No matter who you ask, many may agree that one of the many thing that has fallen to the wayside here in families across the U.S. is the source of our food.
From your beef and chicken to local produce and eggs, much of the norm these days is going to the local grocery store to pick up these items to replenish your cabinet. While it might seem relatively easy to head to the store to pick up eggs (and all the other items) … the truth is that it’s probably not the best place to go if you are looking for really good, high quality food to feed your family.
From organic eggs to free range, vegetarian fed, and regular eggs sometimes on sale for $.69 – $.99 per dozen, it’s important to know the difference on each and what you find out may encourage you to simply skip the store altogether in favor of better options in your local area.
How to Shop for Eggs – Organic? Cage Free?
We have been picking up free range pastured eggs from our local CSA in our area, with chickens that feed on worms and bugs from the farm with plenty of space to roam around. Since we pick up our CSA once each week, it’s easy to underestimate how many eggs we will need and we’ll end up running into a local store (Costco normally) to pick up Organic eggs to hold us over a few days.
But the eggs are quite a bit different from pastured eggs and it almost makes me not as eager to even pick up eggs at all.
It would make sense (logically) for labels to tell us what is in our food, but that’s not always the case. So the easiest thing to do is to simply pick up what you feel is right at the time, pay, and go home to place them in your fridge.
Organic Eggs: Can cost up to $5 per dozen, depending on the retailer and the costs involved in meeting the organic certification requirement. Organic eggs must come from chickens that live in cage free environments and have access to the outdoors – even if it is for just a few minutes a day and what’s worse, if it’s a small pen or an enclosed area. No hormones or other drugs can be used in organic egg production, and only natural molting is allowed to occur (when birds shed their older feathers to make room for new).
In addition, organic eggs must come from chickens that are fed only organic feed – free of animal by-products, pesticides and additives. While no hormones or drugs can be used, they can only receive antibiotics in the case of an infection.
How do Organic Eggs compare to Free Range & Vegetarian Eggs?
Free Range eggs and Vegetarian Eggs may seem like a better option in some cases, but once you compare the three.. you’ll quickly realize that they aren’t really any better.
Free Range eggs from from chickens with access to roam around (which they may or may not use) but they may eating non-organic feed that includes soy, and they are sometimes given antibiotics or other drugs..
Vegetarian eggs aren’t monitored as closely as organic eggs – and each manufacturer sets their own standards (and nobody really checks..) – so you may not always get what is advertised.
What are the best eggs?
Eggs are one of my favorite foods – our family goes through several dozen over the course of the week. They are on eof the most nutrient dense foods next to raw milk… and are full of vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids, good choleterol and beta carotene.
For a long long time, we bought organic free range eggs because we knew that eggs from the supermarket were not the best option. Eggs from the supermarket are cramped up in crowded cages – they have little to no room to move around… even worse, they are fed with genetically modified feed and pumped with antibiotics.
But.. it wasn’t long after that we even questioned organic eggs – even though these chickens are organic and cage free they are far from healthy – they really don’t get time to go outside and usually are in windowless sheds. Their feed might be a step up from the feed of regular chickens, but in the end, the term “free range” is used so loosely that we knew that it really didn’t mean much at all and was just a marketing standpoint.
Once I started picking up produce at my CSA .. I discovered pastured eggs – these eggs were from chickens that were given the chance to eat bugs and worms from off the farm – what they should be eating. That’s where chickens get their protein. Chickens need to be out in the sun – that’s where they get their vitamin D. The eggs were far better in taste … and so we continued to pick up from our farmers market/CSA for the fact that we knew so much more about where they came from.
Even Mother Earth News mentions that eggs from pastured chickens are far superior —
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 3 times the vitamin E
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times the omega-3 fatty acids
- 7 times the beta carotene
And while traditional egg farmers may deny that this is true, so few are given the chance to truly be chickens, eat a chicken’s natural diet (seeds, insects, worms), with the opportunity to move around. The sad part is that industry doesn’t want people to know much about their eggs, and the USDA isn’t in the business of helping consumers find the right answers.
Mother Earth News has a really wonderful article about free range pastured eggs that’s interesting to read. The end of the article mentions how the USDA is trying to duck the issue of free range with their own skewed definition:
“Allowed access to the outside” is how the USDA defines “free-range.” This inadequate definition means that producers can, and do, label their eggs as “free-range” even if all they do is leave little doors open on their giant sheds, regardless of whether the birds ever learn to go outside, and regardless of whether there is good pasture or just bare dirt or concrete outside those doors!
How do you find Pastured Eggs and what about the cost?
Pastured eggs at my farmers market/CSA are just $5/dozen — which is actually a great price considering organic varieties in store can go upwards of $6. Nutrient density on these eggs is much higher compared to supermarket eggs – and I know that they are coming from the local farm near to us.
That makes each egg just $.42 – which is pretty economical in terms of nutrient dense foods.
The chickens feed on bugs and worms from the farm where they run and roam freely without being confined to a cage. Check your local farmers market to find others who may sell pastured eggs – you will want to find out if the farmer is feeding them soy (if they are, then aim for another farmer because even organic soy is not a very good option).
(And if you are interested in finding out more about your eggs, Cornucopia has an egg scorecard that is quite interesting to read… you might be surprised to find out that your organic eggs aren’t really as amazing as you may have thought!)