071 Understanding Tricky Non-Vegan Things: Honey, Palm Oil, Horseback Riding, etc.

There are some tricky items up for debate in the vegan community: palm oil, sugar, honey and horseback riding. The girls talk about why these things may not be considered vegan, along with why wool and silk are not vegan.  

In This Episode

Content warning: talk of animal experimentation, exploitation and cruelty Meat, leather, dairy – these things are obviously not vegan. But there are other things that are not so much so; things that are sometimes even contested within the vegan community. The princesses tackle six of these topics to help vegans make informed decisions for themselves and to have conversations about these things with others:


– “Silk fabric is made from the silk that is spun by silkworms when they form the cocoons for their pupal stage, before becoming a moth.” – Since silk is an animal product, and causes exploitation, silk isn’t vegan. – Most silk is mass produced, from farms with domesticated silkworms. – “The silk is secreted as a liquid from two glands in the caterpillar’s head. While they are still in their pupal stage, the cocoons are placed in boiling water, which kills the silkworms and begins the process of unraveling the cocoons to produce silk thread. If allowed to develop and live, the silkworms would turn into moths and chew their way out of the cocoons to escape.” – Silk can be produced “more humanely” by not killing the caterpillar, and allowing it to chew through the cocoon the way it would naturally, but this damages the silk strands and yields less silk so this method isn’t used very as often. – Approximately 15 silkworms are killed to make a gram of silk thread, and 10,000 are killed to make a silk sari. Resources
Why Vegans Don’t Wear Silk (AnimalRights.about.com)


– Bees are animals
  • Honeybees have been shown to have emotions, are cognitively sophisticated
  • Honeybees and vertebrates share common neurological traits, pessimism
– Honey and pollen are for the bees to eat during winter months – Commercial beekeeping is basically factory farming for bees
  • Bees are fed high fructose corn syrup since honey is stolen
  • Administer antibiotics whether bees are sick or not
  • Queens artificially inseminated with a syringe, wings clipped; Drones are crushed to inseminate queen
  • Inbred for gentleness and productivity, leading to genetic deficiencies
  • Some beekeepers will burn or destroy hives and bees in winter, as it’s cheaper than keeping them alive
– During harvesting & collection, bees are injured, crushed or killed, no matter how gentle the handler is – Honey is tested on animals
  • In order to try to prove the healing effects of honey, animals are wounded and the wounds are treated with honey, dissection to determine effects of honey on bones and metabolism, and the removal of reproductive organs to test honey’s effects on hormonal profiles as it relates to menopause
If You Eat Honey, Read This (Your Daily Vegan)
Honeybees Might Have Emotions (Wired Magazine)


– Refined sugar comes from either Sugarcane plants or from Beet plants – The sugars are very similar so it’s impossible to tell the difference between the two after they are processed – Beet sugar is not processed using Bone Char so it is vegan – Sugarcane is processed using activated charcoal, which is sometimes derived from Bon Char, which would technically make it not-vegan – While the bone char doesn’t remain in the sugar (so its not consumed), since it is used to process and bleach the sugar, most vegans are uncomfortable using refined sugar unless they know how it was processed – Most large/commercial food companies are unable to conform which sugar is used and how it was refined if its from sugarcane since they typically use sugar from more than one source Resources
Your Sugar Might Be Made With Animal Bones. Sorry, Vegans. (Huffington Post)
Is Sugar Vegan? (VegSource)


– Australia is leading producer of wool
  • The Merino sheep are not native to Australia and can die from heatstroke in the summer and exposure in the winter
  • Merino sheep are the most common breed as they have the most skin because more skin = more wool; the skin folds in on itself and gets excrement caught in the folds, leading to blowflies and a condition called “fly-strike”
  • Mulesing is a cruel practice where farmers cut large portions of flesh away from the groin and rear of the sheep to prevent fly-strike. The flesh scars over, preventing blowfly infestation. They do this without anesthesia although they may use a pain-reliever called Tri-Solfen which is, ironically tested on animals
  • Fly-strike is a result of selective breeding and raising sheep in an environment unnatural to them, of the cruelty of creating animals that can no longer survive without human intervention due to human profit.
  • Sheep need to be sheared because we bred them that way. In the wild, they simply shed their winter coats, just like any other animal
– Sheep are often cut or nicked during shearing, and shearing is upsetting for most sheep – Lambs have their ears punched, tails docked, and are castrated without anesthetics – Sheep and lamb deaths from neglect, exposure or disease are considered acceptable losses that are more cost-effective than providing proper care – Sheep are slaughtered once their wool production slows down
  • Shipped to Middle East on a 3-6 week trip which is stressful, up to 18% die during transport
– Wool is often mixed, it can be hard to track if an item comes from a “humane” wool producer in mainstream wool items. Regardless, it’s animal exploitation: sheep are kept and bred for their wool, still slaughtered once wool production slows. Note: Sheep are not the only animals used for their wool. Cashmere is derived from goats, and Angora from rabbits, Alpaca wool from Alpacas. Resources
What’s Wrong with Leather, Wool, Down and Silk (Action for Animals)
What’s Wrong with Wool? (GentleWorld)
Think wool is harmless? Think again. (The Ethical Man)

