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. We’re retired and not wealthy by any means. I’m a very frugal shopper for every thing. Pastured eggs are one of my splurges. We just bought a medium size chest freezer and the next two splurges are going to be local lamb and goat.

  2. You raise the current conundrum for folks who shop for groceries and are passionate about their food–pay more for better quality, nutrition, sustainability and cruelty-free etc. OR…pay your rent or mortgage.

    Of course, it’s all about affordability, the one hitch that all this natural, small-farm product due to their size can’t allow for–unless you’re pretty well-heeled in a 4BR, 3bath 3k sq FT home in the Hamptons or wherever.

    Point is, I might buy these $1/egg puppies for home use to watch my cholesterol intake, but if I’m planning a big baking stint where I need a couple of dozen eggs, spending $18 for two dozen eggs vs $3.95 for 18, you can guess which way I’ll turn.

    As for later upon retirement, I hope to have a few chickens around as well as ducks and goats to provide eggs and such, as I recognize the concerns of advocates for poultry-raising conditions. But they don’t have my budgetary concerns or life. And I would raise my own simply to avoid paying too much money from vendors as well as knowing that I’m raising happy chickens.

    1. dontcallmeachef, you’re right. As I said in the post: no judgment. Everyone draws a line in the sand about these kind of topics, and that line moves, as life’s circumstances move. I never could have afforded $9.00 for a dozen eggs when I was a poor college student. (Nor could have I afforded it when I went through my Decade of Debt in my ’40s if it weren’t for The One.) But, for me, I find knowing about the topic–something I fiercely avoided–useful.

  3. I keep a few hens for organic eggs (and general entertainment), and haven’t bought an egg in years. Last winter (not the one we are having now, STILL) during a long moult, I had no eggs at all for a couple of months but still couldn’t bring myself to buy eggs, even from a farmers market. Not judging anyone else’s decision!! Just feel better knowing where my food is coming from and what went into it, as much as possible.

      1. That was the first time I haven’t had hens lay right through the winter! Just happened to be all older birds. Those same hens also took this winter off, while a younger hen presented my with an egg every single morning. 🙂

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