How are Honeybees Related to What We Eat?
Updated: Jun 8
For many people, bees are a somewhat controversial insect. This makes sense, especially when we hear from some sources to “save the bees” while simultaneously seeing people running in panic at the mere sight of one. Of course, allergic reactions are a serious problem for people with a severe allergy to bee venom, but how are we supposed to treat bees in general? Why exactly are they so important? Honey is delicious, but our dependence on their pollination extends much further. Some of the answer lies in the history of our relationship with them and how we depend on them today in our meals.
Honeybees provide pollination to a large number of foods we consume daily, but how did we get here? After all, Apis mellifera is not native to North America; these insects are originally from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (Mortenson et al., 2017). Honeybees have a long history of providing humans with their products. Now, we heavily rely on sugar and other processed products to sweeten foods; however, but sugar as we know it is a relatively new product. Originally, honey was often used as a sweetener. In fact, honeybees travelled with American settlers during the 1600’s, and they have been present on the continent since. Additionally, during the 20th century, the African honeybee was introduced in North America (Mortenson et al., 2017). Their long history and relative success on the continent have made them a long-standing fixture in our environment.
Although they have a mixed reputation among people, several components of our daily lives are tied to honeybees, from food production to nutrition. Today, our agricultural industry largely depends on the pollination provided by bees. A variety of crops rely on their efforts, and the end products end up on our dining room tables: “Bees pollinate more that 30% of the food we eat, and in the United States is it estimated that bees pollinate up to $15 billion worth of crops each year. In addition to providing pollination services, honeybees also produce other products that people use including honey, pollen, wax, royal jelly, and propolis.” (Mortensen et al., 2017). Even if a person does not eat honey regularly, it is likely they still eat several foods that are possible because of bees. Before I started studying bees, I was somewhat oblivious to this, but bees are pollinators of apples, cranberries, melons, and broccoli. They are also largely responsible for pollinating blueberries and cherries, and almond production relies entirely on the insect (“Pollination Facts,” n.d.). These are just several of the common foods that bees pollinate, and this has implications in the way we eat. To eat a healthy diet, it is widely recommended to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, which can prevent a variety of major, chronic health problems, and some of the foods pollinated by bees are among this variety.
A long history in society and in agriculture are just two general indicators of how bees are important. Without them, our meals, fields, and industry would appear much different, and many of the foods we enjoy would be vulnerable. As a biology student who is still learning more about these insects, I am fascinated by their complexity and beauty. Yet for most of my life, I was among the majority, and I was more afraid of them than in awe of them. Personally, I have discovered the first step in overcoming fear of bees is to simply learn more about them. A beehive is a complex network of thousands of individual bees, and they coordinate their efforts in a way that benefits us all. As someone who loves food, knowing that bees have contributed to some of my favorite snacks and meals has made me appreciate them much more.
Mortensen, A.N. et al. (2017, December). European Honeybee. University of Florida. Retrieved from: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/MISC/BEES/euro_honey_bee.htm
Pollination Facts. (n.d.) American Beekeeping Federation. Retrieved from: https://www.abfnet.org/page/PollinatorFacts