The Chicken and the Egg

Back before we relegated the television to a junk pile in the garage we used to channel surf the obscure reaches of cable television creating our own mood-leveling visual mix of Korean melodramas, infomercials and the ongoing freak show that is Los Angeles public access television (click for some Francine Dancer!). Now instead of television we just pull up a chair in the late afternoon and watch the four chickens that populate our backyard in their ongoing search for seeds, bugs and the need to sort out the pecking order. After many hours of poultry behavior viewing it’s no surprise to us that some anthropologists believe that the chicken was first domesticated to provide entertainment (through cock fighting) rather than eggs or meat.

But more important than the entertainment value backyard chickens provide is the far superior taste and nutritional value of eggs from poultry allowed access to pasture. Mother Earth News has an ongoing study comparing supermarket eggs with the eggs of pasture raised poultry and the results are astonishing. But first some definitions. Pasture raised poultry are allowed access to bugs and vegetation. The USDA’s definition of free range is just “Allowed access to the outside”. This can mean a door leading out of a massive shed to a patch of lifeless concrete or barren dirt. “Cage free” hens more than likely spend their entire lives inside and never see the light of day or breath natural air. Most eggs, however, come from chickens that live in cages, and don’t get to move around at all. The shameless flacks at the American Egg Board (AEB) like to mislead the public into believing that “free range” is the same as pasture raised and that there is no nutritional difference between free range, pasture raised and caged chicken eggs.

According to evidence from tests conducted by Mother Earth News Pasture raised chickens have 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, and 7 times more beta carotene. The AEB along with their cronies in the USDA continue to spread the lie that there’s nothing wrong with confining poultry to crammed, inhumane and unsanitary conditions and that eggs produced by factory farm hens are no different than pasture raised hens. As Mother Earth puts it,

“It’s amazing what a group can do with a $20 million annual budget. That’s what factory-farm egg producers pay to fund the American Egg Board each year to convince the public to keep buying their eggs, which we now believe are substandard.”

Now we haven’t counted our chickens before they’ve hatched. Pasture raising chickens, even in a small backyard entails more risk (mainly from predators such as hawks and loose dogs) than confining them to a cage. It’s definitely easier and more economical for commercial producers to confine chickens.

But consider the consequences of the economic and quality race to the bottom of factory farming’s economy of scale–an abundance of cheap, tasteless and nutritionally deficient eggs that like the endless flood of shipping containers full of plastic crap from China poisons both our bodies and souls.

Here’s a list of questions to ask the folks who provide your eggs.

And more Francine Dancer for those without chickens.

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  1. Thanks for the informative post. I wish I hadn’t read it immediately after eating some substandard scrambled eggs for breakfast.
    Any advice on where to find wholesome, cruelty-free eggs without stealing from your backyard?

  2. Aaah, the sadness of the egg. We’re still going through it, since our poulets are of not laying age yet. Going out to breakfast has also become a guilt fiesta, I’ll tell you.

    Anyway, I’ve seen pasture raised eggs at Whole Paycheck Market priced at about a buck an egg. The term “pasture raised” or “grass fed” seems to be the only way to be reasonably sure your eggs have come from happy hens.

    The Culver City farmers market used to have a stand of nice folks selling not-as-expensive eggs that were supposed to be happy eggs– at least they had a posterboard covered with pics of what were reputed to be their hens sporting out of doors. They left that market, but I wonder if they are at another of the weekly markets?

    Best of luck with you search,


  3. LA Magazine just so happens to have a little piece about Lily’s Eggs (the outfit that Mrs Homegrown Revolution mentioned as formerly being in Culver City) this month and they just so happen to be at the Santa Monica Wednesday FM. Little N and I just made a trek out there today and picked up a coupla dozen. N had scrambled eggs for lunch as soon as we got home and they were gorgeous.

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