Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Should We Be Getting Honey from Bees

The Benefits of Honey 

To be beneficial to man honey needs to be eaten in its natural, unprocessed form.  When we filter it out to clarify, we take out most of its beneficial qualities.  When we heat it to pasteurize to sell in stores, we lose enzymes and vitamins and end up with honey flavored sugar. 
 Eating raw honey is like going through immunotherapy for allergies.  The tiny amounts of pollen in the honey help us to build up immunity to the pollen in the air, thus relieving our allergies.  (Found in raw honey is also propolis and beeswax.) So, if you have allergy problems, a good prevention would be to take a daily dose of raw honey for several months before your allergy season.
 When raw honey is consumed with carbohydrates, like oatmeal, the honey helps the oatmeal digest more easily--probably because of the live enzymes still in the honey.  Live enzymes can also be consumed in fresh fruits and vegetables and should be eaten before cooked foods for digestive purposes, like a salad before dinner.  Like fresh fruits and vegetables, raw honey is also full of antioxidants to help prevent cancer.

There are also claims that raw honey can be used as an antiseptic, used to help heal wounds.  It contains an antimicrobial agent that kills many types of bacteria to prevent wound infection.
The down side of eating honey is that our store bought, mass produced, processed, heated honey sold in grocery stores is no healthier than white sugar.  Raw or not, the sugars in honey can decay our teeth just as quickly as any other sugar.

In the Beginning

Honeybees are thought to have originated in the tropics because they do not do well in cool climates.
"Honey has been eaten for thousands of years. When some of the tombs were opened in Egypt, they found honey that had been put there for the entombed so they would have it in their next life. The honey had crystallized and was still perfectly good, even though it had been there for 5,000 years!" by James White  What is interesting about this story is that this raw honey preserved itself, so why do we have to put honey through the heating process?
A Bee's Life

urban bees

There are three types of Honeybees:  the male drones, the female workers, and the queen bee.  There are only about 100 males born in a hive.  When they are born, the female workers help them out of their cells and feed them.    They don't have stingers, and they don't work.  Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen.  They die as soon as they mate.  Drones that don't mate are killed. 
   The newly born female worker bees are not helped out and clean their own cells.  Worker bees live about a month.  A typical day for a worker bee is up to 12 hours long with about ten, one-hour journeys visiting hundreds of flowers a day.  They can travel 800 miles in a day.  These bees carry their body weight in pollen and nectar from flowers.  When they return to the hive, they transfer the nectar to another bee who puts it into a cell and covers the cell with wax to seal.  Pollen is stored separately.  Each set of cells is called a cone.
Should We Take Their Honey?


An enzyme in the bee's stomach turns the nectar from flowers into honey.  It takes the nectar of 5,000,000 flowers to make one pint of honey.  To make one ounce of wax requires one pound of honey.  They use that honey, mixed with pollen, to feed their young.

Americans consume hundreds of millions of pounds each year.    Because farming honey has become big business, the honeybee is now being factory farmed like cows, chickens, and pigs.  Often the queen bees wings are cut off, or she is sold.  Profits are always put ahead of animal welfare.  Factory farmed bees are transported from place to place to follow different flowering plants

Colony Collapse Disorder


Although we don't know exactly why, about 50% of the bees have vanished in the past 50 years.  People need bees for more than just honey and wax.  Bees pollenate flowering plants that cannot reproduce without being pollenated.  15-30% of our food crops rely on bees for pollination.  As a result of the decrease in bees, farmers have been experiencing a decline in harvests.
     By not foraging for food in the wild as bees would naturally do, they are exposed to crop herbicides and pesticides.  With the stress of moving frequently, being robbed of food (honey), and exposure to chemicals is it any wonder that their numbers are decreasing?
     The honeybee is not a U.S. native species.  There are 20,000 to 30,000 other bees that are native, but only the honeybee produces honey.  By striving to increase the populations of only honeybees, we are destroying the biodiversity of our ecological systems.

