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Honey is a global food — part of tradition, culture and trade. But it’s not all sweet: the story also involves smuggling, deforestation and climate change. One woman explains what she found out when she went around the world in pursuit of liquid gold and vanishing bees.
- Grace Pundyk Author of "The Honey Trail," award-winning photographer, and author of 10 travel and photographic books.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. "Honey is the United Nations of the food world. The one ingredient that heals and soothes, that speaks of lost civilizations and distant migration, that conjures images of the deserts and mountains whence it comes. The tales of the evolution and adaptability of plants that reveals the history of us, if we can take the time to listen and look a little closer." Those are the words of my guest Grace Pundyk, who traveled the world to see how honey is made, sold, distributed, marketed and used. She's written a book about her journey, it's titled "The Honey Trail: In Pursuit of Liquid Gold and Vanishing Bees."
MS. DIANE REHMAnd some of her photographs are up on our website at drshow.org. If you'd like to see what we're talking about, you can go there and view to your heart's delight. If you'd like to join us, call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter. Good morning to you, Grace. Thanks for joining us.
MS. GRACE PUNDYKGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me on the show.
REHMAnd thank for this lovely jar of honey that you brought to me.
REHMDescribe it for us.
PUNDYKWell, this is honey from Bruny Island and Bruny Island's a small island off the coast of the island of Tasmania, where I currently live, in Australia. And I now have five hives. When I wrote my book, I didn't have any hives at all, so I've -- it's been a real journey of discovery, writing this book and traveling the world researching honey and bees. So since writing the book, I've now got some bees and I moved my bees onto the island last summer. And it's a really pristine island, lots of coastal vegetation, lots of eucalyptus and two of the hives were very, very, very productive and the honey is very thick. It solidified really quickly, so it's very pure. I extracted it onsite with a hand spinner and filtered it a couple of times just with a kitchen strainer and I think it's a coastal heath. I actually don't know what the flowers were that were in season at the time.
REHMOh, I see.
PUNDYKBut it's pretty special.
REHMTell me what got you started on the journey of bees and honey.
PUNDYKWell, I lived in Kuwait from 1997 to 2000 and when I lived there, that's when I first tried Yemeni honey and it was quite an amazing experience to try this honey, to say the least. And after that, wherever I traveled, I would always source local honey. I always found that it told me so much about a place, a history of a country, of a people, geography, the environment, the climate, there was such much you could learn from honey.
REHMWhat was so extraordinary about that Yemeni honey?
PUNDYKWell, it was the flavor, for a start. And at the time, of course, I didn't know, it wasn't until later when I was writing the book and I traveled to Yemen, that -- and I got to see this particular tree, the Sidr tree, and to talk to the Yemeni bee keepers and to understand the significance of honey and the Quran and in Islam, why it was so extraordinary. So, you know, fast forward 10 years or -- no, eight years when I was in Yemen after trying that first honey in '97, so in 2005, I was in Yemen and the bee keepers actually believe that it's the Sidr tree that the Prophet Mohammed was talking about when he was talking about this is where the bees get there nectar from. And of course, you know, they get their nectar from lots of other trees in Yemen and it's amazing honey in Yemen, but this particular tree they believe this is the one that's the most potent.
REHMI think we have one photograph of a Yemeni tree on our website. It's a lopsided and heavily laden bee keeper's truck that's en route to elsewhere.
PUNDYKTo Hodeida, yes. So when I traveled around Yemen, I -- each country I traveled to, I had a different way of approaching the journey, so this particular country, I hired a driver. Normally when I travel, I travel independently and I just arrive and I do my own thing, but I was advised you don't do that in Yemen, Grace. It's a country where they kidnap foreigners and you actually need some protection, so I hired my driver, Mohammed, who drove me around and his brief that I had given him was, Mohammed, I want to look for honey. I want to meet bee keepers. Wherever I want to go, please can you take me just stop if we see bee keepers on the side of the road or if you think you might know that down this track there'll be bee keepers, can we please go and see them. And go to honey shops and, you know, all that sort of stuff.
