Even if you’re an adamant organic-buyer, as many of us are these days, it seems as though we just can’t get it right when it comes to eggs. Are they healthy? Sustainable? Does it depend on how I cook them? Organic? Free Range? What’s right?! Its enough to make you pull your hair out. I’m always weary of the “organic” label on any type of food because most of the time it doesn’t mean shit. It’s either smoke and mirrors where giant food companies tiptoe around and reinterpret regulations to suit their needs or it’s just another way for food marketers to fool you into thinking that the item is somehow better for you. For instance, an organic candy bar is still a candy bar. *Sigh*
Back to eggs. If you’re not aware that chickens and hens are being raised in giant warehouses where they live on top of each other and never see the light of day, you might be living under a rock. I personally try to to buy chicken meat and eggs from the most reliable source that is available to me and you know what? Sometimes that means Giant Eagle brand “organic” eggs. Because even I can be brainwashed into thinking that these eggs are the better choice than the “regular” eggs. Turns out, I’m wrong, and maybe I always knew that I was. According to the Organic Consumers Association, “most retail grocery chains that sell “organic” eggs under their own label (think Aldi’s Simply Nature, Whole Foods 365 Organic, Trader Joe’s, Kroger Simple Truth, Costco, etc.) get their eggs from huge factory farm-type operations that routinely violate USDA National Organic Program (NOP) rules.” C’mon man. Just when you think buying eggs from Whole Foods is the healthiest option, you learn this. So, what does this mean? Well, the “rules” for organic eggs are broad at best and because of that, they are left open for interpretation. The regulations on organic eggs say that the chickens need access to outdoor space. What this means to the farmer is creating a small opening that leads to a small outdoor space that chickens literally never use. I find it so disturbing that we really can’t trust any “organic” label because these large farms are not held accountable and will always find a way to get around it.
Here’s my own interpretation of whats really happening in egg land and the labels used to fool you:
All-Natural: What they want you to think: “This is healthy because were using the word ‘natural’. Buy me!” In reality: “All natural” is a term that is not regulated at all. It doesn’t mean shit. Whether you see this term on a dozen eggs or a box of Hamburger Helper, it has zero meaning.
Cage free: What they want you to think: “These chickens are free to spread their wings, frolic around and happily go as they please. Buy me!” In reality: Yeah, these chickens aren’t caged, but they are still packed by the thousands into huge farm houses, literally living on top off each other, defecating on each other and never have the ability to open their wings. They never see the light of day.
Vegetarian Fed: What they want you to think: “Somehow vegetarianism has come to be synonymous with “the healthiest of all things” therefore, so are our chickens and their eggs. They are raised humanely and not fed animal by products. Obviously, this is healthiest chicken on the planet and will deliver you the bestest eggs ever! Buy me!” In reality: Hey, chickens aren’t vegetarians. Thats worth repeating: chickens are not vegetarians. They are omnivores. They eat bugs from the ground and they like it. They also eat seeds, fruits, and vegetables. When they are vegetarian fed with corn and soy, they don’t like it and the eggs they produce are far less nutritionally valuable to the consumer.
Free-range: See Cage Free
Organic: What they want you to think: The word, “organic” means “healthy” (no, really) and we can prove it by charging you more. Buy me! In reality: If the eggs you buy have been stamped with the USDA Certified Organic label you can be sure that these chickens were raised using the same methods as stated above with one difference: The corn they eat is organic, meaning its only been sprayed with regulated pesticides and are Non-GMO. It’s a small (like microscopic) victory.
Pasture Raised: Ah, this is the closest you will get to the perfect egg unless you raise your own chickens in your backyard. Pasture raised chickens are free to roam and pick through the grass to eat what their heart desires. Now, most farmers have to supplement with some type of grain feed in order to keep their chickens producing eggs. Check out your local farmers market, ask questions and get eggs from farmers that aren’t trying to fool you. Yes, you still have to to your due diligence because people lie. Some eggs might say “pasture-raised” but the company that produced them may be lying. The nerve.
Remember, farming is a business, which means that farmers are trying to cut costs and increase production by any means necessary. This doesn’t always mean keeping the end consumer in mind.
So, does it really matter? C’mon, does it? Does it really matter if the eggs that I buy come from pasture-raised or cage-free chicken? Is organic better than nothing? Should we give up eggs all together?
Yes, it really does matter. It matters because when we purchase eggs from enormous, automated, factory farms, we are sending one message: Keep doing this. Keep producing eggs this way. Shift the demand with your dollars, babes!