I’ve always bought “cage-free” eggs. I was so proud picturing my eggs being laid by chickens roaming around a field of grass and flowers listening to Simon and Garfunkel. Then I learned that “cage-free” may not mean what I thought it meant.
So then I switched to “free-range” eggs. I took a deep breath and felt pride once again picturing my egg-laying chickens frolicking through green fields, this time listening to James Taylor. Happy chickens, right?? Maybe not…
I found some pasture-raised eggs on sale and bought them. I was making scrambled eggs and discovered I only had one“free-range” egg left so I started in on the “pasture-raised” eggs. This is what I saw…
One of these things is not like the other one.
I was shocked! I know that the darker yellow the yolk, the more sun the chicken has seen. So why weren’t my free-range eggs as bright yellow? So then I wondered; have I been foiled again? Are my chickens not enjoying the life I thought they were? I decided to do a little research and was very surprised by what I discovered. So now that you’ve all been on my egg journey with me, let’s talk about what egg labels mean. I’m mainly going to focus on how the chickens live. I truly believe you are what you eat. If we eat eggs produced by stressed, miserable chickens what can that do to us?
Let’s start with conventional eggs. These are the plain eggs in the grocery store that make not claims to how the chickens were fed or raised. Chickens in this category often spend their entire lives in cages. The idea of this makes me sad.
All organic refers to is what the chicken ate. The chicken’s feed was organic. Organic feed can be given in a cage, in a field or in a room with 10,000 other chickens.
According to the USDA, cage-free eggs, “must be produced by hens housed in a building, room, or enclosed area that allows for unlimited access to food, water, and provides the freedom to roam within the area during the laying cycle.” There are no requirements as to the size of the room, no required access to the outdoors, and no additional regulations on the kind of feed used or the number of chickens in the room.
Now for “free-range” eggs. According to the USDA free range means eggs were laid “by hens housed in a building, room, or area that allows for unlimited access to food, water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle. The outdoor area may be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material.” This is much better than the others so I don’t feel terrible about buying free-range eggs. But the regulations make no claim as to the size of the outdoor space, the condition of the outdoor space or even the condition of the indoor space. I’m once again picturing a very small space full of too many chickens. I’m sure this isn’t always the case but the loophole in the rule makes me nervous.
Chickens that lay “pasture-raised” eggs (not to be confused with pasturized. That’s a totally different thing) are required constant access to outdoor fields where they forage for food and get plenty of sunshine. Other standards call for chickens to be kept in buildings while “pasture-raised” means the chickens spend the bulk of their time outside but must have a building to go into for the night and during bad weather. These chickens live how chickens should.
So now I buy pasture-raised eggs. Now I can feel good about my chickens dancing (yes my chickens dance) through green fields listening to The Strumbellas (my chickens are more hip now).
Take a deep breath and scramble on
Now before you freak out, as with anything it’s important to do your best. Eggs are extremely versatile, easy to cook and nutritious so they should be a part of any diet (unless you’re allergic to eggs. In that case, you shouldn’t eat them). The point is, do what you can. If your finances don’t allow you to buy pasture-raised right now, don’t forgo all eggs. Just work toward a goal.
Food quality is really important to us so we make it more of a priority financially. As we speak, I’m sitting here in my thrift store shirt and Target jeans. We don’t eat out much and our only TV is Netflix. We limit elsewhere but splurge on food. If you can do that, great! If not, just do your best. But now you have the facts and know what to look for. Don’t spend more than you need to on eggs that don’t differ that much from the conventional eggs. Save that money so you can eventually buy eggs that are produced the right way.