I have always been daunted by trips to the grocery store: too much noise combined with endless choices make my head spin. When my children were young, I would strive to be an organized domestic engineer with grocery lists, packs of coupons and good intentions for healthy home cooked meals. Good intentions took a wicked beating in the cereal aisle and, by the time I came to the cooler with the eggs, good intentions were down for the count.
The thrifty part of me was screaming, “just buy the cheapest eggs;” the health conscious part of me was trying to untangle the difference between “omega-3 eggs” and “all natural eggs.” Meanwhile, the compassionate part of me was certain that cage-free chickens lay the best eggs because they had to be happier chickens, which means healthier eggs, right?
By the time I made it to the checkout line I felt harried and defeated. There were many shopping days when I walked out of the store without items that had been on my list but never made it in my cart, either from my inability to decide on the best option, or by the shear frustration of having to think so darn hard about how to feed my family!
Over the last 10 years, I have spent a lot of time learning how to decipher food labels as well as food marketing. While I understand that reading food labels is a crapshoot, given the latitude that food processors have been given to hide and muddle the list ingredients in their products, eggs have continued give me pause. It just seems like eggs should be eggs, but as soon as corporations enter the egg business, it’s not that simple.
While preparing to lead a healthy lifestyle class, I came across a well laid out description of what terms such as “All Natural” or “Cage Free” really mean when it comes to our eggs and the chickens from whence they came. Here is what I have found:
- Standard eggs are from chickens kept in crowded cages with no opportunity to nest or exhibit natural behavior. Their feed could be anything that is approved by the USDA.
- All Natural means that no artificial ingredients are added but the eggs have no regulations and the farm practices crowded conditions, not nesting boxes, and these chickens would not be likely to exhibit natural behaviors.
- Omega-3 eggs could mean either of the above descriptors except that the chickens are fed omega-3 supplements such as flax seeds to increase the levels of omega-3 being passed on to the eggs. The environment in which these chickens live maybe crowded and unnatural.
- Cage-free chickens are kept in a large enclosed area and usually have nesting material but are not outdoors. While crowded, they often exhibit more natural behaviors than the caged birds.
- Free-range birds have indoor and outdoor roaming space, perches, and litter, and therefore get to be chickens.
- Organic hens are fed USDA certified organic feed, as well as being able to roam freely indoor and out—cages are forbidden.
You still have choices to make, but the wonderful thing about this mountain community is that you probably live next to someone who keeps chickens and, if you are a good neighbor, maybe you can score some truly fresh, organic eggs at a reasonable price.
Virginia Eaton is the owner of Class: The Body Pastiche