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.

This is a traditional laying hen barn.
This is a traditional laying hen barn.

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.
This chicken breed lays brown eggs.
This chicken breed lays brown eggs.

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. πŸ™‚ 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.

24 comments on “Can We Chat About Eggs?”

  1. Awesome post, Lara. Thanks for all the info– it takes this kind of calm information-sharing sometimes to help people sort things out. I learned a lot!

    • Thanks, Catherine! I am so glad it was helpful. There are so many egg choices available now in the grocery stores that it’s easy to get confused – mainly, I just want to help explain some of the differences so we can be more informed as to what the labels mean and what kind of hen housing is used by farmers.

  2. Great informative blog Lara. Even as a turkey farmer I have to admit, I did not know about the differences in eggs. I LOVE eggs! I could eat them everyday and am so glad to know they are super nutritious no matter how they are raised. I totally agree with you, choices are wonderful and we are so lucky to have them. As the world population grows our choices may decrease so we need to appreciate them now πŸ™‚ Thank you for the great info!

  3. So glad to see your offer on questions regarding eggs! I am particularly interested in the diet/feed adjustments that are made to “change” the egg. Example, the density of the shell or the strength of unit in general. We eat a lot of eggs and over time I have noticed that peeling a hard boiled egg has become increasingly difficult, especially in removing the “skin”( for lack of a better word) that is between the shell and the white. What made me wonder was this skin was different depending on what grocery chain I purchased from! I have tried different cooking methods, peeling methods, as seen on tv gadgets, peeling under the stream of a faucet…you get the idea! At one point, I actually stopped buying eggs with my weekly grocery order and made a side trip to a different store just to use a different supplier. Crazy! Additionally, I have noticed that just cracking a raw egg requires a bit more pressure than ever. Could it be that in this day with so much riding on contracts with giant retailers and charge backs for breakage that there IS a nutrion difference between the eggs and the chickens that produce them? Granted, we don’t eat the shells, but their diets surely have an impact…don’t they?

    • Diane – these are good questions. I swear I read something about the shells of the eggs this week, but I have to go back through my files to see if I can find some answers for you. I am not sure what would account for making the eggs increasingly difficult to peel – other than more typical answer that the eggs are so fresh when they hit stores. (The fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel.) I have to admit I don’t typically even notice the pressure it takes to crack and egg (then vs. now) so you’ve got my curiosity! I will see what I can find out for you. πŸ™‚

  4. Diane,

    The reason for the difficulty of peeling hard boiled eggs is because of the freshness. The harder it is to peel the fresher it is. As for the hardness of the shell it isn’t necessarily a dietary supplement as a coating that is put on the eggs after inspection. A single egg shell can have over 17,000 pores on its surface that are intended for respiration while the chick is developing. However, these pores are intended to let things in and out which can significantly decrease the shelf life and freshness of eggs. Therefore they are given a basic coating/sealant so that the eggs stay fresh longer in your refrigerator and that is the increase in thickness that you are noticing. It also has absolutely no effect on the nutrition you are receiving from the egg, it just allows them to keep fresh longer. Hope this helps!

  5. I really appreciate how you explain the differences between the types of farms without making judgements about any of them. It all depends on the farm, the location, the chickens, and the consumer.

  6. I always appreciate reading new perspectives and joining in conversations about where our food comes from. I have to admit, though, that I was really surprised to hear you say that an egg is an egg, nutritionally speaking. I think you might want to look into the research a bit more. Eggs from hens raised on pasture truly are far more nutritious than eggs laid by hens in an industrial system. Detailed lab tests prove it. Here’s one place where you can see results from a lab study: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/pastured-eggs-vitamin-d-content.aspx

    • Thanks for your comments and sharing the link! I will take a look at the study, although it certainly seems to contradict what I know from the Egg Nutrition Center. I also just recently (within the last week) compared the cholesterol on the nutrition label between a pastured egg and a conventional egg with an organic farmer friend of mine, and both were the same. The study you referred to was reported in 2008 and I know that cholesterol contact in eggs has been reduced since then for all eggs. I do plan to research this further to see what I can find out, though!

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