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Scrambled Over Eggs

With the Easter season upon us, I thought it would be an appropriate time to pay homage to the incredible edible egg. Though conventional "wisdom" would have us believe eggs are indulgent and even dangerous, human history proves the exact opposite. Eggs are nature's perfect daily multivitamin, and we would do well to include them in our diet as often as possible.

That being said, there is some nuance to purchasing eggs in our modern grocery stores. As I have said before in other places, the goal of the pharma/food industrial complex is not necessarily to convince you eggs are all bad (they are not), but to confuse you to the point of frustration and inaction. If you stand before the giant egg display at your local Publix frozen with fear and unable to determine which product is the best investment of your money, "they" (the bad guys, for lack of a better word) have done their job. They have paralyzed you in your own uncertainty and left you feeling insecure in your trust and understanding of something so basic and humble as a chicken egg, a food humans have been happily consuming for millennia.

It would be funny, except it's true. (How many people do you know still opting for egg white omelets because they fear the fat and cholesterol?)

Today I wanted to do my best to clear some of the confusion. What follows below is a basic list of your choices, from least optimal to most optimal. Keep in mind, however, that any egg - no matter the sticker price - will almost always be a better option than a box of Kellogg's cereal or a bag of Thomas' bagels. Man can't ever improve upon what God Himself has created and called good.

OPTION 1: GENERIC EGGS - These eggs come in plain cardboard containers and have no special labels or claims, and are most likely a product of CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) poultry farms. Birds raised in this environment are generally housed in cages and stuffed into cramped indoor facilities with artificial lighting, poor sanitation, inappropriate feed, and extremely stressful living conditions. Because of these conditions, the birds will be treated with antibiotics to keep them healthy enough to keep producing. These eggs are usually the cheapest on the shelf, and there's a reason for that. You get what you pay for, so avoid them if you can. (see below)

OPTION 2: HORMONE-FREE, ANTIBIOTIC-FREE, VEGETARIAN FED - When you see these first two terms listed on an egg carton, it is at least an indication that some care was taken to ensure these birds were treated humanely. As far as being vegetarian fed, that sounds nice, but the fact is that chickens are not vegetarians! As the closest living relatives of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, they will gladly feast on worms, grubs, bugs, crickets, spiders, and caterpillars. They will even go after a snake! So don't be fooled, and certainly don't pay extra, for eggs labeled this way. It is simply a marketing gimmick. (see below)

OPTION 3: CAGE-FREE EGGS - This terminology is fairly self-evident, and it's definitely a step in the right direction. Eggs with this labeling came from hens that were not confined to cages, which is great! However, it is likely that they were still kept indoors in crowded conditions without sunlight, and thus deprived of their natural habitat and instinctive foraging behaviors. They are instead being fed grains, which aren't as high in protein but still an acceptable supplement to their omnivorous diet when it is organic and non-GMO. If the label doesn't clearly define these terms, you should assume the chickens are being fed conventional grains. The potential downfall here is the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides on those grains, as well as the use of GMO corn and soy, which are ubiquitous in our country. (see below)

OPTION 4: FREE RANGE EGGS - Chickens that are free range are not kept in cages. They might still be kept indoors in a warehouse-like environment, likely still cramped, with artificial lighting and probably only conventional grains for feed. Free range simply means they must have ACCESS to the outdoors. Of course we would like to imagine a huge garage door opening up to acres of green pasture all day long, but that might not be the case at all. It could be that the door to the outdoors is only large enough for one hen to pass through at a time, for a limited time, and that passageway might not even lead to actual grass or farmland. Just because this carton boasts 8+ acres doesn't mean those acres are farmland or that the hens have access to more than a few square feet of it. As you might imagine, use of these labels has very loose oversight, and producers might exploit a number of loopholes to gain access to the trendy label and thus charge more for their product. (see below)

OPTION 5: ORGANIC FREE RANGE EGGS - This option is the same as the previous one, but at least you as the consumer know the hens were given organic feed. Are you noticing the improvement in quality (which comes with a higher cost of course)? We are getting closer to the optimal choices! (see below)

OPTION 6: PASTURE-RAISED EGGS - NOW WE ARE GETTING SOMEWHERE!! "Pastured" is the word you are looking for when shopping for eggs, and it's not to be confused with "pasteurized," which is a totally different thing related to dairy processing. Pastured means the hens are kept outside year round, under the sun, foraging for their naturally preferred foods - worms, bugs, and assorted insects. Although not specifically stated on the packaging, it is almost a guarantee that these hens are also given supplemental conventional feed, which again could be GMO and is almost assuredly not organic. But you can feel good knowing these are much happier, healthier birds than those at the top of this list! (see below)

OPTION 7: PASTURE-RAISED ORGANIC EGGS - This is the ideal option, unless of course you are raising hens in your own backyard, which is a fabulous endeavor and one we plan to try again this spring after a few sad seasons of chicken massacres (no thanks to our wily neighborhood fox and coyote). These birds are outdoors foraging as they should be doing, and any supplemental feed is organic. This is probably the very best you can do in terms of a typical grocery store egg purchase. Speciality stores might also have corn-free and/or soy-free options, and that can be very important if someone in your family has severe sensitivities to those ingredients. Remember - you're eating whatever the hens eat, so their diet matters!

With all of this in mind, I want to reiterate that ANY EGG will be a better option than the typical American breakfast fare of cereal and low fat milk. So if you have a limited food budget, do the best you can and don't worry about the labels. Our primary goal here is simply to eat real food! Move closer to optimal as your budget allows.

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