“Are eggs from backyard hens ethical?”

As the information becomes more freely available, people are becoming more aware of the extreme cruelty involved in the egg industry, and so are choosing to raise their own chickens and consume their eggs. This is a positive step away from supporting industrial animal agriculture, and it is certainly better than buying from a store or a farmer directly, but it is still not ideal.

While chickens do produce eggs on their own with no encouragement from us, the volume they produce is highly unnatural. This is because chickens have been intensively bred to overproduce eggs for human consumption. The Wild Jungle Fowl, the closest wild relative to our domestic hens, lay somewhere between 10-15 eggs per year in only two clutches, whereas our modern farmed chickens can lay more than 300 eggs per year. This is extremely energy intensive for the chickens concerned, and is the loss of these calories and vitamins can cause a wide range of health problems.

This is why many owners opt for either a superlorin implant or delvosterone injections to stop or reduce egg-laying. However, if chickens are going to continue laying eggs, it is far better for them if they are allowed to eat their eggs instead, so that they can restore their invested calories, protein and energy. This means that the chickens are benefiting from their own production, rather than us.

We’ve all been conditioned to think of a chicken eating their own egg as strange, but chickens will actually do this anyway without any human intervention. In fact, if you type “chickens eating their own eggs” into any search engine you’ll be presented with almost nothing but advice articles and problem pages from farmers to try to get their chickens to stop doing this, or as they put it, to “break them out of this bad habit.” That “bad habit” being their natural way of regaining lost calories and energy from overproducing eggs. If you have hens and they don’t do this by themselves, cracking the shells will usually do it, otherwise chickens love to eat eggs mashed up or scrambled. Either way, feeding eggs back to the chickens means that they get to benefit from what they produce, rather than us taking it from them.

This concept that it matters who benefits from what hens produce is an important one, and it’s the primary reason why taking eggs from captive hens is unethical. An animal shouldn’t have to pay “rent” for their care, and they shouldn’t need to be exploited for us to keep them safe and healthy.  Whether or not animals are being treated well is irrelevant, because their producing something for us to enjoy should not be a requisite for us maintaining their welfare.

This is not a case of a symbiotic relationship, as is often claimed with animal farming, since chickens do not have the capacity nor the opportunity to enter into this relationship willingly, nor are they able to leave them if they would rather you didn’t take what they produce. Using another being for your own personal gain is clearly exploitation, and even if that isn’t the primary reason you keep chickens, we shouldn’t need to find ways to benefit from our relationships with animals in order to care for them properly.

Taking eggs from backyard hens is not even close to being the most significant animal rights issue in the world, but it is part of a wider narrative where animals are subject to us and it is okay to take from them whatever we want so long as it benefits us. Whether or not animals are being treated well is irrelevant, because their producing something for us to enjoy should not be a requisite for us maintaining their welfare.

Considering the fact that chickens clearly benefit from eating their own eggs, taking them because we like the way they taste is a clear demonstration that we think that think of our desires and preferences as inherently more important than theirs. Rescued chickens should be pets and companions, treated no differently and valued no lower than our dogs or cats. It is not for us to decide that it is okay to take something from them which they make, which they spend energy and time producing, just because we like the way it tastes.

“Is lab grown/cultured meat vegan?”

Lab grown meat, also known as “cultured” or “clean” meat, has become a topic of much discussion in the vegan community and outside of it, with the potential to replace meat with an identical alternative which can be grown, rather than taken from a slaughtered animal. On the surface of it there should really be no question that this would obviously be a good thing, if there was an alternative to eating animals which would appeal to everyone then that would be a cause of celebration for both vegans and meat eaters alike. The truth of it is a little more complex than that however, at least at this early stage.

At the moment, lab grown meat is made from cells taken from animals. The early taste tests were from meat taken from slaughtered cows, so these early versions of lab grown meat would fairly obviously not be vegan, since they’re derived from animal products. This could just be an issue with these early stages of production, but even the most recent discussions on the topic are clear that cells from living livestock are still being used, and there has been no indication at this stage that this is likely to change at any point.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine how this could ever be achieved without using skin cells from animals, based on current projections we would need a constant stream of live animals. This is not just a suspicion, one of the key innovators Professor Post remarked: “Eventually my vision is that you have a limited herd of donor animals in the world that you keep in stock and that you get your cells from there.’”

