Eggs are one of my favorite things - and one of the hardest things to know how to buy right. We all know the neon yellow eggs served to us at the local diner. Damn, those delicious meals of runny sunny-side up eggs on top of pancakes with a side of hash browns! Well, maybe that’s just me. The point is that those mediocre factory farm eggs are a big part of any food lover’s nostalgia file, but to be an ethical food eater we have to revamp our relationship with eggs.
When I was a kid, “cage-free,” “free-range,” “pastured-raised,” “omega 3” eggs didn’t exist. The labels hadn’t been invented. The only question was, “Do you want to buy eggs in styrofoam or in cardboard?” But now you walk into a mega super food store, like Fairway, and you get dozens of egg choices.
Do you know that feeling when you are in the grocery store, and you go to the egg aisle, and then you see lots of eggs, and then you just stand there dumbstruck for 15 minutes debating which to buy? I know I can’t be the only one. It’s an almost impossible task to know what all the labeling means! And that’s how my fascination with eggs began. What used to be a dreaded moment for me in the egg aisle is now completely engaging. In a way, eggs were my gateway to my investigations into farming and sustainability.
It started when I began reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. Four days later I was a vegetarian. Not for moral reasons but for ethical ones, I gave up meat cold turkey. But, as compelling as his book was, I still wondered what that meant for my egg and dairy consumption. I did not want to give them up, and didn’t feel compelled to.
In the meantime I went to Whole Foods to buy my eggs. But I continued to find myself staring blankly at the choices in the egg aisle, feeling perplexed as to which eggs I should buy. Some of them even had inserts in the carton with a picture of a chicken. “Is this the chicken who laid these 12 eggs?” I would wonder. It couldn’t be.
So then, an amazing thing happened. I met Jonathan Safran-Foer at a book signing and I got to ask him about what he decided to do about eating eggs, and what to do about buying them. He said that he’s basically vegan (though he was reluctant to label himself), and the only way to really know that you can trust your eggs is by going to a farmer’s market, meeting the farmer, and then going to the farm. His answer was not an easy one to swallow. While I agreed with him, and wanted wholeheartedly to do this, I knew realistically this would not become the predominant practice of the average urban dweller. But, I made the first leap and started buying my eggs from the farmer’s market. Which at least cut out having to sift through deceptive labeling.
Ultimately, I went even farther into the investigation and started working on farms, getting first-hand experience with chickens and their eggs. I personally think chickens are way under-appreciated. People tend to belittle them because they’re not emotive like goats or sheep, BUT, really, they are awesome. The importance of buying eggs from farms that put their chickens out to pasture, meaning letting them out in the grass to run around and eat bugs and take dust baths, is vital. Once you see chickens outside living this way, you will be able to tell if a chicken is happy. And of course you want happy chicken eggs.
Still, I do not believe that it’s realistic for everyone to visit their egg farm, nor should they have to. Truth be told, some small farms don’t allow visitors, in order to reduce the chance of bringing in diseases from livestock at other farms. Once I went to a farm in the Catskills, and before I could walk onto their pasture I had to rinse the soles of my boots in bleach water. So the concern for spreading disease is definitely a thing that animal farmers have to worry about. So what do we do then?
While there is no perfect solution (unless you decide to raise your own), I think there are two principles that we, the consumer can use to measure the trustworthiness of our eggs. The first is that the birds roam freely on pasture. And the second is that the birds eat weeds and bugs on pasture, as well as either locally-grown, non-GMO, or organic feed. Basically, when you make sure your chickens are getting both of these things you are ensuring that the eggs you eat are coming from birds that have a chance to be their birdy-selves.
Now that I work for Quinciple, I see that there are a lot of people doing all the hands-on research in order to help urbanites know what they are buying. Quinciple’s strategy is to vet all the farms for you, which I think is quite a service. Kate Galassi, co-founder, has spent countless hours visiting different farms and building personal relationships with the farmers that Quinciple partners with. This week, in the Quinciple box there are ½ dozen eggs from the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative located in Lancaster County, PA. Co-ops are great because they allow farmers a certain amount of financial power that they wouldn’t have on their own, while still allowing them to tend their small farms. One of the great things about Lancaster Farm Fresh is that even though the eggs come from a number of different farms, each carton is labeled the farm that raised those laying hens. There is also a set of bylaws that clearly state what practices the member farms must adhere to including not using any antibiotics, hormones, or GMO feeds, and all the animals must be fully pasture raised. This farm co-op is a great example of the kind of transparency we as consumers deserve and need.
Here’s to enjoying trustworthy eggs this week!
View this original post at Quinciple.com