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Queen Bee

March 3, 2016 | by

An ad for French honey.

Yesterday I had one of those moments of everyday wonder that helps tint a life. I’m still not sure where it came from, exactly. I was getting a stirrer for my tea at a downtown coffee shop—no place fancy or very expensive—and there alongside the sugar and the milk and the napkins were the little packets of honey. Packets of honey! Suddenly I thought, Wow! Honey is made by bees! It was found in the pharaohs’ tombs! And here it is being given away for the price of a cup of water. I realize strict vegans must think about this all the time, and maybe it’s no more extraordinary than the ready availability of salt and pepper, once prized and fought over; or sugar, with its fraught history; or, for that matter, water itself. And yet, it was the honey that struck me. You never know what will jump out for you. (Somehow the fax machine has always remained the most wondrous piece of technology to me, more like Wonka Vision than anything more modern.) 

In some ways, honey’s rise seems more improbable, more like a triumph of marketing. Indeed, it gives all those current-day Stevia manufacturers reason to hope. Because at some point honey lost its reputation as a specialty ingredient. It became the only sweetening option available to Utah settlers. It became Pooh’s drug of choice; a crank’s hippie sweetener; and then, at last, a ubiquitous plastic bear available on every supermarket shelf for a few dollars, even though it proverbially lasts for eons. Here is a glamorous 1960s Bit-O-Honey commercial extolling its social virtues:

“Honey!” I said aloud when I laid eyes on the packets. A woman next to me looked up. “To think,” I said urgently. “It was in the pharaohs’ tombs! It was eaten by Nero! And here it is, free!”

She smiled politely—best-case scenario, really—and walked away, and of course I took sugar for my coffee. 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.