Ask a Vegansaur, vol. 03  »

It’s that time again: I’ve accumulated enough questions/found enough time in my busy schedule of unemployment (now accepting paying-job leads!) to write another round of Ask a Vegansaur! This one only consists of two questions because they are long. Deal with it.

Tim asks: We know that the traditional vegan rejects honey as part of the general “exploitation and abuse of living creatures” principle. But what about the use of bees as pollinators? Bee colonies are used in large numbers for commercial agriculture. Should “real vegans” mostly reject strawberries, blueberries, almonds, and other “confined bee” pollination-required forms of vegetable matter?
Dang, Tim, you smart! Before I answer the question, I’d like everyone to know that when you eat figs, you might be eating wasps: Wasps can get trapped inside a fig while pollinating its flower and subsequently DIE. That’s nasty, but I digress.

In truth, I have not thought about this much before, but I’m going to try to answer this question reasonably and intelligently. Although bees can’t give consent, I would say that it’s difficult to “force” bees or other insects to do your bidding because they are relatively small and hard to trap. Bees can and will leave the hive for any reason their bee brains deem fit. You can smack a bee or squash it, but it’s risky to humans. Plus it’s hard for the layperson to gauge a bee’s emotions, so you won’t see a bee squealing in fear like a pig about to be slaughtered.

I feel beekeeping is on a different level than factory farming. All we ask the bees to do is pollinate (the byproduct of honey is another topic), which they’d do anyway, and then we harvest the plants. So while almonds, berries, and the like might not be vegan in the sense that they’re technically the result of animal byproducts, I don’t think it’s necessary for vegans of any stripe to avoid them. Am I in the wrong? What do you readers think?

Ellen asks: I work at a grocery store where they put labels on the products for specific nutritional info. Now, I was looking at some of the info on some products that weren’t labeled vegan, and they did not contain any animal ingredients, but there is a statement saying that they may have come in contact with milk/eggs or that the product is processed in a facility [with] non-vegan products. Would you still consider these foods vegan? Or are they considered non-vegan because of the chance that they came in contact with something like that?
One of the unfortunate facets of veganism is that we have to place a lot of trust in the products we choose to consume. Readers might recall the Emes Kosher-Jel scandal of 2005 or so, in which a product most vegans considered “safe” was shown to contain gelatin. While that was unfortunate, I don’t think that made anyone who had consumed it no longer vegan.

Because food manufacturers are being held increasingly responsible for food allergen content, good hygiene practices for workers and machines are becoming more popular. We should try to do the best we can with what we have. The point is that we’re thinking about it. The more we support vegan products, even though they might share facilities with non-vegan ones, the more likely the companies might be able to afford their own facilities one day.

To answer your question succinctly (tl;dr): Yes, I still consider these products vegan, especially because the likelihood that they came into contact with trace animal products is minimal.

Want to Ask a Vegansaur a question? Email me, and try not to be a jerk!

[Image by fklv via Flickr]

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