Why can’t we all just get along?
Oops sorry. I had to vent for just a tiny little second. Sometimes all these food conversations are exhausting. Do you ever feel that way?
I read a blog post on the BlogHer network yesterday morning entitled, “How to Buy Eggs: Cage-Free, Free Range and Pastured, Oh My!” (You can read it in its entirety here if you want to.) I fully realize there is a lot of consumer mystery, if you will, on the sheer number of egg choices in the supermarket so I think it’s great when these choices are explained. What I dislike, however, is the continual bashing of one type of production method over another, especially based on misinformation – which is what this blog post seems to encourage.
In other words, conventional cages for chickens = bad. Cage-free = better. Pasture-raised = best. End of story.
Only it’s not that simple. There are pros and cons to each system and which production method a farmer chooses depends on a lot of different factors. It’s also true that hen housing has undergone constant improvements based on sound science, technology advances and, yes, what consumers want. No matter what type of hen housing is utilized, there are these key constants – the health and safety of the bird, as well as the safety of eggs for consumers.
Regarding the BlogHer post, it appears to me as if the writer hasn’t even visited a conventional egg laying farm (or a cage-free farm, for that matter) to ask any questions and formulate her own opinions.
So, as I did with ground turkey last week, I want to tell you – do not be afraid of your eggs, no matter what kind you buy.
Let me share with you a few random comments I have on egg production, based on what I read in the BlogHer article:
- I strongly believe that conventional egg production is not gruesome, no matter what the BlogHer post wants you to believe. Chickens are cared for 24-7, have access to a highly nutritious meal concoction of just the right nutrients, and the barns they are housed in keep predators and other disease-harboring animals and humans (yes, humans) away from the birds. (Check out this tour of a Minnesota egg layer farm here – it’s long but has great information about why some farmers choose conventional production methods for their birds.)
- Beyond traditional cages, some laying hens are raised in “enriched colonies”, a relatively new development in hen housing, which give the birds some additional space for perching, nesting and dust bathing. You can read more about an egg farm that raises its hens this way from a blog post my social media friend Katie Luthens Pinke wrote for her blog, Pinke Post. After taking a farm tour, Katie, who freely admitted she knew very little about modern egg production practices, came to realize that there is nothing gruesome about raising chickens this way, either.
- Chickens are not subjected willy-nilly to humongous amounts of antibiotics. Antibiotics are a tool in a toolbox for farmers and they are used responsibly and with care. You can view a video here from the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association to learn more about when and why antibiotics are used in poultry production.
- Chickens peck at each other, which the BlogHer writer appears to take as an “excuse” to use cages. You’ve heard of “pecking order”, right? Well, there is one with chickens and sometimes it’s not pretty. Cages can help limit that and keep birds safe from each other. (I’m not bashing cage-free here; I’m just stating a natural fact about chickens – if you watch the first video link above, you’ll hear what a Minnesota poultry veterinarian has to say about this.)
- There is no nutritional difference between a brown egg and a white egg. These eggs come from different breeds of chickens – a brown egg comes from a chicken with brownish-red ear lobes, and a white egg comes from a chicken with – yep, you guessed it – white ear lobes. Some chickens are fed flaxseed or other specialty nutrients, which can make the egg higher in, for instance, omega-3′s, but generally-speaking, an egg is an egg is an egg, nutritionally. The color of the egg also has no affect on quality or cooking properties, per the American Egg Board.
I could go on, but I do know that you probably don’t want to spend the remainder of your day reading about egg farming. Feel free to contact me here (scroll down to the email box) with any questions you have and I will do my best to provide answers to you.
I love choices in food. I applaud choices in food. I celebrate choices in food. We all have a lot of options for our egg purchases in the supermarket, at farmers’ markets and direct from the farm (or your own backyard, for that matter). Some folks can afford to buy the more expensive options because they want to and/or have a personal preference to do so. I myself buy mostly white eggs from conventional production because they are affordable and they taste great, but I have also purchased more expensive brown eggs upon occasion, depending on my personal preference at the time or a whim I have on a certain day. Some families even love to raise their own laying hens at home. But many, many people cannot afford to do these things. And all eggs have such an amazing nutritional profile – chock full of protein and a myriad of other amazing nutrients – that I would hate to see choices limited because of misinformation.