The incredible, edible egg. Most Americans are familiar with this phrase, and it does appropriately describe the miraculous gift to humans that is the egg. Sometimes referred to as nature’s perfect food, the egg certainly does carry a heavy nutritional punch, delicately contained in its fragile shell of a package.
Nature hands us the egg as a whole unit, and that is precisely the way it was meant to be eaten. If you’re still ordering egg-white omelets in attempt to live to 100, you may not have received the memo that dietary cholesterol has been exonerated from its heart-clogging accusations.
The yolks are not meant to be shied away from, as we were once encouraged towards doing. While the bulk of the protein is contained in the whites, passing over the yolks (like I used to do) is denying yourself the wealth of nutrition that is contained within that sunny globe. What you should throw out instead is that pitiful carton of Egg Beaters sitting unappetizingly in the back of your fridge.
So while eggs are certainly edible, and most definitely incredible, this tag phrase is ill-fitted for the battery cage eggs that it is actually looking to endorse. Not all eggs are created equal, and some varieties beat others hands down- in flavor, nutrition, and animal welfare.
So which eggs are best?
The labels we find describing our food can be dodgy, and discifering egg labels is particularly challenging. Food companies often use misleading adjectives to describe their products in the hopes that words like “natural” will get consumers to buy whatever it is they are selling (and we do! ) Since there is a tier to the way eggs can be raised, and the labels are vaguely defined, it’s good to brush up on them before you pick up your next dozen.
Battery Cage Eggs
This is the vast majority of eggs lining supermarket shelves in the US. You won’t see this label paraded across the carton, obviously- that would be terrible marketing! These eggs come from hens who spend their entire lives crowded into small cages kept indoors. The birds never see sunlight, have as little as 67 square inches of space allotted to them, and have been debeaked to discourage their natural pecking “tendencies”. The girls become depleted of calcium (due to overlaying) and because their unhealthy lifestyle leaves them sick, antibiotics must be administered in order to keep them poppin’ those eggs out for us. (source)
Although a definite improvement from conventional eggs, cage-free eggs sound a lot better than they actually are. These eggs come from birds who generally have no access to outdoors, but who are free to move about within a confined space, like a barn.
This labeling technique is pretty sneaky. There are actually no government regulated standards when it comes to this type of egg production, so its legitimacy is a little shady. Typically, these eggs come from birds who are kept indoors, uncaged, with some degree of outdoor access. More times then not, this is just a small opening in the large barn. But since feeding occurs indoors, the girls are conditioned to stay put inside.
Certified Organic Eggs
These eggs come from hens who are fed an organic diet and not administered antibiotics. They are kept uncaged inside of barns, but as a requirement they must have some access to outdoors.
Pasture Raised Eggs
If I come back someday as a chicken, I can only hope I will be Pasture-Raised. While this claim is not yet regulated by the government, these birds are typically kept outdoors for most of the year, and brought inside at night for protection. While outside, they are free to behave however their little chicken hearts desire. This includes, but is not limited to: clucking, wing flapping, dust bathing, sun basking, pecking, scratching, nesting, perching… you get the idea. #chickenlife
These birds are also able to do what nature designed for them to do with their precision beaks- catch and devour bugs, worms, and other small creatures. While many egg producers indicate that their birds are “vegetarian fed”*, chickens by nature are not vegetarians. Sure, they wouldn’t naturally eat other chickens (animal byproduct, which is what this label is actually indicating) but they certainly wouldn’t pass up a grasshopper if they had the chance. This protein, along with a diet rich in other scavengings such as seeds and green plants, contribute to the superior nutrition Pasture-Raised eggs provide for us. Eggs from these birds provide 4-6 times as much vitamin D as conventional eggs, 2 times more Omega-3’s, 3 times more vitamin E, 7 times more beta carotene, and significantly more vitamin A. (source) And the taste is undeniably superior, as an added bonus.
Choosing to eat from animals that had a decent life is Good Karma in the truest sense of the term. It probably will help you sleep at night knowing you made that decision, but these healthy animals will also serve our bodies better, as their nutritional content will intrinsically be superior to unhealthy animals.
The best place to buy your eggs?
Go to your farmer’s market, or go even one step closer to those clucking hens and pick up a dozen eggs straight from the farm itself. When you purchase food grown by your neighbor, you are buying from faces, not corporations. Those human hands that gathered your eggs are where your dollars should end up. And if you want to know exactly how your eggs were brought into this world, you’re looking at the source for those answers. Just ask!
*”Vegetarian Fed” on a carton of eggs is a company’s way of reassuring consumers that their birds were not fed animal byproduct, which is a good thing.
Don't let me do all the talking! Let me know what you think in the comments.