Monday, January 6, 2014

Speaking of sensible, and still on the topic of eggs…

If the subject of egg classification and what it means to the nutritional value of this food has you confused – and quite possibly unhappy since it seems yet again that consumers are being jobbed by large-scale growers – I have something additional to add that is pretty mind-blowing.

In many parts of the world, eggs are not washed which makes it possible for them to be stored safely at room temperature. Here’s one article I found. Please read it. Don’t worry, I’ll wait patiently! And then there’s this (you’ll have to navigate past the ad on the landing page).

If you’re in North America, especially the States, you probably read both articles with eye rolls and disbelief, with comments such as, “They’ve got to be kidding!” going through your head.

But wait – as the advertising saying goes – there’s more.

I remember speaking to an experienced yachtsman a number of years ago, you know, the type of guy who’s crossed the Atlantic a number of times and thinks nothing of it. He told me that they never refrigerate eggs on any of the boats he sailed on. There wasn’t enough fridge space, due to the things that really needed it, to waste on eggs – which he said didn’t (he was British). Their eggs, in those 2 1/2 dozen flats, were simply turned end over end once each day. Moving the air bubble (that grows over time) around inside of the eggs kept them fresh for a month or more. He swore what he told me was accurate – knowing that I’d probably try it some time, and not wanting to me to endanger my life.

Here’s the thing I’ve found out since: apparently this won’t work if the eggs have been washed as they have to be by law on this side of the Atlantic.

You probably noted in the article that the EU’s feeling is that not allowing eggs to be washed encourages better animal husbandry. After all, who’s going to want to buy a dirty eggs, especially if the dirt is bird poop? A North American egg can have poop on it, be washed and dried and all appears good. But what if it wasn’t handled correctly? What if the birds were not inoculated against salmonella (the most common pathogen found on eggs) as is required (at least in the UK. I haven’t been able to find the EU rules about this).

So what it boils down to is this: you have to know just who is farming those eggs you’re buying and what there practices are. If everything I’ve read is true and accurate, I would be more comfortable with the European model.

More important, though, is to be able to ask questions about the eggs. You can only do that with small producers who you can approach and talk face-to-face with, maybe even visiting their farms. Armed with the knowledge these articles – and many others on the Internet – you can ask the right questions.

I took a trip to our local supermarket while working on this post. The packaging on eggs is confusing, in some cases, probably deliberately so. I was trying to pick out the best quality eggs to buy, and nothing I saw and read gave me the confidence to pick out something nutritionally sound, humanely raised and also safe. Can you get all three from “supermarket eggs”? Not the way they’re sold now.

On the other hand, if you buy from someone who has a roadside sign or is at your local farmer’s market, can you be sure they know what they’re doing in handling their livestock and your potential food?

I guess it all boils down to this: is it worth your time to source excellent eggs? You know I’m going to say yes. But one of my reasons will probably be surprising: it’s enjoyable. I like reaching out to the people producing the food I’m putting on my table every day. I want to be able to look them in the eye when I’m talking to them and know I’m being told the truth. I enjoy going out to a farm, getting a chance to observe the chickens. Do they look healthy and well kept? Are they content? Is the farmer even willing to let me see his operation?

If you’ve found the right person, they will welcome you. Then you can buy with confidence if you like what you see. Chances are, if you’ve made a friend, they will be doubly careful. After all, who wants to harm someone they know.

Chances are you will pay more than you do for the regular eggs most people purchase at their local supermarket without a pause for thought. But I’ve also found you’ll probably pay less for the fancier supermarket eggs that claim to be organic (but were the chickens kept in those tiny cages?) or free-range (but did that just mean they were raised moving around on a concrete barn floor?). Does Omega-3 really need to be add to eggs, or is this just to compensate for poor nutrition provided by what the chickens are being fed?

As for whether to refrigerate eggs or not, if I can purchase eggs raised to UK standards, I see no reason to doubt their standards are safe. And for all of you out there, I will do that and report back. The only egg farmer who I know could provide these doesn’t have eggs at the moment because his hens are moulting (a good thing since this means he doesn’t have them under 24-hour lighting to avoid this problem).

Bottom line: Our eggs are being supplied by operations that are too large and too focused on profit margins. This leads to shortcuts needing to be taken in order to remain competitive and still make the maximum amount of money. Taken from one viewpoint, who can blame these companies for doing this? But from the viewpoint that food should always be the highest quality it can, battery chicken practices, de-beaking, and all the rest are completely unacceptable. We can, and always should, do better. It’s up to us, the consumer, to demand the best for the chickens who supply us with food.

To my mind, smaller egg production operations are the way to go. I just wish the government would get out of the way and let this happen. Marketing boards are outmoded in so many ways, and nowadays they’re actions and regulations are based more on protecting large-scale producers than the consumers. If this changes, will we have to pay higher prices? Of course, but with it will come higher quality. But we have to demand it. I will not by “supermarket eggs” anymore. It’s my way of protesting. It has taken me time and effort to find farmers who treat their chickens humanely and properly. My reward for this is better tasting and ultimately more nutritious food. I also like the fact that the farmer is getting 100% of my money.


Vicki Delany said...

Living as I do in Prince Edward County, I buy all my eggs most of the year from a local farmer. Why do I say most of the year? Because when chickens live natural lives they don't lay much in the winter. Dark and cold and all that. But even in the winter, I get them locally, family-farm raised when I can. For all the reasons you mentioned, it's the right thing to do.

Rick Blechta said...

Bravo you!

Rick Blechta said...

And I meant that in all seriousness!