Aug 14, 2011

Apples to Apples -or- Eggs to Eggs?

Eggs are an inexpensive source of quality protein.  However, not all eggs are created equal.

Every week, it is my goal for my family of four to eat at least two dozen eggs.  My husband enjoys eating hard boiled eggs for lunch.  Sometimes we have scrambled eggs for breakfast - or a quick dinner.  Usually I consume my portion of eggs raw (actually just the yolk) in a smoothie.  The weeks that quiche is on the menu, I buy a third dozen.
Would I consume a raw egg yolk from the grocery store?  No way.  I worked in an experimental chicken house in college and I've seen too much.  Smelled too much.  Those poor industrialized birds are cramped in horrible living conditions and cannot produce healthy eggs.  There is a reason eggs go on sale at Kroger for $1 per dozen.
Eggs from hens allowed to feed on pasture contain four times more vitamin D, three times more vitamin E and seven times more beta-carotene, compared to industrial eggs. 
- Mother Earth News, June/July 2011

Pastured eggs are an inexpensive form of quality protein.

Not all eggs are created equal. The best tasting, most nutritious egg will be the one that has an orange yolk.

"Orange?"  you say, "I thought yolks were supposed to be yellow."  Well, grocery store eggs - from chickens that eat strictly grain and are trapped in small cages with 12+ hours of artificial fluorescent light a day - those eggs will be yellow.

But a bird that lives on green pasture, where the bugs are plentiful and the sun rises and sets as God ordained it - that bird will deliver beautiful eggs with orange yolks and hard shells.  Subsequently, the orange yolks will provide more nutrition.  Which is precisely the reason I am willing to pay $5/dozen for eggs.  The shells are hard and yolks are orange.   They taste delicious.

If you are buying eggs from a farmer, or someone that has chickens in their back yard, and the yolks do not look orange, but yellow, I would venture to say that those chickens are eating more grain than bugs and grass.  Those chickens are mostly likely in a small dirt pen.

Eggs from chickens in a dirt pen are still better than eggs from the grocery store; they're just not as good as chickens that have ample room to roam.

What if I can't find a source for local eggs?

If you are hard pressed to find pastured eggs or at second best - dirt yard eggs, I would buy organic eggs from the grocery store.  The term organic means the birds have not been fed antibiotics or given grain that is genetically modified.  Most, if not all, industrial raised layers (i.e. chickens that lay eggs) are given antibiotics whether they need it or not.  These antibiotics are passed on to the consumer through the egg and is why we are seeing resistance to antibiotics when they are needed.

If you cannot find organic eggs, I would buy eggs that say "cage-free" or "free range".

This is where the labeling gets a little squishy.  These terms, "cage-free" or "free range" mean the birds are not confined to a very small pen.  The birds could be crowded together on the floor of a barn or building with concrete floors. "Free range" means the birds have access to the outdoors through a small door but most choose never to use it.  Most industrially raised hens that are "cage free" have their beaks filed so they will not peck each other to death in their close living quarters.  As you can imagine this is not humane.  Here is a website that explains all this in more detail.

The price difference to me is worth it.  I am willing to pay more per dozen for quality nutrition.  Truth be known, I've paid more than $5 for a drink that's nothing more than empty calories.

As a recap, here's the order in which I would buy eggs:

1. pastured, from a farmer I trust or a neighbor's back yard that has green grass
2. farmer or back yard that is a dirt pen
3. organic from grocery store
4. free range or cage free from grocery store
5. dirt cheap eggs from grocery store

Industrial eggs from the grocery store are still real food.  They have a shell.  There is some redeeming nutritional value to them.  And they are a cheap source of protein and nutrition.

Unless I am starving (literally), or in a very awkward social setting, I will not eat powdered eggs or eggs from a carton.

If you are in the beginning stages of your food journey, I would recommend you to think about paying more for eggs.  Look for a local source to buy eggs from chickens that have access to fresh air, sunshine and bugs that nourish the chicken to give you a healthy egg.  Living in central Arkansas, there are plenty of options for locally raised eggs.  Start with a farmers market and ask the farmer to describe the area where his chickens roam.

After all, not all eggs are created equal.

linked with Monday Mania.

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