PUNDYKSo this particular photograph, we were traveling on our way back to Sana, which is the capital, and they -- the bee keepers were sitting in the shade. A lot of the bee keepers are migratory and when they travel, they travel at night to keep the bees cool and then during the middle of the day, they sit out. They let the bees just rest for awhile and probably, you know, go and see if they can find some nectar in the area where they've stopped. And then the bee keepers will sit in the shade of a tree, or in this case, they were sitting in the shade of a shell of a building and the hive was -- well the truck was laden with tiny hives. There were log hives, there were little box hives and the bees were furious, franticly, you know, busy all over the place. And the bee keepers were sitting there and you don't have a photo on your website of this, but the bee keepers were sitting there with their Kalashnikov, which is the standard, it was like wearing a tie, basically all the men have them.
REHMBut, you know, it's one thing to go from admiring, searching out, tasting honey to keeping your own hives. You must have fallen in love with the bees.
PUNDYKI so did. I so did fall in love with the them.
PUNDYKAnd they really started -- when I started on the journey again, so it started with this love of honey and then when I -- before I started the book, I realized that there was actually a darker side to honey that I wanted to investigate as well, so we think of honey as pure, comes from bees, it's this great food, so if there's a product with honey in it, then it must be good for us. Well, that's actually not the case. So anyway, that was also what prompted me to go in search of the other side of the industry. But bees started appearing in my life like never before. It was really quite extraordinary.
PUNDYKThey would come and, you know, sit down by on my saucer, if I was having a cup of coffee or, you know, it was one night I went to sleep and there was a bee on my pillow. How did the bee get inside? I have no idea, but, you know, they were always around me, so they became quite significant and quite potent symbols. And also being around them, when I was traveling and researching, I realized I started becoming quite calm if I was a bit anxious about things as soon as I would near some bee hives, I became very calm and centered.
REHMIsn't that interesting, because for most people, it's precisely the opposite. If a bee comes near, they become nervous. Tell us about the honey bee.
PUNDYKThe honey bee, well, the worst thing you can do is become nervous around a honey bee. A honey bee is quite extraordinary. They really do mirror how our society is as well and if you look at a lot of societies, the structure of the honey bee and the colony is really quite amazing, so they've got the queen, she lays her eggs. The drones, the male bees, they are only to mate with the queen, if they get lucky, but if they get lucky, then they die. And then you've got the worker bees that are all female and they have different roles, so you've got your scout bees that go out looking for nectar, you've got the bees that go out and then source the nectar, you've got the soldier bees, you've got the bees that protect certain things and you've got the little baby bees that, you know, that the little nursery that where the bees are born. It's really quite extraordinary.
REHMIt's a whole globe.
REHMIt's just really extraordinary. You write, "with honey you can map the world." So explain to us how you think of the world in terms of where you look for honey.
PUNDYKThe way I -- in terms of structuring this story for example, I wanted to address different aspects of globalization and honey and bees and how globalizations' affecting honey and bees and all that implies. And I wanted it to -- for me, you can go anywhere and find a honey and bee story. It's so universal. Honey and bees transcend cultures, they transcend religion, they transcend borders, they really are -- you can find them everywhere. And back into, you know, before the history of mankind, so for me, I wanted to create this world map or a universal map of bees and honey in respect to where we're at. How we often get, you know, we caught up in our little worlds that we live in, but when we look at a bigger picture of the world and honey and bees in that, it gives an understanding of that we are part of a bigger picture.
PUNDYKAnd so for me, it was really important to look at each chapter is a different country. I looked at a different aspect, so in Yemen, I looked at connections with, possible connections with terrorism and the significance of honey and bees in Islam. In Bonio (word?), I looked at the problems with deforestation and the encroaching palm oil plantations and how indigenous honey practices with the wild honey and the apostil Sidr bee playing a part in, you know, trying to stop that. In China, of course, it's the world's largest honey producer and they've got a good reputation for smuggling honey and doing all sorts of sneaky things with their honey. I was looking at that, so yeah, that's how I, you know, tried to address lots of different angles.
REHMAnd just think of it, for most of us, it's simply opening that jar of honey, putting it into tea, putting it on ice cream, just enjoying honey, but there's so much more to tell. Grace Pundyk is with me, she's the author of a brand-new book, it's titled, "The Honey Trail."
REHMWell, I've just had a taste of the honey that Grace Pundyk brought into the studio. It's like no other honey I have ever tasted. And you harvested this honey.