The issue is that the entire process of producing lab grown meat is based on the fact that you need to have living skin cells to start with, you then isolate some satellite cells and start culturing them under conditions which emulate what happens inside the animal’s body, the cells begin dividing, and then produce lab grown meat. At the moment these cells are extracted by biopsy, details on that are vague at best, but any human who has endured a biopsy will be able to tell you that it is not a pleasant experience, though the exact method of extraction has not been specified.

In addition to the cells, they also need to be given a protein “serum” in order to grow, which is typically done using animal blood, mostly from calves. The final goal is to produce lab grown meat without using animal serum, but that is not the case yet. None of this is even accounting for the extensive animal testing being used while developing and testing the finished product.

As well as animal related objections, there is also real concern about the possibility of making these products commercially viable. Memphis Meats, a food technology company based in San Francisco who are one of key developers has to spend around $2,400 to make 450 grams of beef, and other producers are reporting similar figures. Part of this is due to the processing and technology involved, but even when these are reduced, skin tissue will still need a protein input even if it isn’t from animal blood, and a protein input even from a plant source would be far more efficient when consumed directly rather than to produce lab grown meat. With nearly a billion people starving world-wide, in that context focusing so much money and food resources to produce an item we know is not efficient and is unlikely to be commercially viable for most people is difficult to defend.

The big advantage of lab grown meat however, and the reason for so much of the financial backing behind it, is that it would be significantly better for the environment than our current meat production system. The benefits of this cannot be overstated, given that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change, impacting everything from water and air quality to ground pollution and waste production. That said, even the most ambitious estimates still place cultured meat as significantly less sustainable than the plant protein sources we already have. This is something the researchers themselves freely admit, when asked if cultured meat might be attractive to vegetarians, Dr. Post said: “Vegetarians should remain vegetarian. That’s even better for the environment.”

As great as the benefits of lab grown meat undoubtedly are, a lot of the discussion around these benefits fail to mention the fact that we already know how to solve so many of the problems lab grown meat attempts to reduce. Plant based foods are nutritious, cheap to produce, sustainable,  incredibly efficient and we already grow enough of them to feed everyone. The challenge is to convince people to consume these plants when they would rather eat beef. The development of lab grown meat is essentially the admission that it cannot be done, so we must find a way to allow meat eaters to continue to eat meat without causing quite so much harm to animals or the planet, even if it comes at a significant cost.

Many companies have already developed foods which are almost indistinguishable from meat and they are entirely plant based; so much so that many of us vegans cannot bring ourselves to eat them. It is difficult to understand why the vast funding being poured into lab grown meat is not going to develop more plant based alternatives instead, and to encourage the public to shift their diet away from animal products and towards plants. This may be hopelessly optimistic, but I don’t think that’s a fight we should be ready to give up on, or that alternatives to meat have to be biologically identical for people to switch to regularly eating them, since alternatives are already growing in popularity.

The question of whether or not lab grown meat is vegan is an easy one to answer, since the exploitation and potential slaughter of animals throughout the process makes it undeniably and unequivocally not vegan, at least at the moment and not for the foreseeable future. Whether or not lab grown meat is a good thing or not is really a different question entirely, and one which is much more debatable. Lab grown meat has the potential to reduce global warming and significantly reduce the number of animals being bred into existence and exploited by the meat, dairy and egg industries. 

All of this comes at a cost though, and it is up to all of us to decide for ourselves whether or not the suffering of  fewer animals can be justified on the basis of the good it would achieve. These are questions for which there are no easy answers.

“Is palm oil vegan?”

Palm oil has, quite rightly, come under increasing public scrutiny for the environmental and social harm it causes. Part of the problem with palm oil is it’s popularity, it is an extremely versatile crop that is used in everything from hair and skincare products to sandwich spreads and confectionary. Global production is also soaring, it has increased 28% over the last decade to 58 million tonnes per year. With producers eyeing new (forested) ground for increased production, the situation is not likely to improve.

Palm oil is of course not unique in that it is both popular and destructive, but it has become a question posed to vegans specifically due to the fact that the palm oil production is resulting in the deaths of orangutans whose habitats these plantations are removing. Orangutans are not the only animals affected by the habitat destruction association with palm oil, but particularly emotive pictures of organgutans being shot has made them the face of the anti-palm oil campaign. As vegans then, we are faced with the question of how we respond to a product which is directly leading to the deaths of animals- can such a product really be called vegan?

