With science on our side, we can once again enjoy the wonderfully nutritious egg. Along with milk, eggs contain the highest biological value (or gold standard) for protein. One egg has only 75 calories but 7 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of fat, and 1.6 grams of saturated fat, along with iron,vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. The egg is a powerhouse of disease-fighting nutrients like luteinand zeaxanthin. These carotenoids may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults. And brain development and memory may be enhanced by the choline content of eggs.
Unless you have an allergy or have trouble digesting them, eggs are a perfect food; they're cheap, easy to find, easy to prepare, an asset to many recipes, and darn tasty.
They're a perfect food until it comes to the ethics behind mass producing those eggs, that is. Sadly, there's a dark truth to the egg industry that most of us have been protected from; slowly but surely, more and more people are learning that baby chicks, especially male chicks, and almost all hens and roosters in the industry are severely abused, tortured, mutilated, and often meet horrible and slow deaths. The dark truth is this: The egg industry is a sadist, and it's been getting away with it.
Even those "cage-free" eggs you might be paying extra for aren't what they seem.
As an intrinsically empathic person who believes in both upholding the rights of other living beings AND providing our human bodies with good sustenance, removing downrighttorture from the way my food is produced by farmers is crucially important to me.
On a side note, let me add how grateful I am for how hard farmers work to feed all of us. We're all very lucky and indebted to those willing to do this!
While I appreciate the hard work of the people who raise our food for us, the current system is a mess. Because of factory-farming (mass farming units that are the leading cause of pollution in America), the goal is to produce the largest quantity of product, the fastest way possible, the cheapest way possible. And so the living conditions for all factory-farmed animals (any animals not raised on a small, devoted-to-animal-welfare farm) are completely atrocious.
For example, there's no need for roosters in the egg industry. Hens lay eggs that most consumers don't want fertilized. Roosters, once discovered as babies to be male chicks, are "disposed" of in a few different ways:
1.) Baby male chicks are thrown into a meat grinder, alive.
2.) Baby male chicks are gassed to death, alive.
3.) Baby male chicks are tossed alive into a dumpster or trash bags, piled onto each other by the hundreds, and very slowly suffocated to death.
Adult chickens are crammed together in small, dirty spaces and have the ends of their beaks seared off to prevent them from pecking each other to death; this a consequence of forcing so many birds together at once. They're pumped full of hormones and antibiotics to try to compensate for the illnesses that surface due to such unnatural living. And time after time, undercover reporters attest to inhumane (and extremely desensitized) treatment from those working with the chickens, including kicking them, urinating on them, and running them over with vehicles on purpose. And laughing about it.
Peter Singer wrote an excellent book on this topic called The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, which can be found here at Amazon.com.
I want to address what we can do in our day to day lives to make better choices as consumers when it comes to where our money goes. With the options of unlabeled eggs, natural, farm fresh, cage-free, free-range, organic, and certified humane eggs, what's our best choice? From The Humane Society of the United States of America:
As you can see, certain labels provide for more natural freedoms for the hens. What this picture doesn't explain, though, is that "outdoor access" can mean these beautiful food-giving birds are allowed outside for an hour on nothing more than a patch of 12" x 18" concrete. Typically, chickens are crammed into large warehouses, devoid of natural lighting (as is often the case for "cage-free" hens) and that patch of concrete can make a vast difference in the quality of life birds experience. But it's not nearly enough.
In fact, from the options above, our eggs being labeled as (free-range, or even better: pasture-raised) Certified Humane is the only way to ensure that the hens are living as naturally and humanely as possible. Unless you buy from a local farm, that is. And buying from a local farm, one with which you can personally verify their ethical standards, is the only way to ensure humane treatment of baby male chicks. For, sadly, even Certified Humane farms aren't dealing with male chicks; they're still being disposed of extremely cruelly by the rest of the sadist, malformed egg industry.
We can't all afford to make weekly trips to our local farms, though. Or pay the extra for organic, free-range eggs at the (probably over-priced) health food store. Many parts of this country don't even havefarms local to them. For the Pacific Northwest, I love Wilcox Farms. Their eggs are certified humane, their farm is 4th generation family owned and run, and a dozen of their quality eggs is only $3 at my local health food store. In other parts of the country, you can Google producers in your area.
Life is demanding and busy and society is constantly telling us how to do a thousand different things better. This one's an easy one, though. If you can't by farm fresh eggs from a local farm you verified as humane to its animals (not something easy for my family to do), locate certified humane eggs at a store near you and pay the extra... oh... 10 cents per egg? Boom. Done.
It's up to you, of course. We can pay a small amount more for far higher quality eggs, and higher quality of living for the hens producing them, thereby reducing the damage done in typical commercial egg farms, or we can pay the price in ecological pollution and damage, inhumane torture practices, eating ill and poorly-lived birds and their eggs, and turning an intentionally blind eye to the crisis at hand in the egg industry.
For me, caring about the lives of the hens providing food for me just tastes better. Here's to them!