Friday, October 3, 2014

The Real Buzz on Buying Honey

Ahh fall. Leaves changing colors, the birds chirping, squirrels gathering nuts, and  -----ahhhhhCHOO ----- snot flying everywhere. I have fall allergies. My daughter has fall allergies. Our wastebaskets are overflowing with tissues and our eyes overflowing with artificial tears. It certainly makes it difficult to enjoy the season when you need to focus most of your energy on breathing.

Enter, honey....that golden, delicious, precious little resource I took completely for granted until I moved halfway around the world for a bit and learned honey can help dramatically reduce seasonal allergy attacks. It makes perfect sense when I stop to think about it. Bees make honey from pollen, pollen makes me sneeze, and if I ingest pollen little by little, my body slowly realizes pollen compounds are not things we need to attack with the mucus of 1,000 noses. Kinda like that one time I was deathly allergic to cats as a child and got so fed up with it I grabbed my neighbor's cat and literally rubbed her all over my face. I broke out in hives and had a 60-minute sneezing fit, but I kid you not, from that day forward, no more cat allergies. True story.

But I digress.

So here we are, a mama-and-daughter-duo of boogers, desperately in need of some local, pollen-filled honey. I hopped on over to my local health food store and bought a beautiful jar of honey love.

Now, before I go any further, I need to tell you.....I'm kinda into the homesteading revolution. You may remember my food-knowledge-is-power attitude problem from previous posts such as Grass Fed Beef 101 and The Consequences of Purchasing Cheap Meat. One of my biggest flaws has always been failing to educate myself about things I assume to be regulated by some magical governmental body. After a ton of research, and many nights screaming obscenities at my computer screen, I've come to the conclusion America's food system is completely broken. Consequently, I've spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what I can do to avoid going to a grocery store.

Naturally (see what I did there), when it came to my honey, I was Miss Suspicious. Sure, I was taking the proper precautions. I'd purchased locally, check. I'd purchased from a health food store, check. I'd checked the label to see if I'd missed any random ingredients, check check. 

But here's the kicker: I'd done this before and gotten completely bamboozled. Oh yea.

Let me tell you a story about a girl named Jen. Jen was a bright-eyed, hippie-wanna-be with bad allergies and a sweet tooth like none other. She was feeling especially sweet one fine Saturday morning and decided to head on over to the honey table whilst perusing her local farmer's market. She'd seen the honey stand before, with it's huge "LOCAL HONEY" signs and sweet, homemade labels, but she'd never really checked it out and was reluctant to fork over $7 for a small bottle. 

"Today is different!" she thought. "Today, I can feel my allergies just rearing to go! Today, I want something sweet! Today, I will BUY some of that delicious, golden, local syrup. It is time!"

Jen walked up to the stand and smiled at the man behind the table. He looked up from his phone for a minute, but did not return the smile. ***Clue #1 - Passionate, honest artisans are not grumpy to their customers!

No worries, Jen thought. I'm getting honey today. It is a glorious day! As she picked up a bottle, she asked the man behind the table where the honey was from. 

"It's all locally produced and packaged just north of here," he said. ***Clue #2 - Lack of specifics equates to a lack of knowledge....passionate, honest artisans know everything about their trade...and they don't hire unknowledgeable folks to peddle their wares.

"Oh, ok," said Jen. "So the hives are located here, in our county?"

"Uh, no, the hives are up in Wisconsin," he said. "But the flowers and plants up there are the same as down here, so it really is local." ***Clue #3 - Generalizations about regional flowers and plants show a lack of consideration for micro-ecosystems. Each backyard has its own little ecosystem, and while some things are the same from yard to yard, to bet your business and someone's health on the similarities is just plain wrong. AP Bio taught me something - praise Jesus!

The state of Wisconsin sure is large, Jen thought. I wonder why he isn't giving me a straight answer? Oh well. I'm sure the town checked him out before allowing him to set up shop at their farmer's market. I'm gonna buy this honey because I really, really want it. 

Jen brought her beautiful jar home and the next morning, added some to her oatmeal. It was superb! Delicious taste! Now, because Jen was a good little calorie counter at the time, she decided to log her honey intake. Strangely enough, she had noticed a little barcode on the back of her honey container. I wonder what this barcode is for? she thought. For good ol' curiosity's sake, she decided to scan it with her calorie counter app barcode scanner. Just for fun. A few little smirks and giggles.

She looked down and was surprised to see the barcode had actually registered...and pulled up a very specific, rather unsettling result:


I'd done everything right. Local guy. Farmer's market. Asked all the questions. The only thing I didn't do was follow my intuition. I didn't listen to that little voice in my head that told me something wasn't right. I later went online and found anyone can have a booth at a farmer's market in my town....anyone. Literally. You have no idea where the food is coming from unless you ask, and even then, you are forced to take the person's word at face value. 

Since then, I've researched everyone online. I take down the names of the farms I see and Google the living crap out of them. Regulations mean nothing, provided they exist to begin with. There is little to no regulation of honey in America. Most of the honey bought in stores doesn't even have pollen in it. Insane, yes? I've had to make myself here an edjumacated honey eater.

And no way was I gonna get bamboozled again. Not this year. No way man.

The second I came home with my health-food-store honey jar, I went to Google. I found an email address for the owner of the bee farm and shot this email over to him:

Good Morning,
I recently purchased a bottle of your pure local honey and I was it "raw?" I've been trying to find local, raw honey to help alleviate our allergies for years and was hoping your honey was unpasteurized/unprocessed?
Thank you very much for your time.

