The Story of a (Pastured) Egg

Pastured Eggs

I think it’s fair to say that I’m not a proselytizer. I don’t cram sustainability concepts, politics, or ideologies down anyone’s throat. Quite the contrary. I’m heinous at dinner parties. The minute I see someone starting to climb up on a soapbox of any kind, I look for the nearest bottle of Scotch (of which there are usually many) and a pack of matches. A little immolation always brightens up a dull evening out here in Connecticut.

Then this past weekend I attended the annual conference of The International Association of Culinary Professionals in Chicago. One of the keynote speakers was goat farmer, filmmaker, photographer, and writer Douglas Gayeton, who along with his wife, Laura Howard-Gayeton, founded The Lexicon of Sustainability. His message was about how words can influence, cajole, move, and ultimately change a person’s behavior. Having worked for The Dark Side (aka advertising) for more than 18 years, I know firsthand how true this is. I sat rapt, listening to Douglas speak, adoring his deeply affecting photography, and watching—and, I admit, sometimes wincing at—his films.

The one short film that I found extraordinarily powerful is “The Story of an Egg,” because it honors what is, for most of us, a fridge staple. For years I’ve heard stories of the conditions laying hens are subjected to, but I didn’t want to be exposed to it. Ignorance is life’s barbiturate is how I looked at things. The One and I still did our part. We prided ourselves on going from buying generic eggs to consciously choosing first cage-free eggs and, more recently, free-range eggs. We considered ourselves progressive—superior, even. We were part of the army of well-intentioned consumers doing the right thing, smiling our members-of-the-club smiles at affluent dinner parties. Having known how advertising co-opts legitimate terms and converts them into fuel that runs the moneymaking machines of huge corporations, though, I should have been suspicious. But, like Donna Reed, I was content to love my man, make our gut-busting breakfasts, and clutch my faux pearls while looking down demurely when someone complimented my cooking.

Gayeton’s message, and the message of the farmers in his film, is that humanely, economically, and ecologically sustainable eggs come from chickens found in pastures—and no place else. Here they live outdoors, pecking at bugs, seeds, worms, and other gnarly things of their choosing. The uncorrupted term is “pastured eggs.” Cage-free eggs, the film demonstrated, were produced by chickens who, rather than being stuffed into small mesh cages with so many other birds that they couldn’t turn around (or, in some cases, not even touch the bottom of the cage), were lucky enough to be crammed into a huge pen filled with hundreds of their brethren, pecking and walking though mud and excrement. Free-range, which sounds so wonderful—so American it could be part of our Constitution—simply means thousands of factory chickens are offered a single door to an outside cage the size of most people’s mudrooms. Yee-haw! 

I was so affected by this that the day after I arrived home, I sent out an all points bulletin on Twitter asking for information about local farms that raise pastured chickens and eggs.

Pastured Eggs Twitter

My assistant, Annie, and I scoured the Internet. I made a few phone calls to local chefs. In the summer, The One and I usually ride up to Toplands Farm, where at the end of a meandering dusty drive is a red cooler containing a mishmash of reused cardboard cartons filled with fresh eggs. A splintered honor-system cashbox sits nearby. I always assumed these eggs were the real deal, as their yolks are the color of the original orange Crayola crayons, not that “sun-burnished wheat” hue found in eggs languishing in supermarket coolers. Now that I know better, I need to investigate further.

Color of Yolks

I know what you’re thinking. First: Damn, dude, what’s taken you so long? (All I can do is quote my old shrink: “Denial works.”) And second: Pastured eggs, chicken, and beef cost a fortune. In some places, they cost triple the amount of food that comes out of those chambers of horror that feed so much of America. If you can’t afford pastured eggs, no problem. You need to feed, clothe, educate, and provide for your family how you see fit. And if that doesn’t include pastured eggs, so be it. But for those of us who can afford pastured eggs and meats, I say, let’s do it. Let’s search out those farms, roadside stands, greenmarkets, stores, and online resources that sell true, honest, pastured food.

To that end, please use the comments section to tell me what venues you buy your pastured eggs from. It doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter how frequently—or infrequently—you buy eggs. What matters is that readers have a list of resources to turn to when they need it.

Now, anyone have some Scotch and matches? You may commence lighting my soapbox on fire.

