What can the material and use of honey dippers tell us about the human ecosystem?
The Depot's honey dipper is made of oak, a durable, moisture-resistant wood amenable to spending time in honey. Oak can be sustainably sourced in central Europe with practices such as selective logging, which involves choosing trees to harvest to minimize the impact on the forest ecosystem, and reforestation, which involves planting new trees to replace those that have been harvested. Extensive lumber and labor regulations have existed in central European since before the creation of this honey dipper — In 1972, the European Union Environment Action Programme began to prevent destructive logging practices. But if the oak for this honey dipper came from a protected forest is unknown.
The shape of the honey dipper results from a process called lathing, which involves shaping a piece of wood by rotating it against a cutting tool, such as a chisel or a gouge, before sanding to create a smooth finish. A honey dipper can be made from a single block of wood, but the Depot's dipper is formed by gluing three pieces of wood together. The dipper could have resulted from one person using handheld tools, or more likely, based on its construction, it could have come from a manufacturing facility that produced thousands via automated means. Without knowing where the Depot purchased its honey dipper or the company that produced it, it isn’t possible to know how its specific materials were sourced, the labor conditions of those sourcing it, or how mechanized the production process was. This means that little is known about the people who made it.
The history of the Depot's honey dipper sets it apart from others. While the museum purchased the dipper as a display object for the benefit of museum visitors, most dippers are purchased for less than ten euros and used to cleanly distribute honey from a honey jar onto a food item. That honey comes from bees, who make it in their hives from honeydew (also called plant nectar), pollen, and enzymes excreted from their salivary glands. Honey is their sustenance through the winter months, having stored it in their honeycombs, and ensures their survival. Beekeepers must guarantee that hives have enough honey to survive when removing honey for human consumption; some commercial farms replace honey with sugar for bees to live on, but this decreases the nutrition available to bees and can threaten the health of a hive. As the substance's popularity among humans depends on its reputation as an antibacterial, nutrient dense alternative to sugar, a honey dipper helps humans mimic the consumption process of bees.