PUNDYKThat's right. It's -- well, the bees did all the work and I extracted the honey and put it in little jars and it's pretty special, isn't it?
REHMIt is. Divine. Now, let's see, we have an e-mail from Brian who says, "I love manuka honey. Your listeners might enjoy your guest's thoughts on it."
PUNDYKHello, Brian. Manuka honey comes from New Zealand, though in Australia also there's a type of manuka honey, but it's most commonly known as a product of New Zealand. What was interesting when I traveled to New Zealand and I actually went to New Zealand to look at that industry, the manuka industry, is we think the gain that, you know, manuka has is purported to have all these amazing antibacterial qualities that can be used to address certain -- to dress certain wounds. It penetrates beneath the layer of the skin, so all honey's healing, honey, but this manuka honey, and I'm going to qualify that, not all manuka honey, but some manuka honey can actually penetrate beneath the skin and actually kill the bacteria, so we have -- I don't know what you call it in the states, but in Australia, it's called golden staph virus. It's the disease that you get when you're in the hospital and they're little sores...
REHMOh, I see.
PUNDYK...and, you know.
REHMOh, I see.
PUNDYKThat's actually being -- manuka's being used for that. There's a gentleman in New Zealand called Profession Peter Molan and he was the guy that identified the unique ingredients in this particular manuka honey. And what's important to remember -- and this is what he kept stressing and what distressed him with -- what ended up happening with the whole manuka industry, because a lot of people started exploiting that name, he was saying that, you know, it's really, really important for him to -- for people to know that it's only some manuka honey that is--has these qualities because he was trying to reach the medical profession, who were quite skeptical, of course, of the use of honey and the last thing he wanted was for anyone to just grab a jar of manuka...
PUNDYK...and use it and then they would say, look, it doesn't work.
PUNDYKRight, so he did a lot of testing and he was the one that identified this ingredient, which he called Unique Manuka Factor. He's since later gone on to identify it's proper name, what ingredient...
PUNDYK...correct. And in doing this Unique Manuka Factor, there was a group of beekeepers that then banded together and they said, well, we're producing this particular type of manuka honey and it would test positive for certain -- on a certain scale, so you could get Unique Manuka Factor. So UMF 5 or UMF 10 or it went up to 25. And the higher the grade, the more potent the honey is.
PUNDYKBut there was a couple of things happening. Honey started appearing as manuka, UMF manuka honey, that wasn't that, so that was being exploited and, you know, there was a guy that was fined, not a lot of money, not as much as these people had been fined recently in the states, but he did that a couple of times where he falsely labeled honey that wasn't manuka and called it manuka honey. Then what also happened with the beekeepers that were saying, well, we're the only ones that can produce this Unique Manuka Factor honey, this UMF honey. No one else is allowed into our club and they were making a lot of money. And why not? Beekeepers really struggle, so it was great that they could actually charge a premium price for their honey, but Professor Peter Molan was saying, well, hang on, you know, there is other -- there are other beekeepers out there. Why can't they play the game as well? And they are producing just as good honey, so he's now introduced his own gold standard for honey and it is -- the Unique Manuka Factor honey is fantastic, is amazing.
REHMBut the question may be about its healing powers and to what extent have hospitals sort of decided, well, yes, this does work?
PUNDYKIt's being used -- the way -- when he identified this ingredient and the doctors wouldn't have (word?), they didn't want to know about it. So he went -- circumvented the doctors...
PUNDYK...and went through the nurses and, you know, went into old people's homes, you know, and was saying, use this as a wound dressing. And then he worked with a laboratory to develop a particular wound dressing that had this manuka honey on it and he was getting results that way. And there's since been studies done in Germany, as well, that have proved that this particular ingredient, that you can also find in chocolate, in coffee, it is so -- the amount that's found in this manuka honey is so high and that they believe that this particular ingredient also attacks certain cancers.
REHMInteresting. Last week, 11 people were indicted for illegally conspiring to import $40 million worth of honey from China. Tell me about that.
