Forage

whole food ~ well made

a carton of Vital Farms pasture-raised eggs on lynnecurry.com

Are You Buying the Best Eggs? Find Out in this Forage User’s Guide to Good Eggs

The other day I met a woman in the grocery store where we stood side by side scanning the overflowing options of the yogurt aisle. I felt almost dizzy trying to find organic yogurt.

When I reached for a quart of grassfed Stonyfield, she laughed. “That’s what I was looking for!” And then we chatted briefly about the ridiculously high sugar content in flavored yogurt for our kids.

She’s another shopper like me, I thought as I watched her walk toward the egg section. No supermarket stalker, I looked on with curiosity because I’ve been researching and writing about organic egg production here and here.

Again, she mulled over the offerings and surveyed the cartons bearing labels from cage free to organic to free range. When she picked up a carton of cage-free eggs, my heart sunk a little.

Nope, I realized, she doesn’t know either. And so I committed to finishing this egg post to share what I know about finding, buying and eating good eggs.

Why eggs Matter Now

Maybe you’ve noticed that the egg industry is undergoing a quiet revolution. We’re eating more eggs now than in the past 30 years–263 eggs per person in 2014, according to The Washington Post.

The story I’ve been following involves major policy changes and the 200+ big businesses that have committed to transition to cage-free eggs by 2025. While Big Ag policy stuff is a big yawn most of the time, this change is already sweeping the country and changing the egg market for the better.

The shift to cage-free and the popularity of organics are two reasons why there are more choices on the market than ever–which makes buying eggs so confusing.

But here’s the uplifting takeaway: change is coming from the bottom, not the top. Consumer buying habits and concerns about the treatment of animals are the main driving force behind changes in egg production methods that affect the hens, the lands, the farmers and local economies as well.

It’s you. It’s me. It’s all of us shifting eggs away from the grip of factory farming because we want better lives for animals, better foods for our families and more corporate responsibility {read: honesty}.

all fresh eggs are not alike

You probably already know this if you have been lucky enough to taste a local egg. It’s hard to go back to store bought. But this winter, despite foraging far and wide, there were no local eggs to be found.

So, I had to make choices from the egg section at the grocery store. {These are three brands I bought, but I am not endorsing any of them.}

a collection of egg cartons on lynnecurry.com.
Three brands of eggs from my area supermarket that represent the new egg options on the market. Buyer beware of those alluring labels.

Buying eggs is about the chicken and the egg. The difference of each type of egg carton–from cage-free to organic to pastured–is an indication of the chicken’s lifestyle, the nutrition and the flavors of each egg.*

{*There has been little research on the effects of pasture on egg flavors and the one study I found claimed there was no difference. C’mon! We’re just going to have to chalk up the question of egg taste to subjectivity and personal preference.}

But unfortunately, it’s not the whole story, and you have to dig deeper to get a truly good egg.

What about all of those labels festooned on the cartons?

They are more confusing than helpful, in most cases. While there are a lot of egg label guides, I find most of them a little hard to decode, so I recommend downloading Animal Welfare Institute’s pocket guide. {Or to find out how the organic eggs you already buy rate, scan this scorecard from the watchdog food group Cornucopia Institute.}

Don’t Be Fooled by Cage-Free Eggs

Here’s the deal: all eggs are going cage free. This means that millions of laying hens will no longer be confined to battery cages the size of an 8 by 11 sheet of paper.

While it’s a major step in the right direction for animal welfare, it’s a little more complicated than that as this Mother Jones article reports. In short, these debeaked chickens are still confined to multistory laying facilities called aviaries where the conditions are crowded, air quality is questionable and the pecking order causes higher mortality rates.

Cage-free is not a compassionate eater’s dream, in other words. Cage free also has no bearing on the nutrition, quality and taste of the egg for you.

Why not?

The chicken feed is the same as for caged hens. Plus, while they can at least flap their wings and lay down, they do not get outdoors where they exercise and sunlight while ranging for insects and other tasty items that diversify their nutritional intake.

And Other Egg Labels & Seals 

Organic is pretty much about the feed, that’s it. So while organic eggs will be antibiotic- and GMO-free, they will not necessarily come from hens who had any genuine access to the outdoors. In fact, the biggest producers of organic eggs operate giant multi-story hen houses called aviaries and they dominate the organic egg industry.

Chances are high that the organic eggs you buy come from an industrial egg producer.{This January, I reported how the organic rules were all set to change to disallow aviaries with no true outdoor access from qualifying as organic eggs. But that all went away.}

a carton of free-range eggs are lynncurry.com
Access to the outdoors and really going outdoors are not the same.

Free-range sounds good, but it doesn’t mean anything at all without any other verification to back it up. It is simply an alluring marketing claim that producers can slap on an egg carton at will.

Same goes for pasture raised, an unregulated term, so be on alert for false advertising.