This question is more complex than it seems. The knee-jerk response may to simply state that palm oil is not an animal product, so vegans don’t need to avoid it. While this is technically true according to the definition of veganism as just ‘avoiding animal products,’ that isn’t really how most of us think of our veganism. Vegan ethics surely require us to care about any instance of animal exploitation or death, whether it’s caused by the production of an animal product or a plant product. Under the wider ethics of veganism then, this does seem like something vegans should be actively boycotting.

This is the key distinction, though. Whether vegans should be boycotting palm oil and whether consuming palm is is vegan are really different questions. Vegans avoid animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable, if we are going to boycott palm oil then surely we should boycott any other product which leads to environmental destruction or the destruction of animal habitats. The issue with that, is that this would apply to pretty much any widely grown crop, which all come with their own environmental harm. Vegans would need to boycott rice, potatoes, soy, most grains, a wide variety of fruits, nuts, corn, not to mention non-food items like oil, coal or plastics.

Palm oil has come under particularly scrutiny due to it’s increase in popularity, but it is not at all unique in being a plant product which has the potential to cause harm to animals and to the environment. This is precisely why we need to be mindful of expanding the definition of veganism to include anything which has the potential to have an impact on animals, or we run the risk of making veganism entirely inaccessible.

It must be pointed out here, that while it is not possible to obtain animal products which aren’t the result of animal exploitation, it is perfectly possible to grow palm oil sustainably. The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil set out criteria for sustainable certification in 2004, though this makes up less than 15% of total global production at present. Viewed in this context, palm oil is really not much different to coffee or chocolate, a great deal of which is sourced using unfair and unsustainable practices. Palm oil is not inherently unvegan, neither is soy, corn, chocolate or coffee, because these things don’t necessarily involve animal or human exploitation, whereas animal products very definitely do.

Does any of this mean that we shouldn’t boycott palm oil as conscious consumers? Of course not. Palm oil, like any product which isn’t fairly or sustainably sourced, is something that everyone should avoid insofar as they are able to. What it does mean, though, is that no one is any more vegan than anyone else because they are in a position to be able to boycott this hugely prevalent ingredient. Part of the reason this “you’re not vegan unless you also boycott palm oil” view is becoming so prevalent is that many vegans are keen to expand veganism into becoming a complete ethical system, rather than as a specific response to a specific issue.

The problem with this is that there is almost no agreement on what the vegan response to other issues are. There are vegans who think you aren’t really vegan unless you’re left wing, or pro-life, or an anarchist. Veganism is just one part of all of our wider ethical and political ideologies, and it shouldn’t be expanded into becoming a dogmatic system of belief which covers all areas of our lives.

Palm oil and other products like it can be easily as destructive as animal products, so they are something that all those who aspire to live ethical lives should consider boycotting, alongside any other product which involves harm to humans or animals. This must be part of your own ethical decision making though, you are still a vegan if you’re eating products containing palm oil, and no one gets to call themselves “more vegan” because of their stance on wider ethical issues. There will always be some debate about what veganism should and shouldn’t include, and there is room in this movement for a multitude of differing opinions on that. In short, if you can boycott palm oil then you should, but don’t feel like you aren’t a “real vegan” if you’re not able to.

“Is quinoa ethical?”

The quinoa objection will be familiar to many vegans, it is one that has been very popular since a particular New York Times article raised concerns about how the price rising price of quinoa has left many Bolivian people, for whom the crop is a staple, unable to afford it. This artical was instantly seized on to promote an anti-vegan agenda, wherein the implication was that the rise in quinoa consumption is the fault of vegans who continue to eat the now trendy food. Others recognised that the tiny percentage of vegans worldwide were fairly obviously not responsible for a global boom in sales, but pointed the finger at vegans nonetheless by arguing that vegans care more about the animals than the poor farmers growing their quinoa. There are some glaring problems with this logic right from the offset, and many factual errors in the information used to support it.

Firstly, even if it were true that vegans were starving Bolivian farmers by buying quinoa, this entire argument would still be founded on a tu quoque fallacy. This argument essentially uses a red herring to point the finger back at vegans as opposed to having to defend meat eating, rather than attacking our argument, they have appealed to the idea that we are hypocritical because of our personal consumption habits. Even if these claims were true, this would still not be an effective argument against veganism, it is an argument against us as individuals. It is attacking the idea that we actually follow these values, rather than discussing the merits of the values themselves. If every vegan on earth were a hypocrit, that would not make veganism itself hypocritical, it would just mean that we have all failed in following it’s principles.

