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


  1. Southtown Farm in Mahwah, NJ. They sell at Ramsey Farmer’s Market. Also sell chicken and pork!

  2. Our family buys wonderful eggs from Highwood Farms in Somis, Ventura County, California, and we pick them up at our beloved Ventura Meat Company–both companies are responsible, local and wonderful.

  3. Truelove Farms 122 Thomaston Rd. Morris, CT. Famous (justifiably so) for their eggs along with pastured pork, beef, and of course chickens. Really nice folks, too.

  4. Hello David, I enjoyed reading today’s article and your interesting and very informative blog. I’m originally from Chicago and live in France (40 years next month). My (French) husband and I have a long time habit of reading labels when we shop and asking questions when we need to know more. Our supermarkets and open markets supply produce, meats, etc. that are grown and raised locally (as it is with every region in France; I’m in the Paris region). We take the time to read labels and have been buying pastured eggs, produce and other foods for years. Here in France all fresh produce suppliers and manufacturers of foods and processed products are required by law to list in detail the origins (where they come from and/or are grown) of the products they sell. This also includes how and what the produce and animals were grown or fed with (organic, in/outdoors, types of seeds, etc.), and most important, whether genetically modified or not. With this information at hand we are assured our favorite foods are pastured and good for our health. Continue your good work!

    1. amazone779, sadly our government is too driven by powerful lobbies. Change is happening, though, and will continue to happen, thankfully.

      But I do see is a great difference between the average French and American consumer (and I include myself in the later group): Culturally the French put a very high value on food. I don’t mean price, but value. Good, healthy, sustainable food is important to them. We American have learned to eat crap because that’s what big business wants us to eat, so they make it cheap and addictive.

      We always rent an apartment in the 8th arrondissement when we visit Paris, and it’s a tradition to visit the food market on Rue Poncelet. (What’s wonderful is it’s not unique–just one of hundreds of markets in the city). The food is terrific. Not cheap, granted, but it’s all so carefully grown and prepared. On the other hand, when I walk into the local Stop & Shop or ShopRite here in CT I become so depressed. I’ve long ago weaned myself off of shopping the aisles and only shop the perimeter of the stores (produce, meats, fish, dairy). But it’s so sterile.

      Luckily there’s a “mindful market” in Woodbury, CT called Morning Glory. I shop there often for organic, pastured products (before I knew the difference between “free-range” and “pastured”).

      I have a lot of changes to make in my diet and eating habits. Thanks for the encouragement.

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