Stewart Tabori & Chang
(c/o Abrams, 115 West 18th St., New York, NY 10011), 2011.
412 pages, hardcover. $35.00.
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
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 new locations.
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.