PUNDYKOkay. That particular story, it goes over the -- from the period of 2002 to 2009, but my understanding of that is that the Chinese were doing that before that particular period. I know from -- in 2001, Chinese honey was found coming out of Australia on route to the United States and labeled as a product of Australia, so they were trying to smuggle honey that way. And the reason they were doing it is that China had -- now there's a lot of strict testing regimes. For example, in the European Union, they've introduced -- you know, since about 2001, 2002, they've introduced really strict testing regimes because they realize that Chinese honey, which is largely used -- in most of the honey that you buy from the big honey corporations is Chinese honey...
PUNDYK...or a blend of Chinese honey. It's cheap, so they're going to blend their honey, you know. And it's easier for them to buy cheap honey rather than source it from local beekeepers where it's going to cost more. So until these testing regimes were introduced, the Chinese were basically doing whatever they wanted with their honey. And often, it wasn't -- so they would be using certain medicines that aren't approved in the western countries on their bees, 'cause bees get sick, too, and they need to be medicated. They were also -- the beekeepers are very poor in China. They're under a lot of pressure to produce -- to hand their honey over to the honey packers. And often, they would not wait 'til the honey was actually ready, so the honey was being extracted before it was properly honey and then it would be then taken to the factory to be made into a little bit more of a liquid that tastes like honey. Anyway, so with this -- in 2001, there were this -- this was going on, so the Chinese had their honey banned once these testing regimes were introduced in...
REHMBanned from the U.S.
PUNDYKFrom the U.S., from the EU, from Australia...
PUNDYK...from Britain and they thought, well, how are we going to get rid of our honey?
PUNDYKYou know, we can't get it -- sell it to our normal markets, so it started appearing as products of other countries and so, for example -- even a product of Australia and Australia's really strict with its quarantines. So...
REHMWell, how did they get around that?
PUNDYKWell, I think it's -- what's interesting is that we have a perception and, in some cases yet, certain countries are strict with their quarantines and their customs, but it also shows that there's a real loophole. And also, with the breakdown of, you know, cutting back funding for things like quarantine and customs, you know, then the walls start breaking down.
REHMSo are there any requirements that labels indicate that some of these ingredients are from China when you're dealing with honey?
PUNDYKGenerally not, which is amazing.
PUNDYKAnd this is one of the things I found when I was in Italy in the Italian chapter. What I loved about the Italians is that, you know, Italy's a part of the EU and the EU, unlike Australia and the United States -- I'm pretty sure the United States is the same -- they can -- in Australia, you can just say it's an ingredient of an imported -- you know, it's an imported ingredient.
PUNDYKThey don't have to identify...
PUNDYK...the country. And in the EU, it can say, for example in the case of honey, it can say -- the label can say this product contains EU and non-EU country ingredients...
REHMAnd let it go at that.
PUNDYK..and let it go, but the Italians have gone, no, no, no, no, no, that's not right. We want you to identify each country. And so the honey packers in Italy have gone, okay. So you can find honey in the supermarket that's imported in Italy and it'll say product of Vietnam, product of China, product of Egypt...
PUNDYK...product of Mexico.
REHMNow, Grace, you actually went to China to look at their honey industry. How open were they with you?
PUNDYKThey were incredibly open in a way, in a way. I was surprised and I left China to the last, partly because when I first started, I didn't have any contacts in China and I wanted to gather enough information before I just went in there with this attitude of, oh, the Chinese are bad and, you know, they're dishonest. And, you know, I needed to get a more balanced objective. So by the time I got to China, I did have a few contacts, which was helpful. And I was also concerned about the language barrier, not speaking any Mandarin.
PUNDYKSo once I got there, I approached a woman who was with the Bee Chamber Commerce and she introduced me to some honey packers. That was a fantastic introduction to the world of honey and the honey industry. Through them, I was really quite amazed and I was expecting them to just really -- and in a way they did, as this woman did -- they would just tell me what they wanted me to hear, so yeah, they are trying to introduce this practice because of the testing regimes that have been brought in. They're educating their beekeepers all around the country. It's a slow process. They acknowledge that there's a real problem, not just with honey, but with food in general. And the abuse and the exploitation of the quality of food in China and not just for the export market, but also within China.
REHMWhat about the drugs that the Chinese are using with the bees?