The story of the starving Bolivian farmers not being able to afford their own crop hit the news worldwide, and the guilt trip consumers had been taken on as a result did in fact, reach the ears of those being used as a pawn in these anti-vegan arguments; the farmers themselves. Their reaction was curious, to say the least:

“To me, quinoa … is absolutely changing the lives of our regional community of people,” German Nina, a quinoa farmer, said during a conference call organized by Alter Eco Foods, which sells quinoa products that are fair trade certified.” 

These stories were still spreading rapidly through western media, mostly spurred on by social media influencers and journalists practically rabid at the idea of having a blunt object to hit vegans and milennials with, both the perceived markets for this product, yet the farmers themselves were telling that the increase in the price of the crop has meant they are making far more money than they were before, and are in a better position because of it. As for not being able to afford their own product, farmers are simply setting aside some of their own crop for personal consumption, as they always have. That farmers would have to buy their own crop back at market value was always a very strange assumption, and one that almost no one spreading this story seems to have stopped to consider. Another study in FoodPolicy concluded, similarly, that even when the price of quinoa had gone up by 400%, quinoa farmers did not have to cut back their consumption.

It is “very good news for small, indigenous farmers,” says Pablo Laguna, an anthropologist who has studied quinoa’s influence on local communities in Bolivia. Quinoa’s popularity, he says, is bringing more income to the southern highlands, traditionally one of the poorest regions in Bolivia. 

The fact that quinoa which was not produced in Bolivia or Peru is widely available also did not seem to phase it’s attackers. If someone did have real and genuine concerns about the welfare of Bolivian quinoa growers, why not simply purchase quinoa grown in Western Australia, where the crop is becoming increasingly popular? Or even Quinoa grown in North America, a growing enterprise? You can even buy quinoa grown in the UK. The truth is that this criticism always had less to do with concern for farmers in Bolivia and more to do with having a convenient reason to reject veganism. That people spreading this nonsense are unaware of what Bolivian farmers themselves are saying is obvious, and it seems reasonable to conclude that this is something they would have spent at least a few minutes researching if their criticisms of quinoa did come from a place of genuine concern.

Now, none of this is to say that there are no problems with quinoa. All high demand crops come with problems, from the potential of worker exploitation, to over-producing leaving land arid, to unequal distribution at home, pesticide use, land clearance- the potential ethical issues are many. What’s more, as we have already established, the price of quinoa is indeed rising, but so is the price of every other staple food in Bolivia. This is a result of several factors, including western demand, widespread droughts and periods of intense flooding. To ignore this wider context in order to use quinoa as an isolated example and to lay the blame for the regional and global problem of inflation of food prices at the door of vegans alone is completely absurd.

The problems of quinoa are shared by just about every other staple crop on earth, and it is curious indeed that we never hear these arguments about corn, wheat, grain or soy from meat eaters, most of which is used as animal feed. Mono-crops used for feeding animals involve some of the most destructive farming practices on earth, with vast swathes of land being deforested for it, and crop pickers being exploited to pick it. Since the animals fed to meat eaters require far more crops to get them to slaughter weight than they will ever give out in meat, a meat eating diet actually requires far more crops, and therefore crop labour, than a vegan diet does. That’s not even factoring in slaughterhouse workers themselves, who are some of the most exploited workers on the planet.

What anti-vegans want to do with arguments like this is to create a false dichotomy, where it is either consume animal products or consume quinoa, when in fact, most of us can be perfectly healthy without consuming either one. That quinoa is eaten by more meat eaters than vegans is beyond question, it appears with meat and fish on menus far more frequently than it appears with vegetables or beans. For those who do have genuine concerns about quinoa though, the conclusion should be obvious. Just don’t eat quinoa. Many people don’t, including many vegans, and if that is done out of ethical concerns then that is perfectly legitimate. What is not legitimate however, is using the problems of quinoa as a justification for eating animals, as if that were the only reasonable option they are left with.

This argument, similar to the myriad of other fallacies thrown at vegans on a regular basis, is nothing more than an attempt to capitalise on very real social and political issues in order to score points against veganism. These points are seldom made with any nuance, analysis or prior research, and are repeated purely because they confirm the existing bias of those spouting them. It is long past time that we genuinely worked towards solving issues of food availability, crop production and the inequalities of our capitalist system, rather than simply using the very people we should be advocating for as mere pawns to support an anti-vegan agenda.

“Is soy ethical?”

