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For many vegans, or individuals who abstain from consuming any product whose manufacture involved the exploitation of animals, the concept of vegan honey is a controversial one. Some vegans argue that insects do not register pain in the way that other animals do, making honey an acceptable food. Others claim that the processes by which honey is produced are highly exploitative, and that the notion of vegan honey is thereby a myth. Those who wish to refrain from consuming honey can choose from several vegan honey substitutes, such as agave nectar, maple syrup, or sugar.
Anti-honey and honey-friendly vegans have long engaged in a heated debate over whether eating the sticky substance violates the principles of veganism. Some vegans argue that insects do not register pain in the way that “higher” animals, such as mammals, do. Therefore, beekeeping should not be considered exploitative because bees do not experience any physical or emotional distress as a result of beekeeping practices. For these vegans, honey is considered an acceptable food.
Other vegans posit that honeybees are capable of experiencing both physical and emotional pain. In the view of these individuals, keeping bees in commercial hives constitutes a kind of enslavement which is enforced by cruel measures, such as engulfing the bees with smoke to prevent them from swarming as well as prematurely killing queens to promote control of the other bees within a hive. Further, the gathering of bees’ honey by humans is seen as an act equivalent to theft. Those who subscribe to this view of beekeeping feel that the concept of vegan honey is nothing more than a myth.
Vegan or not, individuals who wish to refrain from consuming honey can choose from several vegan honey substitutes. Many vegans and vegetarians contend that in terms of both consistency and taste, the closest vegan substance for honey is agave nectar, a sweet substance made from the sap of the agave plant. Maple syrup and molasses have sticky consistencies which are similar to that of honey. As their flavors differ from honey, however, cooks may need to experiment with quantities to determine the best substitution ratio. When preparing baked goods, honey can often be effectively traded for a combination of beet or cane sugar and a liquid such as water.
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