PUNDYKAnd again, so they're trying to address that. They're trying to make that more standard along the lines of what drugs and chemicals are also used in other countries for bees. There was one man I interviewed who was the director of one of the top three honey companies in China and he works with a traditional Chinese medicine company. And he's also got these amazing laboratories that he's had to put in place so that he can now sell his Chinese honey to the European Union market, but he's also working with this TCM, traditional Chinese medicine company, using traditional Chinese herbs. And it's sort of herbs that you -- I think there's a photo on the website of these particular pills. It's a sort of herbs that we would eat that's for human consumption and they're trying to work on -- they're testing these herbs on bees and the certain viruses and illnesses.
REHMCourse I'm so naïve, I would not have imagined that bees need medication.
PUNDYKThey do. There's all sorts of diseases that bees get and viruses as well, the amount of viruses they get. And of course their immune system isn't like ours, so they get quite sick and not to mention the mite that is everywhere, except for Australia, which is the Varoa mite and that requires a lot of medication and has caused huge amount of problems.
REHMGrace Pundyk, she's the author of "The Honey Trail." She's a writer and photographer. She currently lives in Tasmania and has her own beehives that she keeps. And I presume you are always carefully covered as you do. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a great many callers. We'll go to the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Melbourne, Ky. Good morning, Laurie. You're on the air.
LAURIEGood morning. And Diane, I don't know what we would do without your wonderful show.
REHMOh, thank you.
LAURIEAnd this would be one book that -- a book sale that Ms. Pundyk can certain count on. After this technical conversation about all the problems with importation, I have kind of a Charlie Brown question here. I hope that's okay.
LAURIEI have an old stone house on the National Historic Register in Kentucky here. And the previous owners had had the property for about 100 years and they showed me the old beehive that was contained between two walls in a shed on the back of the property. Now, I've had the property for 10 years and the beehive, which to my knowledge, has never been harvested by humans, suddenly disappeared last year. This kind of shocked me after, you know, decades of continuance. But the local authorities rather dismissed my queries as, well, this is the colony disorder disease or whatever. But I'm wondering if it could possibly be related to the pesticides and herbicides that the adjacent property, old farmland that has been converted to vineyards. And I know they're out there spraying the vines, so I don't know if bees pollinate grape blossoms or not and if there could be a connection. Thank you.
PUNDYKHi, Laurie, is it?
PUNDYKYeah, hi, Laurie. Thanks for your question. Look, they could well be. That's certainly an issue that a lot of beekeepers are facing here in the states, that they're noticing a real problem and a real correlation between the pesticides that are being sprayed extensively on crops around the country with the loss of their bees. Have you contacted the local beekeeping branch or club?
LAURIEWell, I looked -- I contacted a member of that, then I also contacted the county agricultural society. And both of them, without examining, just simply said, well, yes, you know, a lot of people are losing their bees. And I said, yeah, but this came up very suddenly after decades, if not over 100 years. And it seems coincidental that it's just been the last two years that the people next door have been spraying these vineyards. But I don't know, as I said. I don't even know if grapes blossom. I'm assuming they do (laugh) and if they do, are they pollinated by bees?
PUNDYKYeah, I'm pretty sure they are. I'm not sure, actually. I can't answer that exactly, but it could well be that the pesticides that have been sprayed there have affected them, especially if you're saying that that's just happened and then that's been the bees have disappeared for sure. And that's such a pity.
REHMOh, I should say.
PUNDYKIt sounds amazing...
PUNDYK...an old beehive...
PUNDYK...that's between two walls.
REHMLaurie, I'm sorry for your loss. Let's go to Durham, N.C. Good morning, Bennett.
BENNETTGood morning. I wanted to -- during World War II, when sugar was rationed and not available, I can remember my mother taking us to an ice cream parlor and the ice cream was made with honey.
PUNDYKYum (laugh) .
REHMYeah, absolutely. If I don't have chocolate sauce available, honey is the next best thing on ice cream. But honey is used in all kinds of foods, is it not?
PUNDYKYeah, it is. Yeah, you'd be surprised what it's used in.
REHMI mean, in -- some people put it on cereal, certainly in tea and if you've got a bad cold, maybe a shot of bourbon in there with...
PUNDYKBit of bourbon, bit of honey, bit of lemon is really great or just straight from the jar on the spoon. Just take a -- if you've got a sore throat or a cold, always take a spoonful of honey first thing in the morning.