David Leite's signature

Comments

  1. Hi, David. Aside from how and where milk is produced, it is a pretty weird food for us to eat. What other animal eats the mammary secretions of another animal? Don’t you think this is strange? We’ve all been brainwashed by the Dairy Council telling us milk is a necessity, is a health food, builds strong bones, etc. etc. This is all mularky and propaganda. Leading pediatricians (including Dr. Spock, in his day) teach that mother’s milk is nutricious and necessary, but not past the age of 2. OTHER mothers’ milk is neither. Milk creates allergies, gastrointestinal problems, and osteoporosis. Yes, osteoporosis. It is true that mild contains a lot of calcium, but the large amount of protein in milk causes a net calcium LOSS by leaching more calcium out of bones than the calcium it contains. Certain vegetables are the best sources of calcium. Vit. D can be obtained in many other ways besides milk. Actually, milk contains nothing of nutritional value for humans. And if one is truly “addicted” to milk, there are other products, like “milk” (bad name) from soy, rice, and almonds.

    1. I’ve thought that it was weird at times too but the concept must be old – for someone to have come up with the Romulus and Remus myth.

      1. Hi David Actually, the Roman Empire is fairly recent in terms of human history. By then, the development of animal abuse was quite entrenched in human societies (witness the “games” of animal killing, replaced in modern times by Spanish bullfighting.) It really began 9-10 thousand years ago with the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals. With agriculture came our first hierarchical view of living things….that is, that animals were interior to us humans and deserved to be enslaved. Since them history has consisted of more and more and “better and better” techniques of animal enslavement, which led to the enslavement of others: indigenous peoples, blacks, women, Jews, Armenians, homosexuals, and on and on. Animal enslavement was the first, and taught us how to do it to other “inferior” groups. Now hierarchies and genocides are quite commonplace. So, by the time of the Roman Empire, milk drinking was probably the norm, and humans were probably making money on it….and destroying peoples’ health….just as they do now. And just as now, when milk is commonly thought of as “good for you,” the same delusion was probably in place back in Ancient Rome. Ergo the Romulus and Remus myth, which you insightfully point out. Milk, despite its health hazards, still has its benign reputation: “The milk of human kindness.” “The land of milk and honey,” Old misconceptions die hard.

  2. But David, you’re being thoughtful about it, which the vast majority of people are not…..they simply do what they have always done, or what their parents did. People should emulate your thoughtfulness and practice it….who knows where it will lead them. It has led you to eating pastured eggs and meat, which is a more humane way of living. And, who knows, you may change your notion of “you” and move on to a more plant-based diet. And even if you don’t, you are influencing many people to rethink their diets and convert to one, as you have, that is more in keeping with animals’ health, human health, and the health of the planet.

  3. I believe that so long as chickens are bred to be eaten or to have their eggs stolen to be eaten, there will be corruption. This is because it is driven by the profit motive (which I am not against), and the profit motive will draw psychopathic individuals who will corr[upt anything they touch. The only answer is to totally eliminate the business of eating animals or their products, and, therefore, killing animals. If animals are raised to be ultimately killed, it is real easy to rationalize anything in their care (“they’re going to be killed anyway”). If they’re going to be killed, why not make a buck on it? And, then, why not make more than a buck by capitalizing on the notion of “humane killing” (an oxymoron) but introduce many questionable practices. To eliminate corruption, it is an all or none thing…no killing of animals.

  4. I became one in stages. First, I ate fish for 1 year. Then I was vegetarian (not vegan) for 4 years. Now I have been vegan for 24 years, and it is a lifestyle I love. I feel that every choice I make in food, clothing, cosmetics, entertainment, etc. is a statement for Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life. It is a nonviolent lifestyle, and violence is killing the planet and the people on it. Violence has been a way of life for humans (the most violent animal on Earth) 10,000 or so years with the birth of agriculture. At exactly the same time, the first hierarchy was launched, with animal being the target of slavery. Since then we have managed to enslave every species, every race, every religion, every culture. If violence is hard wired in us, then it has to be fought. Veganism is the best way to fight it. Also, I believe, being vegan, and not having blood on your hands, allows you to be more intuitive and in touch. Whatever you do in life, you do better. Sweden is 10% vegetarian. That approaches the 12% that is necessary for the beginnings of a paradigm shift. Here in our country, new vegan restaurants are opening with lines around the block. It IS the wave of the future. The earlier one joins the enlightened few, the better. But I truly respect your move into pastured meat and eggs. Others should follow your lead. Even if it is the end, and not a way station toward the end of veganism, it is still a significant and worthy change.

  5. I get my pastured eggs from Springfield Farm in Sparks, Maryland. Their eggs are also sold at a few local farmer’s markets and Atwater’s Market. Definitely worth the price and special shopping trip!

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Attach it below. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Upload a picture of your dish