I could have sworn I posted this already, but I can’t find it in my archives anywhere, so I’m putting it up (maybe again). I wrote this for a friend’s website a couple of years ago. She had just read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, and was inspired to clean up her family’s diet. I’ve been on that path for a while already, so I agreed to be her food guru.
Now that I have my own guru website, it’s only fitting that I borrow my article back and post it here!
Clean Food is Dirty!
I have an egg dealer. I found her on CraigsList. Every week or two, I meet her at her downtown office in the middle of the workday for my goods. I slip her some cash - $2/dozen (the best price in town) - and she hands over a couple cartons of product. I’m totally addicted.
If you’ve never tasted a fresh, local free-range egg, then you really have never enjoyed an true egg before. My pastured eggs are gorgeous. Their vibrant orange yolks stand proudly above pillowy whites; there’s nothing yellow or watery about these beauties. They are flavorful. They are real…
...And they are dirty!
Nine times out of ten, my eggs come out of their reused cartons caked with mud, straw, chicken feathers and….well, chicken poop.
It’s ironic to me that the cleanest food (that is, according to Michael Pollan’s definition, the food that is least processed and closest to its source) is often the dirtiest. We’re so used to sterile displays of pressure-washed potatoes and waxen-cheeked apples that we are affronted by a trace of dirt or the telltale leavings of a worm.
I started buying farm eggs because I was really disgusted by the way American chickens of mass-production are raised. (Just Google egg factory farms for a lot of horrific visuals.) What’s kept me paying the big bucks, though, is the flavor and quality of pastured eggs. They’re simply better.
And, it turns out, they’re better for you.
In 2007, Mother Earth News led an investigation comparing the nutritional value of pastured farm eggs to “the official egg nutrient data from the USDA for “conventional” (i.e. from confined hens) eggs.” The results are dramatic.
Eggs from hens who are allowed to forage outdoors for food (in addition to supplementary grains and meal), as compared to hens in cramped factory-farmed cages (the USDA standard condition), typically contain:
• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
More recent tests last year showed that pastured eggs contain 4-6 times more vitamin D than their supermarket counterparts.
Here’s a nifty graphic to really make that information pop:
In every area, pastured eggs are better for you - supporting Michael Pollan’s mantra of “You are what you eat eats too.”
And it makes sense, right? A chicken with free-roaming access to fresh greens and juicy bugs will be a healthier chicken than the one crammed into a cage and fed nothing but corn and soy by-products (or - yum! - bits of its sisters and children - or even other animals, euthanized pets and roadkill not excluded, for added protein) and a cocktail of chemicals (often including arsenic, antibiotics and steroids).
Sadly, the healthy stuff is often cost prohibitive. In areas where pastured eggs are in high demand, it’s not unusual to see them at farmers markets for upwards of $5/dozen. You’ll do much better to search for eggs on your local CraigsList page, newspaper classifieds, or even those hand-lettered signs on telephone poles at the edge of town.
If you eat lots of eggs and can’t find a reasonably priced dealer, the cheapest (yet more time-intensive) way to get gorgeous, local free-range eggs is to venture into animal husbandry yourself and keep some laying hens in your backyard. Many American cities will allow you a few chickens in an urban lot (roosters are, understandably, outlawed within city limits). The BackyardChickens.com website is an excellent starting point for those with interest in raising their own eggs.
Whichever route you decide to go, I hope you’ll see the value of “dirty” eggs. They’re better for the chickens and they’re better for you, plus they taste amazing - what’s not to love?
**** Edited to add ****
Harmony asked in the comments what to buy when your eggs choices are confined to those lining the supermarket shelves. Here is an article that details what each label statement on an egg carton means. You can also look for your larger egg provider/conglomerate on this Organic Egg Scorecard.
Let’s face it, the egg industry is nasty. When buying conventional eggs, you are going to have to make a judgment call on what is the least of all the evils wrapped up in that carton.
As far as taste is concerned, they’re all kind of pale and watery. For aesthetics, I’d go for the organic vegetarian fed eggs. The idea of chickens being fed offal from the beef slaughterhouse just skeeves me out.