REHMI'm going to keep this by my desk. Grace Pundyk, she's the author of the "The Honey Trail." She's both a writer and photographer who currently lives in Tasmania. Some of her photographs are up on our website. Go to drshow.org.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go now to Rockville, Md. Good morning, Dave, you're on the air.
DAVEGood morning. Yeah, I had kind of a historical question. The Japanese word for honey is hachimitsu and that's actually a borrowed word through Chinese from ancient Indian Sanskrit. And I'm wondering if they had native bee populations and honey in China and Japan, why they would have to borrow the word. So I'm wondering if they didn't have much of a honey culture in first millennium China and that part of the world or if they -- or if it was all imported from India.
PUNDYKThat's an interesting question, Dave. I don't know if that -- if, you know, how language changes and how words are adopted, whether that actually would mean that, you know, the word and therefore the honey was imported and that came with the word or the word evolved over time. I don't know.
REHMHard to say.
PUNDYKI might look into that.
PUNDYKThat's a really interesting thing.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Melissa who's in Tallahassee, Fla. She'd like to know, "Have you tried tupelo honey? It's unique to North Florida around the...
PUNDYKThat's right. I sure have, Melissa. In the U.S. chapter, I started my journey in Wewahitchka, which is where they produce the pure tupelo honey, as you probably know. And it's absolutely delicious. And the reason I wanted to -- the reason I traveled through Mississippi and started my journey in Wewahitchka as well was because I wanted to combine the issues in the United States with, you know, the problem with the beekeepers are facing with the disappearing bees, but also the issue with mass crop farming, problems Americans are facing with audacity, the power of the food giants in dictating to people what they can eat and what sort of food that they eat. And I wanted to combine that with sort of a honey blues musical journey. And of course for me, there's lots of references to honey and bees and the blues. And of course, I started the journey in -- with tupelo honey and because of Van Morrison's song "Tupelo Honey."
REHMShe says it does not crystallize.
PUNDYKNo, it doesn't. No. And some honey doesn't.
PUNDYKHow unusual is it for not to crystallize?
PUNDYKThere's some honeys that don't crystallize.
PUNDYKSo certain plants, the nectar just doesn’t crystallize. It's got -- you know, it just doesn't do it, it stays liquid. Fairly unusual, actually. There's certain -- I think acacia honeys don't crystallize, Tupelo doesn't. There's the honeydew. I don't know what you call it in the states. It's actually produced from the aphid. The bees actually take the sap from the aphid that -- who then takes the resin from, like, pines trees and oak trees. That actually doesn't crystallize as well.
REHMHere's another e-mail from Jessica. She's in Jackson, Mich. She says, "What type of hive bodies do you use? Are they Langstroth hives?"
PUNDYKYeah, I just use Langstroth hives, Jessica, 'cause they're easier to manage.
REHMAnd she says, "Do you practice medicating the hives to prevent mites or disease?"
PUNDYKI don't. I'm really fortunate. We are, in Australia, very fortunate that we don't have Varoa, so we don't have to medicate against mites, which is fantastic. I haven't encountered the other diseases that are also commonly present in hives, like wax moths, European Foulbrood, American Foulbrood. I haven't encountered that in our hives. They're pretty clean and they're completed unmedicated.
REHMTo Londonderry, Ohio. Good morning, Beverly.
BEVERLYGood morning. Thank you so much for your show.
BEVERLYI wanted to ask about the American culture. I don't know if it happens everywhere else or not, but where they move the bees to a farm site and the bees get monoculture food and then sometimes they're pretty much stripped of all of that and fed sugar water instead of honey. And it seems to me like we wouldn't survive if we were forced to eat only broccoli. You know what I’m saying?
PUNDYK(laugh) Yeah, I know what you're saying, Beverly. It's absolutely true. And it's such a pity that that's what's happening. And that's one of the reasons that -- well, that's one thing that they're attributing to all the losses in the bees.
REHMSo let me understand this, the bees are being force fed with a kind of sugar water?
PUNDYKWell, there's a couple of things that are happening. Often, commercial beekeepers will take all of the honey from a beehive and not leave any honey for the bees and they do that 'cause they need to make money and they wanna sell their honey and so the bees make the honey for themselves, but if they've got no honey left over, then they need to be fed something, so they're commonly fed -- in commercial operations, they're commonly fed sugar water, but often -- it was more often the case now, high fructose corn syrup. And that's happening because it's cheaper than buying sugar and because there's so much mass corn planting in this country.