There are legitimate concerns regarding the damage that growing soy causes to the environment, but unfortunately this is often bought up less out of concern for the environment and more as an attack against veganism and the vegan community. What is most often argued is that since soy also causes harm, and vegans eat soy, vegans shouldn’t be critical of eating animals or claim to hold any sort of moral high ground. This is a fallacy of course, even if soy were just as bad as meat this wouldn’t justify consuming meat on the basis that another product is also bad, but these claims do warrant a closer look.

There are legitimate concerns regarding the damage that growing soy causes to the environment, but unfortunately this is often bought up less out of concern for the environment and more as an attack against veganism and the vegan community. What is most often argued is that since soy also causes harm, and vegans eat soy, vegans shouldn’t be critical of eating animals or claim to hold any sort of moral high ground. This is a fallacy of course, even if soy were just as bad as meat this wouldn’t justify consuming meat on the basis that another product is also bad, but these claims do warrant a closer look.

Firstly, it has to be acknowledged that soy does cause a great deal of harm. Soy production requires vast expanses of land, and is overtaking fragile ecosystems all over the world, but especially in South America. This has resulted in significant deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats, which is effecting countless species. There are also many concerns regarding the treatment of those who grow soy to feed the west, which is again a legitimate problem which must be improved on as a matter or urgency.

The issue however, is that discussions of this nature almost never acknowledge why most of this soy is grown in the first place, which is for animal feed. About 75% of soy produced globally is fed to livestock. Farmed animals, without exception, take far more calories to get them to slaughter weight than they will ever give out in meat, meaning that every kg of meat requires a significantly higher input of crops.

This means that despite assertions to the contrary, your average omnivorous diet will require significantly more soy than a vegan diet ever will. It is deeply unfair to hold vegans responsible for the global soy problem when we are a tiny percentage of the population, accounting for a minuscule percentage of soy consumption worldwide. If people genuinely do have legitimate concerns with the production of soy, then adopting a plant based diet would be one of the most effective means of lowering their soy consumption as much as possible.

This means that despite assertions to the contrary, your average omnivorous diet will require significantly more soy than a vegan diet ever will. It is deeply unfair to hold vegans responsible for the global soy problem when we are a tiny percentage of the population, accounting for a minuscule percentage of soy consumption worldwide. If people genuinely do have legitimate concerns with the production of soy, then adopting a plant based diet would be one of the most effective means of lowering their soy consumption as much as possible.

The fact of the matter is that you don’t have to consume soy in order to be vegan. Soybean oil is often used in plant products, and fermented soy is frequently used in vegan meat alternatives and to make tofu, but these are by no means necessities. The primary advantage of soy is that it is cheap and a good source of protein, but plenty of other plant products fit this bill too, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, green peas, broccoli, nuts and seeds, to name a few. If you have moral objections to the use of soy then you have the option to go vegan and soy free, which would be very doable and likely quite a bit healthier than relying on soy based, faux meat substitutes.

The problems raised by soy consumption, including deforestation, water and energy use, soil degradation and land acquisition, are endemic with all monocrops, but especially those used for animal feed. Our massive appetite for meat, dairy and eggs requires huge amounts of crops be grown specifically for that reason; assigning blame to vegans because they also consume a tiny percentage of these crops is blatant scapegoating. Yes, soy is destructive, but we cannot be held responsible for it’s negative impact any more any more than we can be held responsible for global quinoa demand, despite the fact that we so often are.

There are inherent issues with all crops, but even the most resource intensive plant pales in comparison to the environmental destruction caused by meat, dairy and eggs. Criticising vegans on the basis that they consume these things, as someone consuming foods far more destructive and far more resource intensive, is hypocritical at best. Those concerned about the damage caused by soy production should be engaged in meaningful activism to boycott producers or pressure governments to change this system, rather than using this serious issue as little more than an excuse to attack vegans.

“Is agave syrup worse than honey?”

This has been a popular argument on social media for quite some time now, since this widely shared NPR article shone a spotlight on the link between agave harvesting and the decline of the long-nosed bat. The argument being put forward is that vegans are causing more harm by boycotting honey, since the agave nectar we are apparently replacing it with is harming the long-nosed bats who depend on the agave plant for their sustenance.

The first point to address of course, is that since honey is an unnecessary luxury item, it follows that any item used to replace it is also unnecessary. What is being presented here is a false dichotomy where we are forced into the false dilemma of having to choose between consuming honey and consuming agave nectar, as if those are our only two options. There are of course a range of other replacements, golden strup, maple syrup, molasses, sugar-water solutions, generic sweetners- to name a few. Or we could just not replace honey with anything at all, because once again, nobody actually needs either honey or agave.

