extending the definition of veganism


  1. In others words: are vegans looking at production, context, upstream reality, or are they just interested in being ‘pure’ as to what they consume? I have been trying to make vegans understand on social media for some years now that we need to take an interest in production, the production of what we eat, because even so-called ‘organic vegan lettuce’ is probably grown using non-organic steer/chicken/horse manure/remains. If we want a truly vegan world, a truly vegan diet, we must become producers, and if we cannot be producers, we must support veganic agriculture as it exists today, and amplify it as much as possible.

    1. Hi Angus, thanks for your kind words and overall feedback. And you’re right; there’s undoubtedly non-British vegan origins that need to be explored. Perhaps I’ll look into it when I get around to updating the post.

      Regarding bees, I think there’s a larger issue at play. Humans have exploited one species of bee specifically for honey production, killing the biodiversity of native species along the way. Additionally, there’s a path forward where we can encourage and grow pollination without extracting honey—so why not explore that option? I’d encourage you to read our honey article if you haven’t already.

      As for certain crops causing harm and death in the production of crops, this is absolutely something that needs to be reviewed. But, on the other hand, we also have to acknowledge that our very existence is harmful. And as described in the definition of veganism, we’re seeking to exclude exploitative practices as far as is possible and practical.

  2. Nice article. You did skip an awful lot of non-British vegans-avant-la-lettre, of course in your historical summary. In any case, there is an argument to be made that almonds and some other tree fruits are not vegan, and yet people consider them so because they come from plants. The truth is, bees are enslaved by humans to service miles and miles of monocrops, which are draining the groundwater, particularly in another drought year here in California. There is also an argument to be made that bee-keepers, at least some of them are actually vegan heroes, saving bees from other humans, who would destroy them with poisons, perhaps, if they didn’t know they had a bee-person to come remove the problem hive (too close for human comfort) and put it somewhere safe and adjacent to blooms. There is a Yemeni family in Berkeley which does just this. They have a shop where they sell honey, wax, etc… I would argue these people respect and love bees (extracting rent perhaps?), and monocrop almond farmers do not.

  3. Hi, great read, thankyou.
    I’ve been vegan since 2016 apart from a few slip ups that included……….caramel squares? but I’m past the temptation now after realizing it wasn’t just about the food.
    It was overnight that I decided to go vegan and I had been vegetarian for a year or so before that. It was my inner self shouting at me not to “take” from animals so I listened. Now…..I’m on my way to a mostly raw diet….. apart from mash and roast potatoes! I can’t give them up, I’m from Ireland ???
    I chose not to talk about my food or lifestyle choices because I get so much negativity and the usual “what do you eat then?!” Or, or! Some people tut and walk away!….only happened once lol but some people won’t accept what needs to change in their own lives or for the planet….so I usually keep quiet about being vegan.
    Thankyou for this article.
    Thankyou for your compassion, may it spread out to all the planet xo

    1. Hi Julie, it’s so lovely to hear about your experience so far.
      I love your honesty, and I too, have had my fair share of slip-ups over the years.
      Also, kudos for going mostly raw, that’s impressive!
      I know the feeling of not wanting to deal with those common questions, but I’ve learned to see those situations as an opportunity to share a different perspective on how we consume food. Little interactions with people become a reference point for their encounters with veganism in the future.
      Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for your compassion.

  4. Dear Michael: I do consider myself vegan but I love honey and since I didn’t think any animals were being harmed I have considered it ok. Should I then consider myself vegetarian? Except then restaurants and friends cooking would assume I eat eggs, cheese, fish maybe — am I really being an ass if I say I am vegan?

    1. Hi Judy, apologies for the delay in getting back to you!
      Fundamentally, honey is an animal product and is therefore not vegan. Have you considered some alternatives to honey such as maple syrup and agave nectar?
      As a reference, it might be worth reading Simon’s comment above about how he positions himself to others?

  5. I do not think you answered Dominic’s question. He was wondering if fruits, depending on bee pollination would be considered vegan.

    1. Hi Sunni, I don’t know the answer to that question. In fact I have as many questions Dominic. But for me personally, I choose not to consume honey based on the reasons I stated above.