REHMNo wonder bees are disappearing.
PUNDYKAbsolutely. Absolutely. We are such -- we are such a problem on this planet, the human species, we really are.
REHMI mean, the idea of taking all the honey from the nest and then force feeding these bees something else so they'll continue to produce for us.
PUNDYKYeah, that's right. And there's an argument out there that says some beekeepers say, well, it doesn't affect the bees, you know, that they can -- they will produce more honey, you know, being fed this sugar syrup, but I don't know. I just think it's a bit strange. If they're not eating the food that they're producing, it's like bottle feeding a newborn baby rather than breast feeding the newborn baby. That's what I -- the analogy I like to use.
REHMLet's go to Plainwell, Mich. Good morning, Rebecca.
REBECCAGood morning, Diane. Great show as always.
REBECCAWe've had a lot of interest locally in people keeping bees and I do buy local honey because, you know, support your local bee keepers, yeah. But I remember as a child, my grandmother used to keep a huge jar of honey in the cabinet with the honeycomb still in there. And if you had a cough or a sore throat, she would get out this huge tablespoon and give you this dripping huge spoonful of honey. We would fake a cough every time we went there. She must've thought we were the sickest...
REBECCA...children on the planet because all of my brothers and sisters would do this. I'm one of 10 and we would always do this when we went and visited our grandma to get that big huge spoonful of honey.
REHMOh, that sounds delicious.
PUNDYKHow lucky are you, Rebecca?
REHMI should say.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. And to Blanco, Texas. Byron, you're on the air.
BYRONOh, Hi. Thank you for having me on the show.
BYRONHi. My question to Laurie is if she's done any research on native stingless bees and vanishing culture of beekeepers from inner Mexico that basically, I'd read in a National Geographic article, that they were cultivating them for generations, but not as productive as the European bee, so it's disappearing. Just whatever you may know about that and if those bees are being affected by the same fungi or bacteria, whatever's killing off the European bee.
PUNDYKYeah, thanks Byron. I haven't done any research specific to Mexico. I have looked at native stingless bees. In the Australian chapter, I addressed that in terms of the native stingless bees in Australia, but generally, the stingless bees aren't as productive as the European honeybee and therefore, you know, in the new world countries like the United States and like Australia and Canada, bees were imported. The honey -- European honeybee was imported because that was part of, you know, the agricultural -- encouraging agriculture as well as honey production, so the native stingless bees that are used -- the Australian Aboriginals, for example, also use what they call sugar bag, which is the honey from the native stingless bees. And that was their traditional honey that they would get. I don't think they're being affected by those mites and the diseases just simply because they're not kept in the same way.
REHMI see. You were stung once in Yemen.
PUNDYKMore than once (laugh).
REHMMore than once.
PUNDYKBut, you know, in Yemen, the bees were really gentle. They're amazing. So you've got so many different types of honeybee and the Apis melliflera is the name of the honeybee, but then you've got Apis melliflera melliflera and Apis melliflera corsica and Apis melliflera yemenica, you know, so it just depends. So the Yemeni bees were smaller, the honeybees and they were quite gentle. But there was one particular time when I was photographing the bee truck that -- of the photograph that appears on your website, I was stung quite fiercely and it was a real warning for -- it was a real message for me to just, don't get too cocky, just, you know, be a little bit more respectful, don't be too, you know, like, I can handle these bees, you know, yeah.
REHMOf course, yeah. And then to Yemeni companies -- honey companies have since been linked with al-Qaida.
PUNDYKMm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yes. The Anul Company (sp?) and Al Shafer Company were linked a while ago now. The CIA linked them to laundering money for al-Qaida. And now, one of the reasons I went to Yemen was to not investigate that too much. I did want to look into that, but look at the significance of that and how accurate it was. And so there was some discrepancies. The CIA had got some stuff wrong and I won't say anymore about that, but certainly Al Shafer is one of the biggest honey companies in the country.
PUNDYKAnd they do have honey shops all around the country and they're incredibly knowledgeable about the use of honey.
REHMAnd is it delicious?
