Eating honey is a very controversial topic in the vegan community so if you are prone to anger perhaps you can direct it towards positive change. The goal of this post it to dive into backyard honey production systems to see if honey on small local scales can be produced in ethical and sustainable ways. Lets all try to find these solutions together.
Here is a video beginning to describe my stance on this. This blog post has much more detail.
What are Americas Sugar Sources?
Sugar can be derived from all sorts of plants, however frequently these plants tend to be from tropical regions meaning that they need to be shipped far distances to arrive on my little old doorstep. lets dive into what some of these sugars are and how they are produced. (If you really want to go down this sugar rabbit hole Wikipedia has a wealth of production information)
- White Sugar: is mainly derived from GMO sugar beets meaning they spray herbicides and pesticides on the crops inhibiting wildlife.
- Brown Sugar: is comprised of white sugar with sugar cane molasses added to it. While this lowers the calories per serving the concerns regarding white sugar still apply. In addition to its production having more processing steps.
- Cane Sugar: is produced from sugar cane in tropical/subtropical regions. The processing of sugar cane also expels carbon monoxide.
- Corn Syrup: is generally derived from GMO corn in the US. A system that sprays herbicides and insecticides to prevent wildlife.
- Coconut Sugar: Coconut trees are of course tropical and the sugar needs to be shipped.
- Stevia: Produced in warmer climates. does not substitute as a true sugar for bread production
- Brown Rice Sugar: Produced from Brown rice and small amounts of barley through fermentation. Not produced in my local area.
- Xylitol: Being non fermentable this is not a true sugar and cannot be used in bread production.
- Agave nectar: Agave is grown in southern states and Mexico. Cannot be produced in my area.
- Sorghum syrup: An annual crop grown in southern states. Not available in my area.
- Maple syrup: Produced frequently on the east coast and in other temperate areas (Canada). Could be produced in my local area, but is not.
Out of all of these sources I see maple syrup of birch syrup as the most sustainable and viable in my local area, on account of no one producing it locally, I will continue to purchase ethical honey produced from 20 miles away.
How Honey Stacks Up (…on pancakes!)
Honey can be produced in ones back yard! Making it potentially one of the most local sources of sugar a pancake lovin’ gal could ever hope for. The processing of honey is minimal because it is already in its honey form in nature, even though it may be hidden in the comb. Honey is fermentable and can be used to make bread and tasty meads!
Knowing your beekeeper is an integral part of ensuring that you have ethically raised and sustainably produced honey. If you don’t have the opportunity to know your honey farmer, you must research before you buy. Often in large scale production systems bees are mistreated, abused and killed off for the sake of upping production and minimizing costs.
Local backyard farmers don’t need to do this to get the benefits from all that a hive of bees has to offer.
How Bees Help Small Farmers (and backyard gardeners!)
Bees are pollinators that help flowering or “fruit” producing crops to bear fruit. In a small organic backyard garden you can see your harvests skyrocket after the addition of bees, all because of increased pollination. while most small gardens and farms do have native bees and wasps on them when crops are flowering, having a secure habitat for pollinators is a great way to ensure the best pollination rates.
We all know that bees are a vital part of our plant based agricultural systems, so i don’t see why we should choose to neglect the vital role they play in systems just to be “vegan.” Bees do a lot of important work on farms and if you want apples, you had better thank the bees.
Bees don’t need a lot of honey to live through the winter and they always produce a surplus in the peak season. Because of this I do not feel bad having my farmer take 20-40% of their honey for our own use. John Kohler with OK Raw.com has a great emotionally touching video about this here.
We provide the bees with beautiful hives with a habitat of constant flowers and sources of nectar. And in return we get some honey. That is a no brainier math equation for me.
This may not make me a strict vegan but I will eat honey until I can grow and tap and process my own sugar maple /birch trees. Because that may be a while, I am happy knowing my farmer and eating their ethically raised sustainably produced honey.
What are your thoughts? Do you know of any more ethical and sustainable sugar sources produced in your area? Leave a comment down below!