Here are all the other labels that do not have any bearing on chickens’ quality of life or the nutritional quality or flavor of their eggs:

  • farm fresh
  • natural/all-natural
  • free roaming
  • sustainably farmed
  • vegetarian fed
  • hormone free

Stand-alone labels like these are just there to fool you. So just go ahead and ignore all of these meaningless claims from now on, okay?

Animal welfare certifications

These seals–or stamps of approval–on egg cartons do mean something. Called third-party certifications, they verify that the marketing claims are true. So, for example, if the label says pasture-raised or free-range and its paired with the logo from Animal Welfare Approved, this is the gold standard.

You can trust that an independent auditor made sure that the hens truly do live on pasture except for when their health or safety is at risk.

Certified Human {less stringent than AWA} and American Humane {less stringent yet} are two more third-party certifiers for eggs.

Yes, it is mind boggling. And yet necessary in a world where we have commoditized living creatures for profit.

But here’s where anyone can make a real difference…

Real Access to pasture Matters

Hens who are able to go outside at will to peck and scratch, eat bugs, spread their wings, nest and get away from other combatant chickens lay the very best eggs.

Doesn’t it figure than whenever an animal can express its natural behaviors, it makes better food?

a carton of organic eggs at lynnecurry.com
Organic labels don’t necessarily mean that the laying hens really lived on pasture.

These eggs are the tastiest with vibrant yolks, from sunset orange to midday sun yellow (colors can range depending on the season and the feed), and compact and thick whites with a rim of thinner whites.

The qualities you can see reflect the higher levels of nutrition, too.** According to a study in Mother Earth News, pastured eggs compared to conventional industrially produced eggs have up to:

  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • 3 to 6 times more vitamin D
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 2 times more Omega-3 fatty acids
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat

**I am in no way a nutrition expert, so go here for more in-depth, research-based information about pastured egg nutrition.

Bottom line: pasture is best for hens, for eggs and for us, the appreciative eaters of good eggs.

Subscribe

and become a forager

the 4 best Types of Good eggs to buy

  1. Pasture-raised eggs from a local farmer or neighborhood backyard chicken owner you know who lets them roam while providing good shelter and high-quality feed that may include tasty table scraps.
  2. Pasture-raised eggs verified by a third-party animal welfare certification, such as Animal Welfare Approved.
  3. Organic eggs from a source you know who provides actual access to the outdoors–not just a tiny doorway the chickens never use.
  4. Organic eggs verified by a third-party animal welfare certification, such as Animal Welfare approved, to be sure that the hens really lived on pasture.

We don’t have chickens, so I buy all of these types of eggs depending on the season in all kinds of places. It’s a true foraging activity to find local, pasture-raised eggs in the winter!

Granted, these eggs cost twice as much as commodity eggs and even cage free. I generally pay $5 per dozen for local eggs, which means that each egg is 41 cents. If you pay $8, they’re 66 cents each.

three bowls with cracked eggs and their shells at lynnecurry.com
Pasture-raised eggs generally have a vibrant yolk and a compact white, and the shells are thicker, too.

Tell me, what else–that tastes this good and is as good for you–costs just 66 cents?

By the same token, why is it considered outrageous to spend over $5 on a dozen excellent eggs but perfectly reasonable to pay that much for a coffee drink?

Where to find Good eggs

Supermarkets

It’s true: there really are good eggs now available in chain supermarkets nationwide. The best egg companies, like Vital Farms, work with a collection of smaller farms to supply the big stores. So, you are not only supporting better animal welfare but family farms as well. You can identify them readily because they’re the most expensive eggs in the case.

Food Coops & Natural Food Stores

If you’re lucky enough to have one of these in your neighborhood, then you will surely find good eggs. It’s still a good idea to scrutinize the label for animal welfare certifications or ask the store manager about the producers.

Farmers Markets & CSAs

Going to a farmers market is the best way to find a local farmer who you can then develop a relationship with and contact for eggs even out of the farmers market season. Same goes for a CSA producer.

farm stand with open sign at lynnecurry.com
Liza Jane’s Farmstand in eastern Oregon offers 24-hour local , pasture-raised egg shopping.

 Local Farms & Farmstands

In many areas, you can go directly to the farm to pick up eggs. Since washed eggs stay fresh for a full month, stock up with as many dozen as you need. I buy four dozen at a time, if available. Local Harvest and Eat Wild both offer searchable directories to find farmers selling direct to consumers in your area.

Friends & Neighbors

With so many backyard chicken coops, the chances are good that someone in your area has more eggs than they can use. They may advertise on a community bulletin board or sell excess eggs at a local retailer, so ask around. I first bought local eggs years ago at our independent bookstore and coffee shop!

Online

Use this new searchable online tool from the animal welfare group Farm Forward to look up the ratings on eggs you already buy. Or use it to find the best eggs sold near you.

So, are you ready to find some really good eggs? Go forage.

Subscribe

and become a forager

share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *