The Bee Effect

Unfortunately for honeybees, they are bees, and therefore lumped into the unsavory category of “bug” for me.  I’ve never been into bugs.  In fact, I’d rather they not come near me.  Just this morning my skin crawled when I was walking Kid 1 to school and we came across a tarantula.

Yes, I said tarantula.  It was moseying down the sidewalk, minding its own business, when the population of Kid 1’s elementary school that walks to school began collecting around it.  On the way home, three other moms and I relocated the tarantula, which began to charge us.  It was slow and crawly, but I am sure it was charging us.

Anyway.  Bees.  Intellectually I know that honeybees are the good guys, and they don’t want to hurt us.  It’s weird how bees in general have this double sided public image.  Bees!  Are bad for you!  If they sting you, you might have an anaphylactic reaction and die!  But, bees make honey and pollinate plants!  Without them, we’ll all die!

The second impression is what the film Vanishing of the Bees is all about.  A documentary about Colony Collapse Disorder, or the mysterious disappearance of legions of bees over the last several years, Vanishing of the Bees is fascinating in its storytelling, and endearing in its home-grown production value.  The interviews and the way the tale is woven keep you engaged even if you know the outcome of the story.  I might have picked a different narrator – “Juno” star Eliot Page’s creepy monotone kept pulling me out of the story to wonder if she was chosen because she was the biggest star the filmmakers knew at the time.  And I found the rudimentary graphics charming.  It was like someone made this film as a labor of love.

The lack of slick tricks makes you concentrate on the story and the interviews themselves.  At one point, a veteran beekeeper just about breaks down and cries.  The vanishing of the bees has caused him to almost lose not only his business but also his entire way of life.  He is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, and is credited with first raising the stink about how hives were starting to be abandoned, thousands at a time.

By the end of the film, there are no concrete answers as to what happened to the bees.  The best the filmmakers can do is come to the most current conclusion of the industry:  that the bees are being slowly poisoned by the systemic pesticides used in modern mass farming of crops like corn and soybeans.  These are chemicals that are present in the crops from seed stage onward, and make it unnecessary for sprayed on chemicals that are more harmful to us.  The idea is that slowly over months, bees get exposed to these chemicals when they are bopping about the fields pollinating stuff.  Eventually they keel over or get lost and never make it back to their hives.

Why should we care?  Because bees are responsible for making all of those plants flower and fruit.  They are an essential part of the food chain.  Without bees, there is no food, which is why beehives are actually trucked across the country to aid in food production.

Drunk bees.  Bad for crops, bad for you.

After I watched Vanishing of the Bees, I met a strawberry farmer at an event sponsored by the California Strawberry Commission.  I asked him about the systemic pesticides, and what he thought about the theory that they are behind the bee mystery.  He said those aren’t used in his farms, and that he thought the bees were getting infested by a mite brought into the country by foreign produce.  “For a bee, it’s like having something the size of a dinner plate stuck to your abdomen,” he described.

At this point I say “ick.”  I’m going to eat only things grown in my garden, where there seem to be plenty of bees.  For more on this story, I do recommend watching this well-crafted film.