If you know me well, you know that my family eats a ton of eggs. Like 3 dozen a week for two adults and a toddler. Yeah. Eggs are the best economical way to increase the nutrients in your family’s diet. They are chock full of vitamin A, D and E, beta carotene, omega 3 fatty acids, cholesterol (which is good for you, and necessary for proper brain development in children), and saturated fat (also good for you, contrary to popular belief). Now, these aren’t just any ol’ eggs I’m talking about. These are organic, pastured eggs. We believe that these are the best kind of eggs to eat because “pastured” means that the birds live mostly outside, eating what they are meant to eat and getting plenty of sunshine, and “organic” means that they are not eating food that has been treated with chemicals and is not genetically modified. For us, it is all about eating things as they were intended by nature, not messed with by man. Now, I bet some of you are saying to yourselves, “I thought that is what free-range or cage-free meant??”. Not the case. Labels are purposefully deceiving, which is why I wanted to write this post. Companies want you to be confused by the labels and kept in the dark so that you will buy their seemingly healthy eggs. I’m about to break down the true meaning behind the labels so that you will know egg-sactly (heehee) what to look for when you go to the store. Ok, here we go!
Chickens are out of cages, and might roam freely around a farmyard for at least part of the day, but there is no regulation in the U.S. about the amount or quality of outdoor access. There are no restrictions on what the birds can be fed. As author Michael Pollan notes in ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ (a great book if you haven’t read it), “Since the food and water remain inside the shed, and since the little doors remain shut until the birds are at least five weeks old and well settled into their habits, the chickens apparently see no reason to venture into what must seem for them an unfamiliar and terrifying world.” There’s a very good chance that a free-range chicken, raised for either eggs or meat, has never seen the light of day.
There is no legal definition of “cage-free,” and a cage-free hen is not necessarily a free hen running about a pasture. Often, cage-free hens are running around crowded barns, with little or no access to the outdoors. They may be tightly packed into a shed with no access to a farmyard and may still be “debeaked.” This entails trimming off a portion of a bird’s beak to prevent cannibalism and feather pecking that may occur among birds kept in close quarters.
This isn’t actually a good thing. Chickens are natural omnivores and if they are forced to eat an all vegetarian diet, their eggs will be less nutritious. Chickens that are “pastured” or “pasture raised” eat bugs and worms outside which is what they are supposed to eat! It’s their protein!
For eggs to be labeled “organic,” they must come from farms that meet the USDA’s National Organic Standards and are routinely inspected to ensure compliance. Hens must be fed organic feed that contains no animal byproducts or genetically modified organisms(GMOs) and that is produced on land that has been free from the use of pesticides and toxic fertilizers for a minimum of three years.
Pastured eggs have been harvested from chickens allowed to roam in open pastures. Advocates of pastured eggs believe that the chickens are happier and healthier, and nutritional analysis has shown that pastured eggs are also richer in useful nutrients. Compared to the standard supermarket egg, pastured eggs contain:
5 times more vitamin D
2/3 more vitamin A
2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
3 times more vitamin E
7 times more beta carotene
So, as you can see, there are multiple benefits for the chickens and for you to eat organic, pastured eggs. They are more expensive than regular eggs, but for me, completely worth it for the nutritional value and to support farms that are practicing humane ways of raising chickens. To find pastured eggs in your area, check out your local farmers market. Also, there is a brand called Vital Farms that sells at Whole Foods and other health food stores. If you still can’t find them, check out http://www.localharvest.org/. PS. If there are any labels that I did not address here that you want to know more about, please leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you asap.