The foundational premise of this entire argument is that harvesting agave is killing long-nosed bats, but this is a claim which warrants further examination, since it was widely shared without any real authoritative sources or investigation behind it. What conservationists tell us that that we do not know for sure what is causing the decline of long-nosed bats. It is unfortunately quite difficult to know for sure what is causing a species decline in most cases, and that is made even more complex by a species like this one who are cave-dwelling and avoid contact with humans; we don’t even know much about their basic biology.

It is thought that this decline could certainly be connected to agave harvesting, since the bats are so dependent on the plant, but this is just a theory, to present it as fact and then to pretend that it’s the fault of vegans is transparently biased. It is noteworthy that almost no one is talking about the other prevalent theory either, which is that cattle-ranchers, in a misguided attempt to control numbers of vampire bats in Mexico, have been destroying colonies of cave-dwelling bats indiscriminately.

Even if it is agave which is causing this decline, rather than pesticide use, pollution, habitat destruction or the conversion of land in the region to agricultural use and livestock activities (which is a big if), it would be a mistake to blame any of that on vegans, since most agave goes towards the ,production of tequila and Mezcal. The (largely unsourced) NPR article which creased this entire scare in the first place even warns about this issue in the context of tequila, not agave nectar, because agave nectar makes up a minuscule proportion of where most agave is going, and an even lower percentage of that is consumed by vegans, who make up a tiny percentage of the population but are just everyone’s convenient scapegoat about everything from soy and agave to quinoa. It is again noteworthy that people are choosing to focus on this tiny areas of the market, rather than the millions of people drinking tequila and mezcal on a regular basis.

Another facet to this argument is also the health aspect – it is commonly cited that honey is healthier because agave is high in fructose. It’s true that agave is quite high in fructose, after all, fructose is the most common form of sugar in all fruits. Dates, molasses, raisins, apples and even many vegetables and other plants are high in fructose. Fructose is a natural carbohydrate and it isn’t inherently bad for you, The American Heart Association found that consuming limited amounts of fructose, in a pure form, had no negative effects on the majority of individuals. Other studies show that fructose may help fight bone diseases such as osteoporosis, as well as other diseases such as diabetes and colon cancer. None of this is of any ethical relevance of course, and we do not even need to demonstrate that fructose is completely health in the context of a comparison with honey, since honey is also made up of 80% fructose.

People making this argument are more than happy to outline the harm they think agave causes to bats, but very few are willign to compare that potential harm with the actual harm caused to bees in honey production. Bees are often cruelly treated and exploited for profit by the honey industry. Queen bees are often artificially inseminated and many beekeepers cut off their wings to prevent them leaving the hive. It is standard practice for commercial operations to take all or most of the honey bees produce, and replace it with a sugar syrup substitute. When harvesting, beekeepers often use smoke to purposely disorient and panic bees, some will even burn entire hives during winter to reduce costs.

Even putting aside the harm caused to bees, making a profit out of the life’s work of other beings is exploitation; harvesting honey is quite simply taking something which isn’t ours to use. Frankly, the fact that taking the food source of bees who work their entire lives to produce it is not essential to “saving them” should be intuitively obvious.

As for the conservation claims thrown around to makret honey, Apis mellifera, the species of bee we use for most honey production, are not endangered; but thousands of lesser known species are. The honey industry only boosts numbers of these captive bees, when in fact, wild bees are better pollinators and their populations are being threatened by the presence of domestic honey bees. Many diseases that have only ever existed in domestic bees are also spreading to wild bee populations and placing them in very real danger, this is thought to be a direct result of the commercial production of honey.

Many will come in at this point with the caveat that we actually “have to” take honey from bees, because it can “ferment in the hive” if we do not do so. Putting aside the fact that bees can and do eat fermented honey, please, think critically about this. Bees have been managing their honey production for millions of years before we started farming them, so it follows that they do not require human intervention to carry out their basic biological functions. The only reason honey fermentation even happens in domesticated hives is because we build an artificial hive enclosure and manage the hive to produce as much honey as possible. Bees in the wild don’t over-produce because they’re not inept. Assuming that they need human assistance to manage their own hives, which they have very successfully done for millions of years, and that what is best for bees just happens to also be what is most profitable for us, is incredibly naive.

