Tuesday, 17 May 2011


I posted some egg photos yesterday, from the Magnum Photos website.  ( These extraordinary images have got me thinking about how commonplace eggs are in our day-to-day life and how much we depend upon them.

There are, of course, many different kinds of eggs—chicken, duck, quail, caviar, roe and even ostrich, to name but a few—but I think that when most of us say “egg” we think of chicken eggs and we see in our mind’s eye the many shelves of them on display in our grocery store’s dairy section.

Eggs are nutritional power houses.  They are one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D, they are a source of Vitamin A, B vitamins, and Vitamin E.  They are a rich source of iron, a source of calcium, and they contain all the essential amino acids.  Better still, they provide all of this nutrition in a package that is low in calories; only 75 calories in a single, large egg.

Many of the eggs we see in our grocery stores are battery eggs.  This is not some obscure reference to electrical charges but is, rather, a description of how the chickens that produce the eggs are raised. 

Battery farming, or factory farming, is the process of raising chickens in small cages, inside large buildings.  The cages do not touch the ground and hens raised in these cages are unable to engage in natural behaviours such as wing-flapping, dust-bathing, scratching, pecking, perching and nest-building.  They are often debeaked in order to prevent them from harming each other or engaging in cannibalism.  Several studies have indicated that a combination of high calcium demand for egg production and a lack of exercise lead to a painful condition known as cage layer osteoporosis, which increases the chances that hens in battery cages will break their bones.[i]

Free range chickens are given access to the outdoors.  While there is no specific standard for eggs labeled as “free range,” some eggs are “certified humane” or “certified organic.” Eggs labeled as “certified humane” are raised on farms with specific requirements for stocking density and cage-free keeping.  Eggs labeled “certified organic” are raised on farms where the hens must have outdoor access and are fed only organic, vegetarian feed.

Interestingly, the quality of life of the hen that produces the eggs greatly affects the nutritional value of the eggs themselves.  Eggs laid by free-range chickens that are allowed to forage for their own food have been found to be lower in cholesterol and fats while being several times higher in vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids than standard factory eggs.[ii]

As you can imagine, cooking as much as I do every day, I use a lot of eggs in the course of a week.  I use them in much of my baking and in many of my other recipes.  I also keep them on hand as a convenient and inexpensive main dish on days when I am particularly busy or rushed.  They form the centerpiece of many of our meals on meat free days.

I get most of my eggs from a local farmer, who raises a small number of hens in a coop where they have ready access to the outdoors.  When I need to supplement this supply, I purchase certified organic eggs from a local grocer. 

If you are fortunate enough to be able to buy your eggs from a local farmer, I encourage you to do so.  If not, please give consideration to how the hens who produce the eggs you eat are raised.  In the long run humane farming practices benefit us all, both in the quality of our environment and in the nutrition we receive.

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