PUNDYKAnd it's not only delicious, it's incredibly healthy and they work with hospitals and doctors and honey's often used in hospitals in Yemen.
REHMTo Greensboro, N.C. Good morning, Lee.
LEEGood morning, Diane. Love your show.
LEEI use a tremendous amount of honey in my baklava and so I wanted to know did you venture to Greece and because they use a lot of honey in their desserts and pastries and stuff? And is there a preference in certain honeys when it comes to cooking?
PUNDYKI didn't go to Greece. I went to Turkey and again, in choosing the countries -- selecting the countries that I traveled to, there were certain areas and certain angles that I wanted to look at. Greece, I didn't go to, I think, because it was, you know, in close proximity to Turkey. Is there certain honeys that are used for cooking? Well, I think it depends what flavor you want to use. If you wanted a really strong honey flavored food or cake or whatever it would be, then you would use a stronger flavored honey. But if you wanted something that was just lightly honey flavored, then you'd use a light or say an acacia or something like that.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Keith in Silver Spring, who says, "I read the other day on the BBC site that urban bees have a larger variety of sources than country bees do and there's been a resurgence in rooftop hives in American cities."
PUNDYKThere sure has, Keith. I was just in New York last night and I gave a talk with the New York -- to the New York City Beekeepers Association. I was completely blown away by the turnout, an incredibly young group of people, which was fantastic. Traditionally, beekeeping has often been associated with old men.
PUNDYKSo it was really great to see this young group of people and it was only a few months ago I think that beekeeping was actually made legal in New York City. And people are starting to keep their hives on rooftops. And you're absolutely right, the bees have more of a selection of flowers to choose from.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, to Little Rock, Ark. Billy, you're on the air.
BILLYThanks for -- Hi, thanks for taking my call, excuse me.
BILLYI always get a thrill when I hear the music riff from your show.
BILLYThis may sound strange, but first of all, I wanted to ask a question. Is this problem only in the United States?
PUNDYKNo. It's not...
BILLYAs far as the...
PUNDYKThe disappearing bees?
BILLY...as far as the bacteria, bacterial or the virus that is affecting the bees, is it only in the United States?
PUNDYKNo, it's not, Billy. It's happening in Europe and in the U.K. on huge scales, but I think in the United States, it's happening on a much bigger scale. But the other thing that well, I found interesting was when I was in northeast Turkey, which is an incredibly remote mountainous cold wet area of the country, the bees were disappearing there, too. Now, what's being attributed to the disappearing bees here and in Europe is the pesticides, the overworking of the bees, putting them on, you know, for pollination services on mono crops. But there, I was in remote northeastern Turkey where they don't have anything like that and yet the bees were still disappearing and displaying the same sort of symptoms in the hive.
REHMWhat's your theory, Billy?
REHMWhat's your theory?
BILLYWell, her answer just shot all kinds of holes through it (laugh).
BILLYBecause I remember years ago when Saddam Hussein, as well as Momar Kadafi said that they were gonna get us at home where it hurts and we would never know what they were doing, I thought this might be part of that, but also several years ago, I was going from one small town to another in rural Arkansas and I was crossing the Bayou Bartholomew, which is the longest -- one of the longest bayous in the world and I came across a area where there's -- it's real curvy and there are three bridges. And on the middle bridge was a tanker truck and this truck was putting the contents or whatever was left in the truck over the side of the bridge into the bayou. And I was not able to get his license number or whatever, but I did report him and whatever, so anyway, I have these weird ideas, but anyway, I'm terribly (laugh) I'm terribly sorry about the bees. My grandfather raised bees and had wonderful crops. And I also wanted to make a comment that the taste of honey would be totally different from a bee eating sugar water or corn syrup because, I mean, it's not natural.
REHMNot natural is right, but here's something that is natural, an e-mail from Katura. She says, "Jews the world over celebrate. Rosh Hashanah is starting tonight, so what great timing for your show by dipping apples and challah into honey. Great topic and show." And the person you've heard speaking about honey is Grace Pundyk, she's the author of "The Honey Trail." She's a writer and photographer. She lives in Tasmania. Her photographs are up on our website at drshow.org. And thank you for the honey.
PUNDYKYou're welcome, Diane.
REHMThanks all for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones.
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