Most people putting forward these arguments do so not out of a desire to mislead, but because they have been taken in by the misinformation and propoganda of animal agriculture industries. Articles like the NPR one are shared widely mostly due to confirmation bias, which is why so few of those sharing that argument have really done any research on the topic at hand, it is also the same reason why people can honestly believe that buying honey exploited from captive bees will somehow save wild ones, when it fairly obviously won’t. With their in mind, if these people really are interested in helping bee populations, we can provide shelter for bees without taking their honey or making a profit from them. This, as well as planting and maintaining bee friendly flowers in your garden, is one of the most effective ways to genuinely help bees, rather than just helping their owners.

“How do I deal with craving animal products?”

Cravings can come from any radical change in diet, and is a natural part of any shift away from a previously enjoyed food. Not all people who go vegan will experience cravings but you shouldn’t feel bad if you do, what matters is whether or not you act on them. Cravings generally pass on their own, but in the meantime there are a few things you can do to help alleviate them.

First of all, recognise what it is you’re actually experiencing. It isn’t a moral failing, it isn’t an indication of any defiency, it is a purely psychological urge for a food you used to enjoy and which you body is not used to being deprived of. When we crave specific foods, it’s seldom the case that our body is actually craving the food itself, it’s much more likely that what’s happening is that we require something which we usually obtain from that food.

If you body needs something fatty, high calorie or high in protein then it will signal to you that it this is what it needs, so you will crave the foods which usually satisfy those requirements, animal products certainly tick all three of those boxes. The key is associating the fulfilment of those needs with foods which aren’t animal products, but this “re-wiring” does take a little bit of time.

So for example, if you are craving red meat, instead eat something else which is high in protein and is high calorie, something like hummus, nuts or acacado would fit the bill. These foods are of course nothing like red meat, but they will fill you up and will meet the same requirements as red meat does. This may not feel very satisfying at first, but over time your brain will learn to associate a craving for fats, protein or calories with these plant based replacements, rather than with red meat.

Most people reach a point eventually where they not only stop craving animal products, but just don’t really see it as food anymore. People often cite 30 days as the time it takes to break a habit, and I’d say in my experience that’s about right, by this time most people will at least see a significant reduction in the intensity of their cravings.

In the meantime, there are all kinds of products which do a great job of imitating animal products, and you can find a vegan version of pretty much anything you enjoyed before. If you expect these products to taste exactly like their animal derived counterparts then you’ll be disappointed, so don’t go into it expecting that. The purpose of these products is to be pretty close to the real thing, but also to just provide the same function in a meal.

If you’re craving bacon sandwiches, you can do that with soy bacon too, it won’t be the same of course but you’d be surprised how quickly you’ll stop craving meat and just start craving the vegan alternative instead. Some of these faux alternatives are surprisingly close to the alternatives, butter, fish, chicken and beef are probably the easiest to imitate, and there are a massive variety of pretty realistic vegan cheeses to choose from, so you’re bound to find something you like. You may choose to avoid faux meats altogether and that’s fine, you just need to replace those items you’ve given up with something else, because if you don’t then veganism will always feel restrictive, which makes it less likely you’ll keep it up.

These methods will help most people manage their cravings, but it may be that despite all this you still crave animal products, and that’s perfectly okay. What matters is that you don’t give in to those cravings and go back on your values. Eventually you will just stop seeing these products as food, that’s what happens to most vegans over time, but every individual is different and the time that takes is going to vary. In the meantime, as unhelpful as it sounds, you do just having to tough it out and stick with it.

Keep engaging in animal rights material, watch the videos, read the books, and remind yourself why you’re doing this. Most of the time when people go back to eating animal products they’ve allowed themselves to become disengaged, and they lose that cognitive connection they’ve made between the food, the animal and the suffering required to obtain it. So stay educated, keep yourself inspired and never lose sight of why you’re doing this.

So long as you are always willing to put your values before your pleasure, then you won’t give in to these cravings. This isn’t to say that mistakes don’t happen, but if you mess up then the important thing is to treat it as a learning experience and to get right back to it. Just remember that ultimately it isn’t really about you, how you feel or what you crave, it’s about reducing the harm you cause by withdrawing your support for this incredibly exploitative industry.

No one is saying that animal products don’t taste good or that you’re not allowed to crave them because you’ve gone vegan, the key is that you place the lives of animals above your personal desires and preferences. After all, no taste, tradition or habit can ever be worth taking someone’s life for.

