BOOKS: The Beekeeper’s Bible
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2011:
The Beekeeper’s Bible
by Richard A. Jones & Sharon Sweeney-Lynch
Stewart Tabori & Chang
(c/o Abrams, 115 West 18th St., New York, NY 10011), 2011.
412 pages, hardcover. $35.00.
Reputedly living on a diet of milk, honey, and locusts,
commonly interpreted to mean locust beans rather than the insects,
John the Baptist was for centuries regarded as a proto-vegetarian,
beginning long before the word “vegetarian” existed. The definiton
of “vegetarian” is “one who eats no animals,” not “one who eats no
food of animal origin.”
The emergence of veganism, meaning eating no food of animal
origin, has occasioned considerable rethinking of the tenets of
vegetarianism, as well. Most traditional vegetarian diets, for
instance those of India, include milk products and honey, and even
older vegan cookbooks often taught the use of honey as a sweetener.
For vegetarians and vegans who care about animals, the
fundamental question about any food is whether producing it results
in animal suffering. Milk products have fallen into disfavor because
the issues of how cows are treated in the commercial dairy industry
and what to do with surplus calves are relatively obvious.
To eat or not eat honey is a more perplexing problem. Pollen
availability permitting, bees normally produce prodigious surpluses
of honey, in anticipation of heavy losses to honey-loving wildlife,
from birds to bears. A conscientious beekeeper can collect honey
with little or no harm to bees, and no exploitation that would not
be a normal aspect of wild bee life–but commercial beekeepers often
simplify their work by killing honey predators and poisoning bees by
the million before gathering honey or moving batteries of hives to
The Beekeeper’s Bible favors a gentler approach. Practices
that may harm bees are recommended chiefly in response to disease
outbreaks which are already killing whole hives. Poisoning bees for
convenience is not mentioned at all. Non-lethal exclusionary
techniques are taught for deterring honey predators; nothing is said
about killing them.
Only 114 of the 412 pages of The Beekeeper’s Bible are
actually about the practical aspects of beekeeping. Nearly as much
pertains to the biology, natural behavior, and evolution of bees.
The first 25% of The Beekeeper’s Bible traces bees and beekeeping in
human culture: beekeeping appears to have already been an
established occupation long before the emergence of written history.
The concluding 25% describes uses of honey and beeswax.