I hate losing bets. And, I really hate it when there are honey and eggs on the line. I tend to keep my gambling to somewhere between non-existent and rare and only put a dollar on the table when I am sure I’ll win. Well, a few weeks ago, I made the mistake of betting on fantasy football. I mean, how arbitrary can you be when you are placing the fate of your chickens’ eggs and honey in the hands of eight random football players. No need to admonish me, I’ve already slapped myself silly over the blunder…
Last week I had to make the delivery of said winnings. It was through gritted teeth and a pasty smile that I handed over my hard-earned goods. My dear friend – we’ll call him Shooter – was thrilled with his lucky bounty and excited to try some of the infamous honey and farm-fresh eggs. After enjoying our eggs over the weekend, Shooter had a few questions for me. He was shocked that they were brown. I explained that our chickens laid brown eggs and that’s when the ball started rolling downhill. He peppered me with questions about why almost all the eggs in the store were white, why the shells were so tough, why the yolks were so yellow… and on and on.
The questions were valid. And, my answers simple – minus the brown coloring (that’s just luck of the draw) – that’s what you get when you have free-range chickens eating a healthy, well-round diet. Vibrantly-yellow, hard-shelled, super tasty eggs.
Shooter’s questioning and relative state of awe left me wondering about the disconnect between our food system and our dinner plates. The fact is that Shooter is not in the minority. He shops at the grocery store like most people and takes the food packaging and labels at face value. The displays are a homogeneous arrangement of like items that offer answers to questions you didn’t know you had. Why are all eggs white? Well, cause that’s what the grocery store shelves have. Where did that beef come from? It’s in the shrink-wrapped packages in the deli section. Where did you get that broccoli? The left hand bin, near the back on aisle 6.
Before embarking on this project, I had tasted farm fresh corn and succulent, sun-ripened berries, but I had never enjoyed a fresh egg. In the beginning I snatched up the free-range and organic varieties at the store, but as I looked a little closer at the labeling and regulations – my heart dragged me to the nearest farm to get eggs while my newly acquired chicks grew into laying ladies.
I’ll put it bluntly. Something is wrong with the system for obtaining eggs from chickens in our society. Wrong with a capital “W”.
I am an omnivore and I am able to disconnect myself from the life of the animal to enjoy a meal of meat if I can vouch for its living arrangements and its well-being before its timely end. My chickens are darling. They awake with the sunshine, cluck random tunes in the yard, lay eggs with timely precision, eat our leftovers, weed my garden and lawn with abandon and put themselves to bed each night. It’s an ideal living arrangement. They are happy, content ladies and I truly care for them.
The factory farms that bring eggs to our big box grocery store shelves are cruel. Hens are confined 24/7 to a cage that has 67 square inches of floor space. How big is that? Hold up an 8-1/2 by 11-inch piece of paper – there you got it. This abominable confinement drives them to literal insanity and in an effort to contain their self-destructive behavior, their beaks are clipped. Their natural tendency to lay eggs in a dark and secluded private area is overlooked. The inordinate amount of fecal matter they can produce (I can attest first hand to chicken poop quantities) is left to pile up and up. Remember that terrible outbreak of salmonella in May 2010 – that was directly linked to mounds of chicken manure.
Chickens are delightful creatures and there is so much going for them other than acting as a protein machine. To relegate them to a life of misery as an egg-laying device is truly horrific. The fact that the majority of hens lay non-white eggs is important. Grocery shoppers need to appreciate and see these nuances in shell color and know where those eggs came from. The difference between a farm-fresh, free-range egg and a factory-farm egg goes so far beyond taste and color – it’s about the well-being and life of that animal. A living, breathing, conscious being.
Can’t have chickens of your own? That’s totally understandable. Check out your Local Harvest website for a farm near you that sells eggs or ask around your neck of the woods. You’d be surprised what you’ll find out. I never knew there was a lady with 250 free-range chickens who sold eggs less than a mile away … go figure!
Not sure how to make heads or tails of the gobble-dee-gook labels on the cartons? Check out this great chart from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.