Palm Oil

– “Indonesia and Malaysia, nations with large tropical forests, are the dominant producers of palm oil on the world market today. Their forests are being cleared to make room for new palm oil plantations.” – Clearing these rainforests are causing climate change through global warming (releasing carbon & reducing trees) – “According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production.” – “The Sumatran orangutan, elephant, and tiger, all of which are critically endangered, as well the endangered Bornean orangutans and pygmy elephants, are being driven toward extinction as their habitat is converted into massive oil palm plantations.” – “In total, 50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually, supplying over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. This single vegetable oil is found in approximately 40-50% of household products in countries such as United States, Canada, Australia and England. Palm oil can be present in a wide variety of products, including: baked goods, confectionery, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning agents, washing detergents and toothpaste.” – While there are sustainable and ethical Palm Oil farms, since palm oil is used in so many products, most palm oil is coming from unsustainable and non-humane methods. Resources
Palm Oil and Tropical Deforestation (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Global Palm Oil Demand Fueling Deforestation (WorldWatch Institute)
Palm oil and deforestation (WWF)
Palm Oil (Say No to Palm Oil)

Horseback Riding

– Whips, spurs, bits all are ways to control the horse & can hurt them = not cool – Horses need exercise, not to be ridden
  • Stables are not natural environments for them
  • Can be let loose in an enclosed field or on a lead to get exercise
  • Horses generally prefer food and social contact to working or exercise
– This is mostly about consent
  • Horses can’t consent to being ridden
  • Horses have to be “broken” in order to be ridden, even if done gently this means riding is not something that they naturally want or know how to do which proves it is strictly a human desire
  • The horse can’t choose when to go out or come back, or where to go, what to do, etc.
  • They can’t make an informed decision about what being ridden may do to their bodies
– We breed horses for riding and performing purposes, which is never vegan Resources
Horseback riding: Is it vegan? (Vegan Resources)
Study Evaluates Horses’ Desire to Work (The Horse)

Links and Information

News Thanks to listener Ally for the joke-in-the-middle!
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    • annabel street
      Hi, My only comment here, being a horse keeper and vegan (if I am allowed to call myself that) is that a horse does not need to be broken to be ridden, there are many people who work in close spiritual connection with their horses and communicate with them and instinctively know when their horse is not ok. I agree that buying animals is not vegan, and strongly believe that they should not be bought and sold. However, the state of the planet right now means that there are many many unwanted animals. I have 5 horses, all rescues, none broken, but I do ride them. I do not use spurs, bits or metal shoes, I did not break them in, the ones who had never been ridden before, I just slowly got on them, and walked about a bit and they didn’t mind as we are friends and they enjoy going out on adventures. If they don’t want to go out they don’t. When you know your horse its very easy to understand if they are in pain. Tonight for example the horse that normally doesn’t want attention came to me to show me she had cut her ear and asked me to help her. Its a matter of responsibility, if you listen to your horse, ride gently, then for both you and the horse I think it can be a great partnership/friendship. My horses dislike to be ridden in the arena, after the 2nd round they say why are we doing this, and they are right why are we doing it?So we dont. But when we go out on the trails, they step out excitedly. I think its about the way we keep animals rather then just branding one thing bad….what about having a dog? My dogs run free, most of the day, and wander as we live in the mountains, the cats who live with me, kill their own food most days. We have chickens who love perching in the living room and when I come home run up the drive with the dogs and cats to greet me. But what about vegans with cats who live in apartments, what about vegans with dogs that get locked in a house all day whilst they are at work, or vegans who live with just one dog, therefore depriving the dog of living naturally in a pack. Can they still call themselves vegan? Anyone who says my dog is happy or my cat is happy, must also consider that the horse can also be happy living with a human and under the right conditions being ridden by them (when as natural environment as possible is provided) is far less disturbing to its natural state of being then keeping a cat in a flat or a dog on its own in a small garden and walking it on a lead. Of course just my opinion from observations gained through living with my tribe of over 20 animals. 🙂 Lets take care of the animals that need it, be compassionate, provide homes for the lost and damaged ones. Do our best. Without getting too black and white……..there are many shades of grey 😉

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