Help me find some decent eggs.
May 21, 2009 8:56 AM   Subscribe

When given the choice between grocery store free range eggs or local battery cage eggs, which is a better choice?

Like alot of folks who have read "Omnivores Dilemma", I have begun to really think hard about my food choices. My wife and I have been purchasing meat from a local farm and eating less of it on a whole, which has worked out well. But I have been having a hard time figuring out how to go about buying my eggs. I have been finding it very difficult to find a local producer of free range or at the very least, free run eggs (I am just outside of Toronto, Durham area). I found one local place that sells eggs, but they are battery caged hens. My only other option, is to buy free run from the grocery store. My question is this: which is better from a moral standpoint? Buying the free run from the grocery store (industrial) or the battery cage eggs that are local? I really can't help but feel that I am getting hosed purchasing the free run eggs from the grocery store (we do need to follow a budget, so saving money is important). If anyone knows of a place I can buy free range/run eggs locally, feel free to let me know!
posted by scarello to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you have a local farmer's market that sells eggs?

Have you checked out the website Pollan mentioned in "Omnivore's Dilemma"? I believe it's eatwild.org or something like that.
posted by choochoo at 9:02 AM on May 21, 2009


Haven't seen any eggs at the local farmers market just yet. Seems that anything local that I have encountered around here, is all battery caged hens. I've checked out a couple websites, but most of them have listing mainly for meat and vegetables. Not sure if there some sort of regulation in Canada that makes it harder to sell eggs outside of the store? I know it's difficult around here to have truly free range eggs due to the cold weather.
posted by scarello at 9:07 AM on May 21, 2009


I assume you've checked the location on all the free-range eggs at the supermarket, and none of them are from anywhere nearby?

In my opinion, if you're at all motivated to apply ethical concerns to buying eggs, battery-cage eggs are a non-starter. I'd automatically prefer anything labeled free-range or cage-free. (I'm aware that some criticize these labels as not being a guarantee of decent conditions, but it's better than nothing.)

If you want the cheapest possible eggs, I doubt they'll meet your ethical standards. I think the few extra cents per egg are well worth it. Even if you buy the most expensive eggs at the supermarket, it's still a really nutritious, pretty cheap food.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:17 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the downsides to making the moral choice to support higher welfare standards can be higher cost. While you might baulk at 'being hosed' by the local grocery store, you're asking about a moral decision, not an economic one. So to answer your question as you've put it, buy the free range ones from the store, because that way you're not supporting a producer, local or otherwise, who doesn't respect the welfare needs of the hens.

That's what I've done in practice in the past, for eggs and meat - personally, I'd rather not support battery farming, even if it's at a cost. I'm in the UK and we've had some unnerving documentaries (Jamie Oliver...) about welfare standards for chickens.

Perhaps you could ask your store to find a local producer to stock?
posted by dowcrag at 9:18 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


which is better from a moral standpoint?

This is kind of impossible to answer for someone else, as it depends on your personal set of priorities. Either choice is a better choice than a totally factory-farmed egg, so either way you have a gain in supporting a better system. THen you have to ask yourself what other things are important to you. Do you care more about showing support for humane methods (in which case, free range might be better)? Or do you care more about reducing fossil fuel use and supporting the local farm economy (in which case, local whatever might be better).

A lot depends on what your governing body for agriculture says is the definition of "free range." I don't know what it is for Canada, but it's not all that hot for the U.S. I encourage you to call the phone numbers on the packages and ask what exactly their practices are, and then look up any terminology you're unsure about on the net. "Free range" is sometimes not all it's cracked up to be - rather than roaming a barnyard happily eating grubs, the birds are likely kept in smallish enclosures that are towed or moved along the ground, and often there are practices like beak clipping and such because they are still raised at high density. Meanwhile, your local farmer might be pretty responsible even using a battery system.

