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. I have a 100 acre farm, chickens, ducks, geese, cows, pigs and vegetables. Our CSA sells all naturally raised vegetables and fruits. We sell the eggs for $4 a dozen. The taste is amazing!

  2. I also have my own chickens *35 in all* and they are spoiled rotten! I feed almost all organic feeds and veggies, fruits and sell eggs for 3.00 a dozen, but give a whole lot of them away when they are laying more than I can sell. Everyone should read how the store bought “cage-free” are really raised!

    When I hear people say there is no difference in store-bought and farm-raised eggs, I am thrilled to give them a dozen eggs and then ask them afterward again what they think. They ALWAYS remark how they can’t believe what a difference in taste there is and how much better the hand-raised chicken eggs are. I’ve only had one person in 9 years tell me that my eggs were too “egg-y” for her, and she liked the store-bought ones better.
    My older girls are over 7 years old and only lay very occasionally, but they have earned their “retirement” and will be taken care of until their last day on earth. They all have been a joy to have and watch through the years.

    1. Bless your heart, Randi, and I mean that in the best possible, non-ironic way. It’s a dream of mine to have chickens, but we’re not set up for it yet. And I got a big chuckle out of “too egg-y.” Jeesh.

  3. I’m fortunate to live in a town in Rochester, NY. Within three miles of my house there is a year-round Sunday farmer’s market (the Brighton Farmers Market) where a handful of farmers bring pastured chicken eggs, and one farmer brings duck eggs. And, if I may say; few things are as sublime as an egg that was laid that day or the day before, then fried or poached, and set atop a batch of sauteed greens with garlic and parmesan or harissa.

  4. I’ve been buying pastured eggs as much as possible ever since I joined a CSA and took the egg membership along with the fruit and vegetable share. I saved those precious farm eggs for things like poached or boiled eggs–when I could really taste them–until I ran out of the cheap Trader Joe’s eggs and needed to bake a cake. So there went my $7/dozen eggs into the mixer. To my utter surprise, what came out of the oven took me straight back to my childhood. “It tastes just like the cake Grandma Bourke made when I was little. I can’t believe this.” Now my husband is happy to eat–and pay for–the pastured eggs. They do make a difference, and even he can taste it.

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