Honey for All

Do honeybees make more honey than they need?  For self-preservation this may be true.  Humans aren't the only predators.  Bears will find a hive in the wild and destroy it to get the honey.  Insects will sneak into the hive, maybe wait for a cold rain to slow the bees, then, steal honey.  It is possible that an individual or small farmer might be able to take some excess honey from a man-made hive that has been protected from other predators without harming the bees.     But, do we need to eat honey?  After all, there are plenty of other sweeteners that don't harm any animal.  For natural sweeteners from plants there is maple syrup, agave, stevia, rice sugar, and date sugar to name a few.  The next time you shop for food, look at the label and see if that food is made from honey.  Stop before you pick up your next jar of honey at the grocery store and think about using a different sweetener, not just for the bees, but for all species, including us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Catching Flies


Here's the Honey

When I belonged to vegetarian groups in Austin and in San Antonio, parties were frequently held and children were usually welcome.  All food was vegan, but you didn't have to be vegetarian to attend.  These social activities were well attended and lots of fun.  Not only were animal issues not discussed, but food wasn't discussed either--any more than it would be at any other party or dinner.  

I was unaware of an animal rights group in Austin but learned of one in San Antonio.  The animal rights group and the vegetarian group were separate groups.

Along with my husband and five children, we became vegetarian without having met a vegetarian.  My reason for joining groups was so that my children could meet other children who ate as we ate.  Friendships formed naturally.  My brother-in-law began dating, then married, the head of our San Antonio vegetarian group.  (P.S., He and my husband were raised on a Texas cattle ranch.) 

If you are vegetarian, and you and your vegetarian friends are enjoying life, others will want to hang out with you and be a part of your group.  I didn't know the animal issues when I became vegetarian.  My husband and children certainly didn't.  When we joined these happy, interesting vegetarians, it helped us to internalize our new eating style because our interactions were positive and enjoyable.  Had an animal rights-focused vegetarian group been our first experience with other vegetarians, I probably would not be vegetarian today.
Getty Images
Differences Between Vegetarian Groups

Over the years I have seen several different types of vegetarian groups.
  1. The Social Vegetarian Groups: These are groups like I have described above.  They always project an atmosphere of friendliness.  "Omnivores" are welcome, and their lifestyle choices aren't addressed by the group.  If the leader chooses to talk, she is breif and her message is positive, something like, "The new Mexican restaurant in town is expanding it's menu to include more vegan options, so next month we will be dining there to show support."  This group grows effortlessly, and easily takes in many new members.
  2. The Healthy Vegetarian Groups:  These are groups that focus on eating for better health.  Most of their members are striving for the perfect diet.  A typical group would be a Raw Food Group.  They accept anyone who is striving to be a raw vegetarian.  People become raw foodies for health reasons.  The group's emphasis is the food.  Since it is much more difficult to be a raw vegetarian, this group doesn't draw in a great deal of new members.
  3. The Vegetarian Groups that focus on Animal Rights:  These groups see themselves separate from animal rights groups.  These vegetarian groups focus on animal issues like factory farming, animal compassion, animal suffering and so forth.  They believe themselves to be socially open groups, but only are much in the same way that Goths or churches are socially open, more exclusive than inclusive.  Because of their somber discussions, programs, and emphasis on animal issues, their membership grows slowly.
Becoming Vegetarian

People become vegetarian for many different reasons.  I read The McDougall Plan which made sense to me.  Several months after eating tasty vegan meals, I was riding down the road and saw some cows.  "Why do we even eat meat," I thought to myself.  Personally, it didn't bother me to tell my friends and family that we were becoming vegetarian. 

I had no vegetarian image in my head (no picture of what vegetarians were supposed to think or look like).  I didn't think that people needed to be liberal or conservative to eat healthy food.  I wasn't even convinced that giving up animal foods was healthy until I tried it.  It would be years later before I started to think about animal issues.

Changing the World

Would you like to see everyone become vegetarian?  Would you like to see an end to meat consumption?  Most vegetarians I have met would say "yes".  Change comes from education and awareness, but when intelligent, informed people know the facts and still choose to eat meat, then, clearly, there is other motivation.

Look at young people who watch documentaries showing black lungs from cigarette use and receive information on drug abuse.  Why doesn't the message get to every student?  People continue bad habits because 1) they like the habit, and 2) they are part of a group of people who have the same habit. 

Being different from you group (family, friends, co-workers) is tough!  What are alcoholics told?  They are told to find new friends.  Bottom line: if you want many fewer animals to be eaten, have a vegetarian group that is fun, where friendships form easily and naturally.  Create a positive friendly environment, and invite others to join your party.  Help meat-eaters find a friendly, accepting, new peer group.