I have been keeping bees in the Twin Cities area for about 5 years now, and more and more, it seems my life is taking me in that direction. As you can imagine, I spend quite a bit of time talking to people about bees.
This last week was a particular intense time for me and bee related outreach. A friend and I recently went to see More Than Honey, a German documentary about what I will call the “situation with the bees”. (side note: worth seeing, but very agenda laden.)
In addition to that, this article hit the web about new research coming out as to what is causing such devastation to the bee populations around the world. The title of this article is mildly appalling to me. “Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and its worse than you think”. The article cites a combination of factors, including fungicides, neonicotinoids, and other chemicals as contributing to bee deaths. The article goes on to state that its likely the interaction of these factors that is causing it.
For those of us who keep bees, who study food policy, animal welfare, agriculture, this is not new, and it’s certainly not worse than we thought. We have known this for years, and leading experts have been trying to call this to the public’s attention for decades. There is an odd sort of bittersweet-ness that comes when someone asks me in a tone that is always abashed, and sometimes accusatory, that if I know anything about it. It’s a cross between glad public awareness is increasing, and frustration about how reactionary and sensational the national conversation is.
Whenever these news articles come up, these documentaries come out, I rub my temples and find myself repeating, “But it’s so much more complicated than all of that.”
The current practices of commercial beekeepers come from a long-standing tradition in this country and others of having food be both abundant and cheap. This tradition comes from everything including sociology, global and domestic economics, business development, and hundreds of other unseen factors. And it’s not helpful to vilify commercial beekeepers or anyone else. Fixing the problem will only come self-reflection and asking how all of us together got into this situation.
Pollinators are vital to our food system, and are themselves a litmus test for the environment. The bees are starving. They don’t have good food to eat, and so are getting sicker and sicker, and less and less likely to heal themselves.
But I will leave the dissertation on bee health and its causes to others who are better qualified. I bring this up to remind myself that everything is more complicated than all of that. As more and more important conversations are being had about public health, food safety, sustainability, organics, and on and on, I am constantly reminded that this is a problem that, like the bees, touches everything.
Recently, I met with a small group of friends, all of whom have a distinct expertise that lends itself to sustainable agriculture, to discuss issues around sustainability. We talked for hours, because it’s complicated.
Ultimately, the solutions to the problems facing the bees, facing the pork industry, crop failure, global warming will be the result of extensive conversation, and redefining how we, as consumers, relate to our food and our environment.
Like with most complicated issues, it’s going to be exhausting. So let’s getting ready for the long haul.