“How do I go out to eat as a vegan?”

Once you have been vegan for a few weeks, figuring out what to eat at home becomes second nature, but eating out can present different problems. Most of the issues arise from the fact that quite a lot of the problems you will have in restaurants are outside of your control. There are some things you can do to make the experience a little easier on you.

Firstly, do your research before you arrive at the restaurant. You likely never had to do this before you went vegan, but make sure you’re looking at the menu online to see what is available; you don’t want to be surprised by a restaurant who clearly offers no vegetarian options, nevermind vegan. Apps like Happy Cow are great for finding vegetarian and vegan friendly spots, it is community maintained so it often features places you would never think would be good for vegans. Have a look around online, and join a local vegan group on social media if you can find one, people often post about their meals in restaurants or give recommendations on where to eat.

In cases where there is no obvious choice nearby and you are forced to eat somewhere less than ideal, try to give the restaurant a call ahead of time. Even if there is nothing on menu, my experience has been that many restaurants are happy to prepare something for you,  to adapt an existing dish, or to make a meal out of a few sides; all you need to do is just call and ask them if they have any vegan options available.

This can be a bit daunting and you can sometimes feel like you’re being awkward, but anyone who has worked in the service industry will tell you that they would prefer warning in advance about dietary requirements, and most are more than happy to work with you to cater for them. If you’ve done all of this ahead of time, it will minimise the chances of having to have an awkward conversation with waiting staff, and it might make you feel a little less anxious about the whole process.

When you’re actually in the restaurant and are trying to order, make sure you communicate your needs and preferences to the server. They are very used to catering for people with dietary requirements and it is unlikely to be an imposition for them, so don’t be afraid to ask for precisely what you need to know. It is quite rare these days for restaurant staff to not know what vegan actually means, but in case they don’t, you may need to list items that you don’t eat, or at least the ones which are likely to be in whatever you are ordering.

Questions like “if I take the cheese off this would that be vegan?” are helpful, but don’t be afraid to ask for specifics like “does the have any dairy in it?” or “what is this fried in?” Sometimes your server may have to ask the chef, but most will be perfectly happy to do so, so long as you are polite and reasonable in your requests.

A lot of the issues vegans have with eating out come more from the awkwardness and anxiety of the experience than the practicalities. It may be that you don’t feel justified in asking so many questions or in making demands, but keep in mind that when you go out to eat you are paying for a service, people don’t hesitate to tell servers how they want their steak cooked, people will allergies will ask about contaminants, there is no reason it should be any different for vegans. Restaurants are not obliged to cater to us, but if we are choosing to give someone our money then we have a right to make sure what we are eating is suitable for us.

Above all make sure you remain polite, and that the restaurant not catering for you is not the fault of the server. If a server or chef has worked really hard to cater for you then it never hurts to leave a generous tip if you can afford it, it may just encourage them to make the extra effort when the next vegan visits, too.

As awkward as these situations can be, try to remember that the worst case scenario is that you just get a drink and then leave to eat somewhere else. If you’re in a position where you have to stay due to social obligations with family and friends, then it may just be a case of toughing it out, eating what you can or just geting a coffee, then making something when you get home. If you know you have to go somewhere which won’t cater for you in advance, then eat before you leave, and don’t let anyone make you feel awkward for not ordering.

If they have chosen somewhere which doesn’t cater for you then that is on them, they cannot expect you to compromise your values for the sake of a meal out. You will not always be able to dictate where you go, but don’t be afraid to remind friends or family that the place they want to go to might be a little awkward for you, it may just be that they didn’t even consider it, but many people will want to make social events inclusive for their friends and family.

Restaurant options for vegans are getting better all the time, the industry is taking note of the fact that veganism is rapidly growing in popularity, and even large, traditionally meat based chains are branching into vegan options, so even if it is awkward in your area now, that may not always be the case.

That said, there still may be times when you are stuck eating somewhere which doesn’t cater for you, and it may make you miss the times when you could just walk into any restaurant and order whatever you want. This is a small compromise to make in the grand scheme of things though, a little awkwardness is worth it if it means you living out your values and not harming animals.

“Children are given McNuggets or fish fingers to eat, which don’t look like animals at all. The children are trained to disassociate. They eat in a kind of trance of denial. And, when one day the veil drops, and they become aware, for the first time, of what they are actually eating, they have been known to react with the same horror we reserve for cannibalism.”

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson