In my blog post from January 22nd I talked about some of the differences between chicken eggs and duck eggs. The main difference was in the nutritional make-up. As far as their specific use and taste was concerned we personally do not find a lot of difference.
Recently I have been thinking about why people purchase eggs from the grocery store and not from a local farm. I believe that it is because most of us don’t know the difference.
If you are like me you care about the food that you prepare in order to nurture your family. We all want our food to be the freshest, most nutritious possible. I do not want eggs that I have to cook until their nutritional quality deteriorates. I want to be able to use an egg without fully cooking it. This can only come from a conscientious, small farmer in your local area.
We know that the nutritional quality of food deteriorates the longer it takes for that food to get from the field to your kitchen. All eggs that are sold through the grocery stores must be graded and packed in a federally inspected facility. This is usually centrally located. It means that even if the eggs are produced in our community, they must be shipped to this central location. Then from there they are shipped to the grocery stores. This process can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks. Sometimes, as is the case with some organic brands, they do not even come from the same province we live in. These definitely are not “fresh” eggs.
I am sure most of us have seen movies like “Food Inc.” and read books like “The Omnivores Dilemma” that have shown us what factory farms are like.
Most of the eggs that are sold in your local grocery store come from these factory farms. None of this is news to you though. We all know that these “factory farms” do not look to the well-being of the animals in their care. Because of their size they cannot give the same attention to the little details that a small family farm can.
When we are purchasing eggs from the grocery store should we be paying close attention to the labels? You know, that confusing list: Free Range/Free Run/Cage Free, or Organic. What do they all mean? Do these labels make the eggs inside those cartons any healthier than the eggs without these labels? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. You have to be the judge of that.
When the government took over certification standards from local certifying groups the meaning of these terms changed dramatically. Government certification standards only made it easier for factory farms to move into the market with these labels.
What does the term “certified organic” actually mean? It means that an animal has been fed only government certified feed that has had no unnatural fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. It specifies the minimum amount of space an animal must be housed in. Any egg that is labeled “certified organic” must have had no antibiotics at any point in its life.
However, it doesn’t mean that they are treated humanely. For example, in order to prevent cannibalism, that naturally occurs when birds are stressed and being raised in tight housing situations they have a portion of their upper beak cut off. If chickens are allowed to live as they were designed (i.e.: outdoors in the growing season and clean, spacious housing in the winter) they will not exhibit these behaviours. The natural behavior for chickens is to peck and scratch in search of protein rich food.
So what about “free-range/free-run”? To a chicken, free-range/free-run mean to be able to peck and scratch around out-of-doors in search of those tasty morsels that they love so much.
The industry defines it quite differently though. If the chickens have a small door that allows them to go outside this is classified as “free range”. In reality a chicken that has been raised inside for a considerable portion of its life will not even know how to use that door.
Free-run only means that the chickens are not crowded into small cages where they live their entire lives without the ability to express their “chickenness”. In free-run barns they are not allowed access to the outdoors.
There are only two ways that you can be guaranteed that your family’s food will be beyond organic, truly free-range and nutrient dense. First off, and the most effective would to keep your own flock of chickens. Secondly, you will want to find a local farmer who is conscientious about what they feed to their chickens and are transparent about their farming practices. You don’t want them to be hiding behind the cloak of bio-security. If they are taking care of their flock the way chickens were designed to be, there will be no threat to the farmer’s healthy birds.
As the mother and main food provider of the home I take my job of caring and nurturing my family very seriously. Beside growing most of our food, the guarantee of clean food comes from having a relationship with the local farmer who I do purchase our food from. Labels are just not that comforting to me.
Sign up if you would like to hear more about our family farm. We would love to hear what your thoughts are on these issues. If you have any questions please leave them in the comment section below. We invite you to become part of our local food community.