Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Buy Pastured Eggs and Chicken, Not "Free Range"

I was cruising the nets and found this interesting piece. To read more about sustainable food check out http://food.change.org/
(Originally Posted February 18, 2010 on food.change.org)

Good eggs are hard to come by — harder than you may think. It seems you can find chicken and eggs labeled "organic" and "free range" in just about any grocery store these days, packaged in bucolic images of rolling green hills and red barns, but that is almost never the reality, even among these supposedly humane alternatives. A chicken fed organic feed in a confinement barn with a tiny dirt yard (read: "access to the outdoors") does not represent ethical or sustainable farming.

What the conscientious consumer should really be looking for are pastured chickens.

When I lived in Kentucky, I bought my eggs from a nearby farmer. The eggs had strong shells and dark, orange yolks that stood tall when I cracked them open. They were the most delicious eggs I've ever eaten. The organic, vegetarian-fed, free-range, antibiotic-free eggs I find in Los Angeles are nothing like that. They are in quality indistinguishable from the runny, yellow, conventional eggs my roommate buys. Clearly something is amiss. The difference is pasture. At first blush you may thing that is precisely what is meant by "free range," but sadly that is almost never the case.

A Free Range label on an egg carton or chicken wrapper almost invariably means the chickens were raised in a crowded shed with limited outdoor access and almost certainly no fresh grass. It is often not terribly different from how their conventional counterparts are raised, and yet by meeting a few technical benchmarks, sellers can mark up their products to fetch the premium prices that more ethical food bring, effectively duping consumers. Don't be fooled; there is no substitute for real pasture.

It may seem strange to think of putting chickens on pasture. After all chickens, unlike cows, don't eat much grass. But the amount of grass they do eat when given the opportunity, along with the bugs and lizards they scratch up, make a world of difference in egg quality. Pasture also makes a world of difference to the quality of life for the chicken. They must be moved to fresh pasture every day or so to avoid killing the grass, so they get constant access to fresh greens, bugs, sunshine, and space to move around as they fertilize the lawn.

Doubtless "free range" eggs are better than purely conventional eggs in environmental terms, but we can do so much better. The farmers out there who are really promoting a sustainable model with pastured, happy chickens and nutritious eggs — not those who have learned to do the bare minimum to fool consumers into thinking their product is superior — really deserve that extra dollar or three per dozen. Talk to sellers at your local farmers' market or check sites like Eat Wild and LocalHarvest to find sources. Luckily, you'll know when you've bought the real deal. The proof is right there in the shell.

Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt via Flickr


Anonymous said...

That makes sense to me.

It is a shame, we are essentially lied to. Chickens in cages their whole lives may be ignorant to a better world, but that doesn't make their lives good.

Anonymous said...

good piece