Should Vegans Eat Honey?

Turns out that the honey question is even stickier than I initially realized

jay vera summer
Published in
9 min readJul 10, 2019
Honey, U.S. Department of Agriculture

A few months after I’d become vegan, a cook at a Mediterranean restaurant in suburban Chicago caught me off-guard. I’d just ordered what the cashier confirmed was an entirely vegan meal: a rice plate with hummus, Greek olives, pickled onions, falafel, tomato, cucumber, other fresh veggies, and bread made without eggs, dairy, or butter.

I’d paid and turned to walk to a table when the cook rushed out from the back of the kitchen, shouting, “Wait! The bread isn’t actually vegan!” When I looked at him, he continued, “It’s sweetened with honey. Vegans don’t eat that, right?”

“Um,” I eloquently replied.

The cashier and patrons in line silently watched me, waiting for my answer. I felt like I was speaking on behalf of all the vegans in the world.

I froze.

In the months before and after becoming vegan, I’d read many vegan-focused books and blog posts, watched vegan documentaries, and had conversations with vegan and vegetarian friends. I’d begun buying “cruelty-free”-labeled beauty products and donating my leather shoes and purses to thrift stores as I replaced them with vegan-friendly items. I thought I’d covered all my bases, but I hadn’t really considered honey. I hadn’t been consuming it, but only because I was going through a maple syrup phase.

“I’ll eat it,” I finally said. “Thank you, though.”

For a while after the incident, I intentionally avoided honey. What I’ve found since is that adhering to a strict vegan diet isn’t as simple as swapping out honey for sugar or maple syrup.

Aside from asking the manufacturer directly what type of defoamer they use, the only way to know your maple syrup is vegan is if its labeled vegan, or is both certified organic and produced in the state of Vermont.

Conventionally-produced white and brown sugars are filtered through bone char, which is cattle bones that have been blackened by heat and ground up. Since the bone char is used as a filter and not an…