Friday, March 14, 2008

An egg is an egg is an egg...except for when it's not.

I'm sure that the American Egg Board would like you to think that all eggs are created equal, but as new research is showing, they clearly are not. This article at Mother Earth News cites several studies finding that pastured eggs can contain

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

It makes sense that if the hen is eating a healthier diet (which, for a hen, includes grass, grub, and bugs), her eggs are going to be healthier, also. Garbage in, garbage out, right? Isn't that what we tell our kids? The same adage applies to human milk, cow milk, and even the plants we eat. Seeds planted in healthy soil produce plants with higher levels of vitamins and minerals than those planted in soil depleted by synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Here are a few photos of some of the eggs I picked up at our dairy farm a while back. Some of the eggs were produced by Araucanas, a breed of chicken known for its blue-green eggs. The eggs resembled supermarket eggs, except for...well...almost everything. They were oval and came in a container similar to the eggs at the supermarket. I guess that's where the similarities ended. The yolks were larger and much more orange. The whites were stiffer and held their shape in the pan better than the watery whites I usually end up with from the grocery store.

Aren't the colors gorgeous? We had two other aqua ones, but I used them first. I love the olive green ones, too.

Below is one of the eggs hard boiled. The sparkles on the yolk are salt...I was just about to eat the egg when I decided its beauty deserved a photo!
Here are a couple saluting me from my 8" omelette pan. I wish I had a conventional egg in there so you could see the difference side by side.

I've actually been using pastured eggs (or at least free range or cage free eggs) long enough to forget how pathetic industrial eggs are until I was reminded during a recent ski trip. We stayed at a hotel that included the typical continental breakfast with all the high fructose corn syrup, enriched bleached flour, and hydrogenated oil you care to eat. The two redeeming foods at the breakfast were the oatmeal (unsweetened!) and the hard boiled eggs. But, when I peeled and sliced the first egg, I felt deflated. The inside was so...sad. It was clear that the hen who laid the egg had never eaten anything but corn and soybeans, and she probably hadn't ever taken a dust bath or laid around in the sun, either. I wish I had a photo to compare the conventional hard boiled eggs to the pastured eggs. The yolks were buttery yellow, not bright orange like the eggs I've become accustomed to. The real test, though, was my little egg eater, Callie. I tried to stifle my disappointment in hopes that she would eat the first egg I peeled. No luck. She took one bite and spit it out. Apparently pastured eggs taste better, too. She ate one and a half of them this morning.

The problem with pastured eggs? Well, first, they're hard to get. In many cases you've got to get to know a farmer in order to get pastured eggs. But, I know that is changing. Pastured eggs are available at one of the four farmers' markets we have here in the Springs and they are available through some CSAs. I'm guessing that if we can get them at a farmers' market here or through our local CSA, you can probably get them too. It's just not as convenient as running to the grocery store. The other problem? The cost. Well, to me the cost doesn't seem like a problem because I'm willing to pay more for a higher quality product. But, if you're not used to paying more for better food, you'll experience some sticker shock at first. Pastured eggs will run anywhere from $2.50 up to $4 per dozen eggs. We only go through a dozen once every week or two, so paying that much instead of $0.89 for industrial eggs really is not that big of a deal.

I think it's important for us as Americans to reshape our thinking in terms of what we expect to get from cheap food. If you pay a dollar for a fast food cheeseburger, the likelihood that you're going to get a high quality product is pretty slim, right? Well, the same goes for $0.99/pound ground beef and chicken thighs. According to Michael Pollan in his new book, In Defense of Food, Americans spend a smaller percentage of our income on food than people in most other industrialized nations. In countries where people spend a little more, the people eat less (not a bad idea) and they are healthier. For example, Americans spend around 10% of our income on food, but Spanish, Italians, and French spend between 14-17% on their food. All three of those countries have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes than we do. Just like anything else in a budget, it comes down to priorities. Do you really need HBO? The gym membership you rarely use? The magazines you don't have time to read? The newest cell phone? Do you have to eat out three times a week? Can you substitute tap water for soda or juice or beer once in a while? Shifting our priorities makes it less challenging to fit higher quality food into our budgets.


Michael said...

one of the main things in the omnivores dilemma is the word "sustainable". but after two days of actually paying attention to the foods i am eating, i am curious whether or not this diet is sustainable.

Today Liz and I debated about where to meet for lunch, I finally threw up my hands and said "let's just go to quiznos" and i figured, if im going to eat meat i dont know about, it might as well be low in calories (see the Quizno's Sammies)... but then when we got there it was next to el dorado and we figured, they've got to have something vegetarian that is delicious. So that's what we did. It was a great lunch, but the debates will continue until we shop for the necessary foods and we discover some good eating out places. Until then, it will continually be a struggle.

Heading off to Whole Foods... we'll see how this goes.

Hillary Dickman said...

I'm happy that you're giving it a try. Once we start thinking about our food, I think it's hard to stop. Veggie options seem to be pretty harmless at most restaurants. Be sure to talk to the waiter/manager/butcher (in the case of Whole Foods) to let them know that sustainable food is important to you. Most of them (even at Whole Foods) are pretty dense and won't know what you're talking about, but you might plant a seed.

I think it gets easier as you get used to being more careful about what you eat. What's great is that you don't have to deny yourself anything...I couldn't stop eating beef no matter how hard I tried. Thankfully, I know where to find grass fed beef.

Michael said...

funny thing happened at the whole foods counter last night, we asked the butcher about grass-fed beef and he says "well we have some here. but it really doesnt matter what meat you get. All cows are grass fed up to a certain point and then the last couple months they are fed something else to prepare them for slaughter." and we held back so hard from laughing and go "ooooh ok, well we'll need more time". I think we were a little hesitant to tell the butcher the rights from wrongs about beef. After a few minutes we decided to get a local grass-fed Yanceyville,NC 2lb cut of london broil. we'll see how it is.

Hillary Dickman said...

That's about what one of the butchers at our Whole Foods said, too. Even some of the guys selling the meat are dense when it comes to understanding how the meat is produced. I'm glad you held back your laughter. That was very polite of you.

Laura Evers said...


Thank you for mentioning us on your Web site. We're happy you enjoy Mother Earth News.

Loved the egg post. Glad our article on the subject was helpful.

Laura Evers
Mother Earth News