  6. Thanks for the post Michael,
    One of the things that always seemed a grey area to me are honeybees, and by extension their pollination. If it were not for honeybees, we would not have almonds, avocados, oranges, berries, and many other fruits. Are these foods still vegan?
    I also see honeybees as somewhat different from other animals, and let me explain why. Honeybees are true social insects, meaning that no single honeybee or any honeybee caste can survive without the other castes. Individuals are cells of a superorganism, which is the hive. The hive goes through growth and contraction cycles throughout the year, and some honeybee behavior may seem cruel to us, but is necessary for the survival of the hive (culling infected larva, forcing drones out in the fall, altruistic suicide of diseased bees, workers forced to work to their deaths, queen supercedure, etc..). It is for these reasons that the survival of the hive is more important than survival of individuals. We should then be focused on the well-being of hives rather than individuals.
    I wouldn’t have learned all of this if it were not for my own hives. Being a beekeeper has helped me learn so much about honeybees, the multiple serious threats they are facing, and how important they are to our food system, especially fruit, vegetable, and nut production.
    So I understand that honeybees can be exploited, but what about the role they play in pollination for food production? Are the foods they pollinate able to be considered vegan? I mean this as a genuine question and have always wondered this myself, and would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. Hey, Dom, I hope you’ve been well!
      You have far more domain knowledge and experience than me when it comes to the ecosystem of hives and bees.
      I’ve never heard of the idea of the superorganism—so I find it to be fascinating.
      When it comes to ethics, I like to keep things simple.
      I 100% agree that honeybees are critical for everyone’s survival and if it weren’t for beekeepers, we’d all be in serious trouble.
      However, whether or not bees produce an excessive amount of honey, the intended use of their honey is for the insulation of their hive and to feed themselves and their families (please correct me if I’m wrong).
      I’m sure they’re around—but I’m yet to see a beekeeping practice that purely exists to breed more bees for pollination without any extraction of honey. There’s no return on investment for such a practice, whether it’s to sell the honey or consume the honey. So this mentality in itself is exploitative. I’m not sure how else to view it.
      To throw some ideas out here; what if we had dedicated bee sanctuaries? Or what if local communities came together to do beekeeping in their yards, but with no intent to extract honey? Is that too idealistic? Is that too much to expect from humans? Heck, would I do it? I don’t know. But it’s something worth pondering nevertheless.
      I think you’ve inspired us to write an article to go more in-depth on the topic 🙂

      1. Honey is used by the bees as a food source in the winter, but not insulation. When it gets cold, bees will huddle together into a tight ball and consume honey as they slowly move upward toward the top of the hive through the winter. The temperature just outside the cluster of bees is not much warmer than outside. Excess heat and moisture is vented upward out of the hive.
        The most common type of honeybee raised by humans, the Italian honeybee, has been selectively bred to produce much more honey than they need for winter in most climates. The idea is that you can take the excess produced by the bees, and leave the rest, although some producers will take nearly all of the honey and feed them sugar water instead.
        Actually, it is possible to exploit honeybees for their pollination, and this is frequently done by some commercial beekeepers. In February-March hives are moved to northern California for almond pollination, then in April-May to Oregon, Washington, New York, and Michigan for blueberries, apples, and cherries. In the summer, they are kept in the midwest for clover to produce honey, then from October to January they are kept in Florida for oranges until the process starts again the next year. A less exploitative alternative would be to keep hives in one place, but since these crops only bloom for 3-4 weeks out of the year and modern agriculture clears out other year-round sources of nectar (“weeds”), the bees would starve if they were kept there.
        And yes, it absolutely is possible for communities to raise bees solely for pollination in a non-exploitative way! There is a type of hive called a top-bar hive which is a long, rectangular or cylindrical hive. They can be built by hand or made from natural materials such as a stump. In fact, this type of hive is commonly used in Africa where it is called a bee gum. This type of hive is the most natural type of hive to give bees since a tree stump is an ideal place for a hive to live in the wild. However, they don’t do well in cooler climates because there isn’t much room for the bees to move up (bees instinctively migrate upward over the winter), and since they are small, they frequently swarm (reproduction on a hive level). There are some communities that raise bees this way in New Mexico and Arizona.

      2. Michael and Dominic,
        Thank you Dominic for explaining about bees a little bit. I came here to do the same but you have done a much better job than I would have!
        Michael, I can highly recommend the documentary “More than Honey” (2012) it’s a great film about bees and beekeeping.
        I truly believe beekeeping can be ethical but I also know it very often isn’t (even if it is just for pollination) and thus vegans should consider that when they consume fruits, almonds or vegetables that are pollinated by bees! (however I also think that even the worst kind of beekeeping is still more ethical than even the most ethical way of any other kind of animal farming)
        So my point is I think it can be more ethical to consume some honey but no fruits, nuts or vegetables that have been pollinated by bees from exploitative (who do not care much about the loss of entire hives) commercial beekeepers (however it is not that straight forward to find out how exactly these fruits, almonds and vegetables have been pollinated).
        So what does that mean for the term “vegan”? If we follow your simplified definition, then I think to be a vegan we would also have to stop eating everything that has been pollinated by “domesticated” bees (wild bees and other insects might actually play quite a large role in pollination, but I think more research in this field is needed).
        Maybe this would be the most ethical way, but maybe not, let’s say for example one part of your diet that is important for your health is something that is pollinated by bees, there might be a replacement that isn’t pollinated by bees but maybe it doesn’t grow where you live so it has to be transported a big distance to get to you which of course is less energy efficient. (this is just hypothetical I don’t have an example, I just wanted to make the point that sometimes there is no 100% ethical solution at least not at the moment, actually leather shoes is a good example, since I stopped wearing leather shoes my plastic shoes don’t even last a year… whereas the leather shoes lasted a few years and if I had taken better care even longer)

        But otherwise a great article! Apart from the bee and honey stuff I agree with everything!
        And I would be very interested if you wrote an article about bees and pollination! Actually I should really do some research myself I would really like to avoid foods that are linked to exploitative beekeeping.
        Ah and if I tell someone that I’m vegan I often add “but I eat honey” (even though I very rarely do) it just seems more honest that way.

        1. Dominic and Simon,

          Thank you so much for taking the time to add your knowledge and experience regarding the dynamics of honey as it relates to veganism.

          There’s lots to digest here, and admittedly, I’m not in a position to answer the question about supporting crops that rely on the pollination of bees.

          On the surface, though, I still feel like there’s a more ethical solution than supporting the honey making industry—which we’ve started to brainstorm in this conversation.

          This has piqued my curiosity to go deeper, and yes, we’ve watched “More Than Honey”. I may need to consult with you both in the future about this topic—as it’s caused a lot of confusion in the vegan community.

          And Simon, you’re spot on, there’s never going to be a 100% ethical solution for anything—as it seems like we’re always going to exploit an animal indirectly.

          Thanks again for your time.

        2. There is o such thing as “ethical beekeeping”.
          This is just circular reasoning, to justify exploiting for human gain.
          People love to pretend like being polite and saying a bunch of fancy justifies their unnecessary exploitation.
          This is no different.

  7. First three letters and last two letters to write vegan is what you meant in your article.

    I think the “possible and practicable” part of the definition is important. Because I have hard to fit feet, and I’ve quickly worn out or donated many pairs of poorly fitting vegan leather shoes, I’m permitting myself one pair of gently used leather dress shoes every two years. I’ve seen processed foods advertised as vegan online that list honey as an ingredient.

    I prepared traditional egg custard and eclairs for my flexitarian Mom in her last four months of life to help her stop losing weight so quickly. On the rare occasions eating out where dessert is allegedly vegan and honey, egg and dairy free, I resist asking if the sugar is bonechar free to encourage restaurants to have options at all.
    Recently, as I am a single and rural vegan, I’ve become more omnivore friendly. I’m not advocating as other vegans are, yet no one complains when I surprise them with homemade vegan cupcakes. When one’s livelihood depends of supporting veganism, one would be, can I say?, a “professional vegan”. For those of us amateur vegans, we might not be able to sacrifice the relationships with the few family members and friends we have. Thank you for your time to read my comment.

    1. Hi Rhea, thank you for picking up the typos, and for sharing your experiences!

      I think you make some really valid points concerning the definition of veganism.

      I think your examples reflect your intent and commitment to veganism. One of the motivations behind writing this article is the example of said vegans to willfully pursue non-vegan options when there are clear “possible and practical” alternatives.

      I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally consumed cow’s milk, cheese, honey, butter and other animal products over the last five years, and I accept they’ll be many more accidents to come.

      I also don’t think it’s necessary to sacrifice personal relationships for veganism. At least this hasn’t been the case for us.

      1. People only care about their own convenience. It is no different that human slavery.

        Would you say the same thing about ending relationships if the argument was about keeping other humans as chattel property?

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