Do you use Local Harvest? By far the best eggs are locally produced, truly free-range eggs, and at least where I live they are not hard to find at all, because chickens are relatively easy to keep. You need to connect up with small-scale farmers somehow. You might start by contacting Slow Food Toronto and seeing if the folks there have any leads; or maybe at Green Ontario. Also, do you go to the farmer's market? You can ask there.

A lot about changing our food system is about actually sourcing food differently, rather than just choosing between different labels in the grocery store. It takes some footwork sometimes, but as you start establishing a local supply network, one thing leads to another and it gets a lot easier.
posted by Miko at 9:19 AM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Personally, I would buy eggs from each place, cook a few up, and see which had a flavor I found preferable. In my experience it would be the non-battery eggs.

Of course, if you have a yard, you could get a few laying hens or laying ducks, and have your own eggs which would be the most local, and as cage free as you want them to be.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:20 AM on May 21, 2009


Thirding the farmers' market, especially if you already go. One thing I've noticed though is that at least last year, I had to go early in the day to get them because they'd sell out way before noon. This year there are enough farmers selling them I'm guessing it won't be a problem, but that may be why you haven't noticed them there if you are going a bit later in the morning.

They make a big difference in taste, I hope you find them!
posted by ugf at 9:23 AM on May 21, 2009


There is no objectively right answer between the two options you've been given, so take the cheaper one. With any luck you will save money and encourage good practices at the same time.
posted by shii at 9:38 AM on May 21, 2009


Of course, if you have a yard, you could get a few laying hens

Even though this isn't really an answer to your question, I strongly second this. You can have pets who also make snacks for you!
posted by dersins at 9:51 AM on May 21, 2009


One of the downsides to making the moral choice to support higher welfare standards can be higher cost. While you might baulk at 'being hosed' by the local grocery store, you're asking about a moral decision, not an economic one.

The point I was making, was that the current standards are quite flexible. So just because a package is labeled as "free run/range" does not mean the chicken is necessarily treated all that much better. Desiring to make a moral decision, does not mean you have to open yourself to being a sucker either. I have no problem paying a bit more for ethically produced eggs, but I do have a problem spending my hard earned cash on items that are not what they claim in the long run.

A lot depends on what your governing body for agriculture says is the definition of "free range." I don't know what it is for Canada, but it's not all that hot for the U.S. I encourage you to call the phone numbers on the packages and ask what exactly their practices are, and then look up any terminology you're unsure about on the net. "Free range" is sometimes not all it's cracked up to be - rather than roaming a barnyard happily eating grubs, the birds are likely kept in smallish enclosures that are towed or moved along the ground, and often there are practices like beak clipping and such because they are still raised at high density. Meanwhile, your local farmer might be pretty responsible even using a battery system.

Thanks Miko, this is the sort of point I was getting at.
posted by scarello at 9:55 AM on May 21, 2009


Save the chickens, or save the polar bears. Which do you think is more endangered?

Actions which reduce overall fossil fuel consumption are inherently MORE humane than actions toward individual animals hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.

That is, hydrocarbon output has the potential to negatively impact the quality of life of nearly every species on the planet for centuries to come.

Buy whichever eggs have the smallest carbon footprint.
posted by wfrgms at 10:10 AM on May 21, 2009


Sorry to have missed your point, scarello. Perhaps you could have been more explicit if you wanted advice along the lines that Miko eloquently provided.
posted by dowcrag at 10:19 AM on May 21, 2009



Sorry to have missed your point, scarello. Perhaps you could have been more explicit if you wanted advice along the lines that Miko eloquently provided.


No prob, I am new to this whole game anyways, so forgive me if I am not so clear on what I am asking. Thanks for taking the time to answer!
posted by scarello at 11:03 AM on May 21, 2009


Put a notice on Craigslist Wanted section. Eggs from chickens who get to go play, eat a varied diet (including bugs) and get sunshine, are appreciably better tasting than factory eggs. The chickens are also likelier to have a humane, albeit short, life. And somebody earns egg money, and maybe has a garden fertilized and freed from bugs by chickens.
posted by theora55 at 11:19 AM on May 21, 2009


I'm not sure about your jurisdiction, but where I live in B.C. it tends to be hard for small operations to sell their eggs at farmers markets due to health regulations. If you want locally raised, "free-range"/"free-run" eggs you might have to buy them directly from the farmer (e.g., farm gate sales).

As others have already pointed out, "free-range" can indicate a wide range of conditions, and does not in any way indicate the chickens live in a chicken utopia. I would agree with paisley henosis that you should try both and pick the one that tastes better. Chances are the eggs that taste better come from chickens that are in better conditions.
posted by Emanuel at 12:01 PM on May 21, 2009


In Ontario, you can't sell farm-fresh eggs anywhere other than directly from the farm. As in, you shouldn't ever see "farm-fresh eggs" at a farmer's market. See here for more information - "all eggs retailed beyond the farm gate must be graded." This includes free-range, free-run, "organic" etc. So you'll need to hunt down a farmer, and to to his or her farm if you decide that eating local is important to you. You should look for the "Eat local" map mentioned for your county (maybe here?) - I've found the map for my own county very informative and thorough.
posted by raxast at 1:28 PM on May 21, 2009


Erg. That should say "go to his or her farm." And this link is better for the Durham area... I somehow misread where you were.
posted by raxast at 1:40 PM on May 21, 2009


To answer your original question, a battery caged hen has a floorspace approximately the size of a sheet of letter paper to live in. For its whole life. They have the end of their beaks cut off, so they won't peck the other birds to death, as they tend to attack when stressed out. They never see the sun (something that almost all birds and mammals are programmed to need, to be happy). They cannot engage in any of the hen behaviors that are instinctive: dustbathing, stretching their wings, exploring. If you're OK with this then by all means support your local farmer by buying their battery eggs. If you don't believe me, start by reading this report from the Humane Society.
Hens are sociable and intelligent birds (see this video). There is a lot of research indicating that they get scared, they anticipate bad things happening to them, and they get depressed in battery cages. The way I figure, it is up to me to make sure that I don't add to that misery. It is totally up to you whether you want to.
posted by Susurration at 6:55 PM on May 21, 2009


And I agree with Miko - Free-Range, Cage-Free, and Yard-Raised are all terms that are abused in the US (not subject to standards or inspection). Check out the facilities and standards of the brand of eggs that you are buying. It is not hard to find information on the web.
posted by Susurration at 7:00 PM on May 21, 2009


Susurration: Check out the facilities and standards of the brand of eggs that you are buying. It is not hard to find information on the web.

If you are buying eggs directly from the person who is raising the birds, they may not want you nosing around their poultry. This is not an inherently bad thing, as it is very easy for you, the curious consumer, to accidentally introduce illness, bacteria, or viral infections to someone's flock, and especially so if you have been visiting other flocks. My understanding is that, in the States, it is in fact illegal for tours to be given of poultry farms for this exact reason, though I'm not really sure about the details on that.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:07 PM on May 21, 2009


If you are buying eggs directly from the person who is raising the birds, they may not want you nosing around their poultry.

That hasn't been my experience; usually they're quite welcoming.

My understanding is that, in the States, it is in fact illegal for tours to be given of poultry farms for this exact reason, though I'm not really sure about the details on that.

I'm pretty sure that's not true. If it is, it may apply only to operations of a certain size. I've kicked around enough poultry farms to be fairly well assured there was nothing illegal about it.
posted by Miko at 8:41 AM on May 22, 2009


If you don't believe me

Err, I think I pretty much believe it, otherwise I wouldn't be asking the question.


In Ontario, you can't sell farm-fresh eggs anywhere other than directly from the farm.


That's what I figured. I sent a couple emails out to some local farms to see if they sell directly. No word back yet.
posted by scarello at 12:49 PM on May 22, 2009


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