He wrote me back immediately. It was glorious. He explained his honey is as unprocessed as honey can get. He does not heat his honey beyond 100 degrees (bees maintain a temperature of 93 degrees inside the hive - stick that lil factoid in your pocketses!). He runs it through a sieve to get all the waxy weirdness out and then simply bottles that stuff up, pollen and all. He also added a few helpful bits of knowledge about "raw" honey. He said we don't yet have a universally accepted definition of raw honey, but most believe it to mean the honey is not heated beyond 120 degrees. He said many large bottlers (pretty sure he's talking about that cute honey bear at the grocery store) heat their honey to 180 degrees to keep it from crystallizing. Good rule of thumb? When searching for quality, local honey, crystallized honey is the bees knees! All it takes to re-liquify it is some hot water.
Pretty much the best experience I've had with a food-producing farmer. Not only did he explain, in detail, how my food went from flower to bottle, but he added in some interesting information I didn't even think to ask. Talk about taking the initiative to help your customers! I later found out this guy is also an aviation instructor and psychology professor. Can we please get more products on store shelves from people like this??

Honey can be a godsend this time of year, but unfortunately you gotta know where to look. If you find yourself torn between honey! and honey?, reach out to the farm (or company) on the label. Ask them the tough questions and if they can't answer, move along to someone else. Every dollar you spend is a vote. Vote health, vote education, vote for the proper way to stay snot-free!

A Few Resources for Your Reading Pleasure:

What about you, dear readers? Any of you have honey woes? Anyone else suffer from fall allergies? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below. Thank you for reading!


  1. Good morning girlfriend. You just gave me a new blog idea. Coming up with a recommended list of "real food" products. The only problem is I don't have the science knowledge to know what to put on the list. I was astounded recently when I read that the honey we are purchasing from the store may not contain actual honey. So I think the only alternative is to buy the more expensive stuff, but it sounds like even then we don't know what we are really getting.

    On a side note - I was vacationing in western Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago and to our surprise ended up in a cabin on a Mennonite farm. They had bee hives. I so wanted to ask if they had honey for sale, but didn't run into the proprietors again after we had checked in. I also saw a girl in a dress who looked to be no older than 12 driving a tractor! If I come across a Wisconsin farmer who sells his honey via mail order I will let you know.

    1. I would read that blog post in a heartbeat - the one about "real food" products. I am obsessed. Hippie-granola-type obsessed.

      AND YES let me know if you ever meet the farmers of that place and find out they sell it. I heard beekeeping isn't all that difficult to do. A ton of people out by me do it, but they don't harvest for sale, only for themselves and friends, as a hobby. I think maybe someday it will be on my bucket list.....they are so cute and fuzzy, the honeybees in my area!

      Thanks for stopping by Saavy :) I had early morning training this Saturday and I missed you guys!

  2. That's neat - I didn't know any of that about honey! I bought some local honey from a farm out West from where I live and it's yummy! Definitely higher quality and will go back for more - a charming little store, it's good to support the local farmers. I will definitely keep these questions in mind though!! Thanks for doing the research Jennifer and have a great weekend :) -Iva

    1. Hey Iva!! Sounds good to me - the local farmers need it! They don't get as many subsidies ($$$) from working with the corporations, and they produce higher-quality products (more expensive to make) they're really getting screwed both ways, and not in the good way. They need every last dollar we can give 'em! And with this food revolution going on, organic hype and all that, I'm hoping we can make it happen for these people.

      Thank you for reading Iva :) Heading over to catch up with you now - I missed reading this Saturday!!! :)

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! I have been wanting to do the local honey thing for a couple years now and this is exactly the help I have been looking for!!-Ashley

    1. No problem at all Ash!! Very glad you got something out of it - I'm very excited to share the stuff I've learned by making mistakes! !! !! :)

  4. Oo I do like honey. I don't think I've ever had "real" honey before.

    1. It's the BOMB. And I don't mean to sound like a total hippie, but it can be used to cure all sorts of ailments. It's great for skin, hair, cuts, headaches, allergies, flu, fever, throat problems, you name it....honey can do it. BUT ONLY THE REAL KIND!

  5. i've never had allergies to anything (hurray!) but angel used to buy raw local honey (and it was always crystallized except during the dog days of summer when our house was too hot! lol). In lots of countries outside America, though, you aren't spoiled with so much choice in what you can buy. Often it's a matter of eat what's available or nothing at all..and wash your produce in iodine and boiling water so that at least the parasites won't get you. :)

    1. See - that's so true - although I've never visited a place like that, we all know countries like that exist. I kinda feel like that makes us even more responsible for fixing our food system. Yes, we eat - but our meat is also placed in ammonia to clean all the diseases out of it before we eat it. As consumers, we should know this is happening, and we should take responsibility for ensuring it stops, ESPECIALLY because there are countries out there that are unable to live any other way. I strongly believe it's a slap in the face to everyone you referenced in your comment to be ignorant about what we eat here in America. I think back to Germany and you know what they did? They grew their own food. Shopped everyday for fresh bread for dinner. THAT, in my opinion, is showing respect for resources. THAT is why I write this stuff. We're ignorant here - and it's disrespectful to be ignorant when there are so many others who would give anything to have the good soil, clean air, and clean water we have, not to mention the garden centers, access to seeds, and access to ranches and self-sustainable agriculture we have here. Thank you for your comment, Rach, cuz it's so true. There are others who have so much less - which makes it even more important for us to be educated and to make the right choices when it comes to our food.