I seem to have a knee-jerk aversion to white foods (flour, sugar and Crisco®) and so, even though I know the color of the shell is just a reflection of the breed of chicken, I instinctively gravitate to brown eggs (except for Easter eggs). That’s just my silly prejudice. However, I’ve recently become aware of more relevant misleading flim-flam in the marketing of eggs. In fact, I think that egg cartons are one of the most confusing choices in the grocery store.
Let’s start with the assumption that we all probably want the most nutritious eggs and that none of us wants to eat unnecessary drugs and chemicals or to encourage cruelty to animals. So, we are drawn to humble paper cartons labeled with “natural” and “farm fresh”. I know that legally those mean nothing, but what about “cage-free” and some of the other descriptors? I appreciated TIME Magazine for writing an article on the subject in the February 2nd edition (2015). Unfortunately, since the online version is only available to subscribers, I will have to write my own:
- Cage-free. That sounds good, but the chickens can still be smushed together (think elevator at quitting time on Friday) on the floor of a huge factory building, never seeing the light of day. I suspect that the big agribusiness chicken farmers weren’t being kind when they eliminated cages. It is likely they simply found it to be more profitable and then claimed the change as a sales point. There are no restrictions in this definition regarding feed, antibiotics or hormones.
- Free-range. Are we getting somewhere now? At least these animals have a door to the outside world if they choose to use it. We can hope that these breeders might be a little more enlightened and inclined to go natural, but there is no requirement regarding feed or drugs. In California there is a special classification (SEFS) which assures that hens can at least turn around and spread their wings.
- Pasture-raised. Similar to free-range, the definition is not legally binding. But, (if certified by voluntary associations) that can mean that hens may visit a roughly 10′ x 11′ patch of pasture part of the day.
- Vegetarian. This usually means only that no animal products are put into the feed. Unfortunately, it likely also guarantees that the birds don’t get to go outside and eat what they naturally would…including bugs (which are obviously animal).
- Omega-3 enriched. I’m all for giving chickens flax seeds or other sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s to counteract the inflammatory omega-6 which predominates in grain feed. Chickens scratching around in nature eating their instinctive diet get omega-3 without even trying. However, enhanced eggs can still come from penned up drugged birds eating feed containing pesticides.
- USDA Certified Organic. Other than buying eggs straight from a farm where you can see how the chickens are raised, this seems to me to be the most reliable choice. Government inspectors assure that hens are not caged; have outdoor access; and are given vegetarian feed free of antibiotics and pesticides. There could be questions about animal welfare as raised by the Humane Society, but this is a good start. I believe organic is the best choice available to most consumers.
Wow. Is it any wonder that so many people are now raising their own chickens…even in the city? They also find that their home grown eggs taste better.
Eggs are a great source of complete protein and, in fact, they contain all the nutrients needed to build a whole animal! Very few people need to worry about the cholesterol in eggs because approximately 75% of the cholesterol in our arteries is made in the liver. When we eat more cholesterol, the liver makes less…that is unless we confuse it with too much sugar.