it is acceptable to use the flesh or products of other species as food and who model for others the ease and viability with which alternative, humane choices can be made. That is, in fact, the motivating philosophy behind our vegan advocacy and why we so enthusiastically promote vegan analogs of traditional foods: to show people how easy it is to forsake animal-based foods in favor of often identical tasting foods made with only plant-based ingredients. Honey is easily replaced with agave, sugar, maple or brown rice syrups, among other sweeteners.
And while the production of each of those sweeteners no doubt inadvertently and unfortunately harms insects, too (through the sowing of seeds, mechanical harvesting or processing, for example) there is a distinction: such foods, being plant-based, do not also perpetuate the harmful ideas that accompany the production and consumption of honey, ideas which thereby further delay the day when humanity will become more conscientious about how we produce even our plant-based foods. We hope that future generations will be motivated to find the least invasive means of planting, harvesting and processing our foods, and one way we can encourage that eventual discussion is to move society further down the road to a more humane future by rejecting, out of hand, the idea that animals, insects and the products they produce for themselves are ours for the taking.
So we oppose the consumption of honey as much on a philosophical basis as any other. Vegans are living proof that there is a kinder, gentler way for humans to meet their needs, one that does not rely on exploiting our fellow creatures. As is apt to most occasions and at the risk of sounding cliché, we quote the great Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
But to get back to your original question about purchasing honey “from a responsible company that this does not harm bees in any way or contribute to their demise,” we do not believe that such a company exists. The truth is that there are many practices common to both commercial and hobby beekeepers alike that undermine the welfare or result in the death of bees, regardless of whether they are “organic” or self-label themselves “humane.” These include to varying degrees acquiring queens from sources that have artificially inseminated those queens with drones who are killed, shipping queens to beekeepers through the post office–a process which can cause queens to become over heated, chilled, handled roughly and becoming forgotten in shipping containers for days, only to die slowly; killing and replacing an older queen after just one or two years to ensure maximum production (a queen bee can naturally live up to five years); smoking hives to discourage bee aggression when honeycombs are being taken or hives are being manipulated; the inadvertent smashing and stepping on of bees that occurs when beekeepers remove or replace honeycomb trays, place lids and traps on parts of the hive, not to mention the bee stings that can occur from defensive bees, all of which result in their death.
Moreover, although beekeepers claim that bees naturally produce extra honey, this isn’t necessarily true. Bees make honey to satisfy perceived demand. When humans remove filled honeycombs and replace them with empty ones, the bees are naturally inclined to fill them in. Moreover, under natural conditions, if the bees in a hive were producing a great surplus due to an increased population of bees, they would divide into two colonies and there would be none wasted.
Hives are often prevented from dividing or swarming by beekeepers in order to avoid losing bees and therefore maximum honey production. If bees were left to themselves, each colony would cast one or more swarms each year. Bees cannot produce surplus honey in any large amounts and swarm, because the honey they would store if they did not swarm is used in building new combs and rearing brood. Colonies which are prevented from swarming are the ones which produce the largest amount of surplus honey. The object then as beekeepers is to prevent swarming so far as possible since their aim is the production of surplus honey. There are many methods employed by beekeepers to prevent swarming, including destroying brood and queen larvae, confining the queen and clipping the queen bees’ wings so she cannot fly away (although sometimes she may try anyway, only to fall out of the hive and to the ground where, if she is not discovered, she will die) .
So, regardless of whether you want to look at it from a philosophical or practical standpoint, we believe the answer is the same.
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© 2017 Nathan & Jennifer Winograd