“An Egg is an Egg” – Are We Comparing the Right Things?

“As far as I’m concerned, an egg is an egg,” a general store clerk once said to my friend as she was buying a dozen organic farm-fresh eggs. “I don’t know why you buy those, they are more expensive.” My friend, of course, bought them anyways and reminded the clerk that if she and others opt to spend more money for farm-fresh eggs there might be something to it. Comparing an organic/pasture-raised/farm-fresh egg to an industrial operation-produced egg is easy to do on the surface when comparing price, but doesn’t make much sense when the whole picture is developed.

“They are fresher, better quality, and have better looking yolks,” explained one of my coworkers as the reason she prefers farm fresh eggs over industrial produced eggs. When have you ever heard someone compare a Pinto with a Mustang? Probably never. The difference in quality is too great. Comparing an inferior car to a superb machine that people admire doesn’t make much sense and is more likely to be discussed as a joke than a real meaningful debate.

Buying the farm-fresh/pasture egg is just as much about what you are buying as much as what you are avoiding. To explain this, here are my definitions of both types of egg options: 
Farm-fresh/pasture-raised eggs
(this is my definition, see this article for some nitty gritty labeling and terminology): Come from chickens that have access to roam and hunt for bugs and eat what they find on the ground, are fed organic or similar feed, live a happy life (get to be a chicken), produce deep golden yolked eggs. These eggs contain vitamin D and are just a few days old when they are sold.
Industrial operation-produced egg (again, my definition): Eggs where we really don’t know what the chicken was fed (you are what you eat ate), we don’t know if it even got to go outside, it probably lives in a cage or super crowded facility and cannot really be a “chicken,” unknown level of chemicals that are used in the feed, the egg is aged considerably, in most cases it is weeks old.

I asked one of the egg farmers at our local farmers market about the main difference between the eggs they sell and industrial eggs. One of the main differences she cited was that industrial eggs are going to be older. Many industrial operations wash their eggs before shipping. When they do this they are washing off the bloom which is the protective coating that keeps the insides of the egg clean and undisturbed. The bloom stops bacteria from entering the egg’s pores. It also keeps the moisture in. Washing the bloom off opens the door for the egg to age faster and decreases its freshness. If that’s not enough, the industrial eggs will be older just for the simple fact that they are probably trucked in from out of state and have been sitting in a refrigerated environment for days or weeks longer than the farm-fresh egg.

Will the farm-fresh/pasture raised eggs have a higher price at the market? Sure, but a Mustang will also be more expensive than a Pinto. Even with the higher investment cost, high quality eggs are still an affordable source of protein and nutrition. Even at $4.50 a dozen, you are only paying 38 cents an egg. Assuming you eat two eggs with a breakfast meal, your protein from a pasture-raised chicken eggs comes in at under $1 per meal.

An egg is an egg? Well, an industrial egg is and industrial egg and a farm-fresh egg is a farm-fresh egg. But talking about the two as comparable options is not even close to being accurate. Comparing an egg scramble chock full of farm-fresh, pasture-raised eggs to a holistically managed grass-finished beef burger would be a juicier discussion.

References/Acknowledgements/Helpful Sites I Came Across and related sites readers might also find useful:
http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/12/23/370377902/farm-fresh-natural-eggs-not-always-what-they-re-cracked-up-to-be
http://chriskresser.com/vitamin-d-the-new-super-nutrient/
http://www.suburbanchicken.org/eggs.htm
http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2011/10/eggs-to-wash-or-not-to-wash.html

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2 thoughts on ““An Egg is an Egg” – Are We Comparing the Right Things?

  1. Thank you for this brilliantly written explanation. I stumbled upon your ‘Seventh Generation’ blog and wanted to find out whatever happened to you after that! Found this and your many other writings.
    I have often explained, in very few words (Oh, I like my eggs from happy chickens!), to others in the grocery store when asked why I spend so much on organic/free range.
    I’m vegetarian but still can’t say no to eggs – so I figure if they’re from happy, free range chickens, it’s ok!
    Your poetry is beautiful and so is your stance against GMO. It’s important to me to feed my kids and grandchildren healthy, organic, non-GMO foods. My daughter, struggling financially, finds it difficult to spend extra for that ‘luxury’. Isn’t it a shame that healthy food is considered a luxury by our children today??
    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for your beautiful words and wonderful work in this world. We need more people like you!

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