Spotting my “Go Vegan” T-shirt, the mushroom guy at the farmers’ market fixed his stare on me and said, “What about honey?”
Having been vegan for a while, I knew that question was a ruse. The REAL question is, “How crazy are you?” and/or “Anyone who’s whacked out enough to befriend insects must be a TOTAL loser.”
In the good old days I used to like to answer the honey inquiry with a casual, “Oh, I don’t worry about honey too much” as proof of my sanity. No problem here – just move along, folks.
But unfortunately now I do worry about honey, or more, specifically, about the bees. As anyone who has not been living under a rock knows, the bees are having a rough time. And as anyone who studied fourth grade science knows, we need the freaking bees.
So this time, with the mushroom guy, I decided to be honest: “Actually, I’m kind of worried about the bee population.” He understood that and suddenly seemed interested. “Did you know that Einstein said we only had four years left after the bees are gone?” I continued.
Then he seemed upset, which made me feel kind of guilty, so I tried: “Look we’ve got mushrooms! They don’t need pollinators.”
My attempt at making the guy feel better didn’t really work: “Yeah we can all live underground eating mushrooms,” he said.
When I got home, I looked it up and found out the Einstein quote is an urban myth. Einstein probably didn’t say it. And if all the bees keel over, we WILL be in deep doo doo, but probably not all dead in four years. Bee pollination is responsible for about one third of our food I learned.
So does honey production actually hurt bees? Is it why we’re seeing so much colony collapse?
I can’t say I know the answer to that question. Obviously, mono-cropping hurts bees and probably the widespread use of herbicides such as Round-Up and neonicotinoid insecticides hurts bees, but what about raising bees for honey?
The first thing humans might want to know is that bees make honey for themselves not for us, just like dairy cows make milk for their calves, not for us. The bees gather the nectar from blossoming flowers and make honey so they’ll have something to eat during the winter.
But once the honey’s made, some bee keepers harvest the honey in fall and spring, substituting sugar water for the honey. (It’s similar for calves – they get high fructose corn syrup instead of mother’s milk.) Maybe bees do fine on sugar water, but backyard bee keeper Chris Combs doubts it:
“I don’t bring anything into the hives that the bees wouldn’t bring in there themselves,” he said.
Combs calls the sugar water the “bee equivalent of McDonald’s.” He only harvests honey in the spring when it’s clear the bees themselves will have enough honey to eat: “This is not about harvesting honey but about what keeps bees healthy,” he told ECO – RI News.
There’s speculation that the urban farm movement is helping to keep bees alive. Normally, I’m not a cheerleader for the urban farm movement, especially when it involves chickens and goats, but if they’re helping the bees to survive, that’s a good thing.
— A Vicious Vegan blog post —
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If you haven’t read it yet, there is an OP-ED article from this week’s New York Times, called “Our Bees, Ourselves: Bees and Colony Collapse”, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/opinion/bees-and-colony-collapse.html?emc=edit_ty_20140715&nl=opinion&nlid=45965862&_r=1