This question had plagued mankind for a long time. A really long time. This can get one into all kinds of deep and philosophical conversations about evolution and genetic changes.
Does it really matter though?
We have eggs and we have chickens. That’s all that counts, right?
Having said that, all eggs are not created equal. A quick read of the grocery store shelf provides you the opportunity to purchase caged, cage-free, free-range and pasture-raised eggs. I just wanted to buy some eggs. The choices can make your head spin. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked.
I had the opportunity to attend PaleoF(x) 2017 in Austin Texas. This annual event is where the Paleo world comes together to listen to speakers, witness fitness demonstrations, take part in yoga sessions and walk the exhibit floor with some phenomenal vendors. The folks running the booths are not just there to hawk their products. Every person I chatted with was passionate about their product and company. They were willing to spend the time to explain the science and the stories behind their products. A lot of the Paleo commercial consumer goods were born of personal need. These stories were moving to say the least.
One booth had a gal cooking up some eggs. I stopped because they smelled so good. Plus, the t-shirt she was wearing made me smile. C’mon, isn’t this cute?
I relished the humble scrambled egg she handed me. It was cooked in their grass-fed pasture-raised butter. A match made in heaven. I had to know what made these eggs so great tasting.
I interviewed Amanda (on the right) from Vital Farms about the difference between the types of eggs.
Me: Hey Amanda, we all love eggs but it can be overwhelming at the store trying to choose between all the types available to us. Can you break down the difference between them?
Amanda: Hi, of course! The easiest analogy is that cage-free is like four human beings living in a bathtub. That’s the amount of space the birds have. They have removed the cages but haven’t given the chickens any more space.
Me: Wow, that is really cramped living space. Do free-range chickens have more space? Is it really as free as we want to believe?
Amanda: Not exactly. Free-rtange is the equivalent of two humans living in a bathtub. They have slightly more space than the cage-free birds. They should have outdoor access but is is regulated.
Me: How does Vital Farms differ with their pasture-raised chickens?
Amanda: Pasture-raised is the highest quality you can get in a grocery store. It is like one human living in approximately a 10×10 area. Each bird has 108 square feet of open pasture. The way we set our farms up, the barn is in the middle. The farm is broken up into different sections and we open up two sections at a time for three weeks. We then rotate the birds through the different parts of the fields so they are constantly vegetating on fresh grass, bugs, worms and grubs. Because they eat what we call “nature’s salad”, are exercising and getting fresh air, it creates an egg with more nutrients. This is healthier for the birds and healthier for us.
Me: What can you tell me about the farmers?
Amanda: We partner with small family farmers. We have over 100 farm partners now. The average size of our flock is about 5,000 hens on 2 1/2 acres. Our farmers practice respectful stewardship of the chickens, animals and farms they keep. They believe in the full circle of the cycle.
If you live in an area that carries Vital Farms eggs and butter, lucky you. Go support them. If not, well, you now have a pretty clear picture of the living conditions of egg-laying hens. Think about it. Would you want to live in a tub with three other people?
The decisions we make as consumers can change the way farming happens. We need to support farmers and companies who respect and properly care for their crops, flocks and herds. Bottom line? Choose pasture-raised when it comes to eggs and butter.
Oh and of course I got a t-shirt.