Yesterday I may have spazed over at Taste Buds about the need for pastured meat.
Something I neglected to mention though was the need for pastured eggs as well.
In the grocery store you can select all sorts of eggs: white, brown, cage-free, free-range, free-run, organic, omega-enhanced, grain fed.... All sorts of eggs!
But what do these labels actually mean? How can you, as a consumer, make the best egg decision possible?
Here we go:
White Eggs: come from one kind of chicken that has white feathers and white ear lobes.
Brown Eggs: come from another kind of chicken that has red feathers and red ear lobes. Other than that, there is no difference between the two colours.
Cage-Free: Most chicken eggs (and chicken for that matter) that you purchase in the grocery store are conventionally raised in something called battery cages. Essentially, they're tiny wire cages stacked up 10 feet high that don't allow the hens to move around at all. Their feet become warped, their beaks cut off, they live in their own feces and urine, feed on genetically modified grain and sludge, and they experience incredible amounts of pain and stress. Cage-Free hens are not kept in battery cages. That being said, they're often still confined to an over packed barn and treated as a means to an end - a bottom dollar.
Free-Run: Essentially, cage free with no outdoor access.
Omega-Enhanced: Hens are fed a diet that contains 10 to 20 percent flaxseed. Flax contains omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids which are important for lowering blood triglyceride levels and have been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. This says nothing of how the chicken lives or what flax may do for the chicken. Again, the hen is treated as a means to an end.
Free-Range: Hens are allowed to move freely - no cages - and usually have access to nest boxes and outdoor access (weather permitting). However, the hens are often over packed as mentioned above, are not fed according to chicken-happy standards, and while they may have outdoor access, sometimes that can qualify as a mere 5 square foot space per 1000 birds.
Organic: Allows hens to move freely without cages, have at least 1667 cm2 of space per bird, outdoor access (weather permitting) - again, the space allotted for outdoor activity is often minimal, and the birds are fed organic feed and live in conditions that encourage natural behaviour. The issue with organic is that often birds are still being fed grain - birds don't eat grain. But at least it isn't genetically engineered or modified. These eggs must be certified by the Canadian Organics Products Regulation in order to be labeled as such.
Hormone/Anti-biotic Free: Hens have not been fed or treated with either hormones or anti-biotics. Often this alludes to a general "happy" way of life for the chickens, though not always. The best bet is to ask. Hormone free, however, is essentially a marketing tactic since all chicken in Canada has been hormone free since the 1960's.
Grain-Fed: Chickens may or may not be kept in cages, subject to the same possible abuses as any of the above, but are fed a mix mostly comprised of corn, wheat, and barley. Chickens aren't meant to eat grain. When you feed an animal something it hasn't evolved to eat, there are dire health consequences for the animal and for the quality of product it pumps out = not so great eggs. Often, they are pumped with omega enhancers, etc... as mentioned above to increase these levels.
Pastured: Allowed to roam free the way chickens are meant to, hens eat grasses, grubs, worms, insects, and an assortment of edibles - all of which alter the texture, taste, and consistency of their eggs. Pastured eggs tend to be thicker, with stronger, darker yolks and a more complex flavor. These eggs are often organic, though not always. Make sure you ask! They also tend to be less fatty and much richer in nutrients and vitamins than the above mentioned eggs.
Which egg to choose? Obviously, pastured eggs are your best bet for the planet, your health, and the chicken. Maybe not for your wallet - conventional eggs are $1.99 at safeway; pastured are $5.00 at the farmer's market. And you aren't going to find them in your chain grocery stores. Hello, farmer's markets! Hello, farm-direct purchasing! Hello, back yard hens! There are a multitude of ways to get your hands on happy eggs - it just takes a little research. Not only will your body thank you for the nutrients, but your mouth will too - they just taste better. And so will the chickens. And who doesn't want happy chickens? Cute little guys!
SO: after all this preamble, here is this week's Film Friday - The Story of an Egg.
Where do you get your eggs from? What kind do you tend to lean towards? Is price a factor for you in consuming "happy" eggs or "happy" food?
This post is linked up with Fight Back Friday; Fresh Food Friday; Seasonal Inspiration Saturday;