Not all eggs are created equal
If you couldn’t tell by my post Start Your Day Off Right, I love eggs. My family of 5 goes through roughly 4 dozen eggs a week! But I don’t just go to my local grocery store and buy the cheapest option there.
As a frugally minded person, I would love to go to my local grocery store and pick up 10 cartons of their $1/dozen eggs when on sale. Or for a step up maybe get a bunch of antibiotic free eggs from Aldi for $1.50/dozen. Or should I go to Trader Joe’s and get them for $1.70/dozen?
What is the difference in all the egg jargon?
Hormone free, pastured, organic, free-range…what’s a person to do who is shopping on a budget and yet wanting humane eggs with the best nutrition?
First, you need to know what the terminology means and what it looks like in real life.
- Conventional eggs – those eggs you buy on sale at chain grocery stores are from chickens who are regularly kept in individual cages 1/2ft square. No room to move around, let alone practice normal chicken behavior. If you see the label United Egg Producers Certified, that means they follow these practices. Please avoid these eggs if at all possible!
- Cage-free – this label is not regulated. It simply means that instead of individual cages, the chickens are kept in a large barn or pen. Often these chickens have their beaks clipped so they cannot peck at each other. While they are able to practice many normal behaviors like nesting and walking around, they are still normally kept indoors and have minimal space per chicken.
- Free-range – This is another unregulated term. All it means is that there is access to the outdoors. Could be just a door opened to a tiny pen, could mean regular access outside. It is often a marketing ploy.
- Certified Organic – These chickens are required to have outdoor access, but there are no requirements in place for duration, etc. Beak cutting and starvation to induce molting is allowed. These chickens are fed an organic vegetarian diet which sounds good, but is actually not a chicken’s natural diet.
- Certified Humane – While these chickens may be kept indoors at all times, there are requirements in place as far as stocking density, requirements for nesting boxes and perches, and provisions for chickens to be able to perform natural behaviors like dust bathing and nesting. While forced molting by starvation is prohibited, beak cutting is allowed. This is a regulated label. You may see the label Food Alliance Certified.
- Animal Welfare Approved – This is a step up from Certified Humane. All the chickens must also have continuous outdoor perching access, and beak cutting is prohibited.
- Other terms – Vegetarian-fed means that no animal byproducts were used, though this is actually not a natural diet for a chicken. Natural means nothing regarding to welfare or diet, a marketing ploy. Fertile means that the hens had access to roosters. These eggs are completely safe and normal to eat, and this often means cage free.
So what are you to do with this information?
The main thing to remember is that chickens are naturally omnivores. That means that they not only eat weeds, seeds and vegetables, but also bugs! They do best on a varied diet where they have the ability to forage and peck.
And to be completely honest, none of the above labels provide you with eggs that come from chickens that are living the way they were intended to be.
The best eggs come from happy chickens.
A happy chicken is one who is allowed to practice natural behaviors: roosting, pecking, nesting, foraging. They have a balanced diet of bugs, weeds, food scraps and the occasional supplement of grains. They are sheltered from bad weather and are kept in humane conditions.
There have been independent tests showing the nutritional differences of conventional eggs to truly pastured eggs. Pastured eggs have less cholesterol and saturated fat (yes, a diet of exclusive grains means more fat!), higher levels of Vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, much higher levels of Vitamin E and Beta Carotene, and up to 6 times the amount of Vitamin D. Did you know that eggs are one of the only ways you can naturally get Vitamin D other than sunlight!?!
So, where does one get these eggs?
The best thing you can do to ensure that you have eggs that come from happy chickens is to raise them yourself! This is a step that I am working towards, but sadly my municipality does not allow it. If you want to raise your own chickens, be sure to look at the rules for your area! Great resources are mypetchicken.com, and fortheloveofchickens.com. I also found an awesome blog series from Vintage Garden Gal where she shares her experiences and tips raising chickens. While expensive, you can buy chicken coops on amazon, and also many of the needed chicken supplies. You can also get books and other information to decide if this is right for you.
If you cannot keep chickens where you live or that idea does not sound pleasant to you, you can try to find someone local who raises their own flock. Check with your friends or on craigslist. Many people sell their extras to help supplement income. Be sure to talk to them about how their chickens are raised and what they eat. I have a friend who sells hers for $2.50/dozen.
Another options is to check out local Farmer’s Markets. Be careful though! Many of these eggs sound great, hidden under the labels described above. Be sure to talk to the farmer about conditions, size of the flock, their diet, etc. I have a farmer who has the best eggs who sells them for $3/dozen.
I have to be honest though, right now I get my eggs by the case from a local co-op. They are $2.50/dozen and are under the label of cage-free and natural. Due to access and budget restrictions, this is a compromise I am temporarily making. But I can’t wait until my Farmer’s Market opens again and I can get the eggs I really want!
Also be sure to check out the 7 Days of Real Food Challenge! Click here to join us and get the plan, recipes, and support now! Also, feel free to check out my weight loss series where I talk about using real foods to help you Get Healthy to Lose Weight!