Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Friday, May 27, 2011

Vegan Update: Agave vs. Honey


A commenter is somewhat surprised I eat honey. Well, agave nectar is an alternative but the products from Whole Foods (the dominant product) are full of mercury (no really). And maple syrup endangers a whole bunch of trees (unless perhaps you live in Canada...). Bees are for sure sentient but I'm not eating them. And I think it's fairly clear that cows have by far the worst of it in comparison. In America at least, bees are at risk and (some) bee keepers are among the only human people taking care of them.

And agave nectar is basically cunningly marketed high fructose corn syrup (with attendant chemical strippers, hence the mercury). Check it out.

14 comments:

khashoggi said...

You're posing something of a false dichotomy here. I'm vegan and I don't eat agave. You could use sugar, or malt syrup, or molasses, or golden syrup, or leave it out entirely. Bees are inevitably crushed during honey production as well as many farmers killing off whole hives during the winter for reasons of economy.

Suffering aside, I don't think it's ours to take. Fortunately, it's a purely luxury product and easily substituted.

Timothy Morton said...

Hi Catriona--the dichotomy was introduced by the commenter.

khashoggi said...

The commenter didn't discount the possibility of other substitutions. You've framed the issue as a rigid honey v. agave v. maple syrup choice where one must be consumed, and this isn't fair or accurate. Nor is comparing bees' suffering to that of cows, as though one can't abstain from both bovine and insect products.

Timothy Morton said...

Well, Catriona, the honey was a gift, and it's part of my Buddhist practice to accept gifts.

Craig said...

Tim, is it likewise part of your practice to accept a steak? A glass of milk? And it is sheer nonsense to suggest that I said you can eat honey OR you can eat maple or agave. That is just stupid. Fact of the matter is that vegans who are vegans out of ethical concerns for animals do not eat honey (or molluscs, etc). There are all other sorts of "vegans"--especially those who eat this way out a concern for a diet ("It's healthier," "It's better for you," etc) or environment ("Factory farming is a major polluter"). These people aren't making a moral decision; they are making an aesthetic decision and thus are making a dietary choice ("gluten free," "no carb," "cabbage soup," "low glycemic"). There is nothing that prevents an "environmental vegan" from eating meat if it is more "environmentally sound" than a block of tofu (or whatever). Your confusion is understandable: you are new to all of this.

Timothy Morton said...

I think I've made myself fairly clear Craig. The honey was a gift and I'd rather eat it than agave nectar, sugar or maple syrup, or golden syrup, for stated reasons.

Craig said...

So long as we agree, Tim, that you aren't a vegan and that you have a bunch of psychic defense mechanisms (e.g., mercury, gift, Buddhist, trees, etc) to justify your choices even when those choices violate your stated principles (i.e., that you are vegan).

Timothy Morton said...

I don't agree. Your "arguments" are the kind of beautiful soulism that drives people to defiance.

Ruby said...

Very happy to find your blog Timothy! I know this is an old post but I was interested to see your take on veganism. I'm working on my MA at the moment and continue to find your work really valuable, as I did during my undergrad dissertation. As a side note, when I was vegan, I once snuck down a back alley to eat a milky way! Currently vegetarian and striving once again to cut out dairy completely.

vastman said...

I raise bees, have 2 thriving colonies free of diseases, never suffering from colony collapse for past 15 years on my organic urban farm which is full of pollinator plantings. You people talk up a pile of self righteous blather as while corporate farming sucks there are many of us enjoying a beautiful relationship with our bees and getting a bit of honey in the process

I'd suggest you get off your self righteous butts and really work to help preserve ecosystems need will thrive in and enjoy the flower power they imbue into their exquisite creation called "honey"

Holly said...

It's not a gift if your are stealing it

Mercedes said...

I'm vegan but honey is my sweetener of choice. I believe it's important to look at the big picture and take into consideration the environmental impact of the various options to determine a "total harm" model.

Agave and stevia are both produced with environmentally intensive processes. Then they're transported thousands of miles to where I live in Canada. The honey I buy is not refined at all, and transported a scant 3 km on the producer's way home from her day job. The bees pollinate local crops and contribute to the preservation of bee populations -- a positive ecological impact.

Another point to consider is pesticide use. Don't kid yourself into thinking millions of insects weren't killed to produce your organic kale. Organic farms use pesticides even more frequently than traditional farms, but they use "natural" instead of synthetic. Natural pesticides are still pesticides and they still kill millions of bugs. But they're less effective than synthetics and so are applied much more often and in higher concentrations, causing more harm to the workers who apply them. So unless you're growing all your own food or buying from a farm that doesn't use any products what-so-ever, you're involved in the massacre of insects whether you eat honey or not.

But I do agree that unless the bees are bottling it and leaving it on your doorstep, it's no "gift." We're subjugating them 100%. I just believe that this is the lesser evil compared to the impact of refining and transporting sugar or agave. Obviously the least impact is to just quit sweetening my beverages, but that's just not going to happen for me.

Mercedes said...

I'm vegan but honey is my sweetener of choice. I believe it's important to look at the big picture and take into consideration the environmental impact of the various options to determine a "total harm" model.

Agave and stevia are both produced with environmentally intensive processes. Then they're transported thousands of miles to where I live in Canada. The honey I buy is not refined at all, and transported a scant 3 km on the producer's way home from her day job. The bees pollinate local crops and contribute to the preservation of bee populations -- a positive ecological impact.

Another point to consider is pesticide use. Don't kid yourself into thinking millions of insects weren't killed to produce your organic kale. Organic farms use pesticides even more frequently than traditional farms, but they use "natural" instead of synthetic. Natural pesticides are still pesticides and they still kill millions of bugs. But they're less effective than synthetics and so are applied much more often and in higher concentrations, causing more harm to the workers who apply them. So unless you're growing all your own food or buying from a farm that doesn't use any products what-so-ever, you're involved in the massacre of insects whether you eat honey or not.

But I do agree that unless the bees are bottling it and leaving it on your doorstep, it's no "gift." We're subjugating them 100%. I just believe that this is the lesser evil compared to the impact of refining and transporting sugar or agave. Obviously the least impact is to just quit sweetening my beverages, but that's just not going to happen for me.

Lynx 73 said...

This argument is what can keep people from becoming vegan... Eating honey or agave is less damaging than eating meat and dairy. I love bees, but I always buy local honey. I mostly use agave or maple syrup. I've been vegetarian for 9 years, but have been seriously trying to incorporate more vegan recipes into my family's diet... Thank you for the topic... the all-or-nothing mentality of veganism can be really harsh to a newer vegan... Also, I know that I am not vegan, by saying what I've said...I think it takes practice to become one.