“Where did this egg come from?” How to source eggs 101

The other day one of our patients here at the clinic said to me “how do I know what is actually good for me to be eating – I mean, what’s the difference between a pastured egg and a cage-free one? And, is organic really important….and is an organic chicken better than a free-range one? And, how can I understand grain-finishing on my beef…I’M SO CONFUSED!”

Fair enough.  Some Portlanders might scoff and say “duh” to some of these questions – but they’re valid questions for so many who are awakening to the understanding that it really does matter where your food comes from and what it’s been eating before you eat it – including your vegetables!  (Pesticides and fertilizers become part of what you’re ingesting just as much corn becomes part of the cow.)

So – in response to her request – here is a brief overview of how to source eggs and understand the difference when shopping.

I think that eggs should be kept in the meat department as they are not a dairy product!  I suppose because they’re sold next to the milk and yogurt they’ve become related in some way – but they truly are not the same category.

When buying eggs – the fresher the better. (That goes for almost anything really – except perhaps wine…). A nutritious egg will have a good tough shell around it, will stand up tall when you break it out of it’s shell and will have a deeply yellowish orange yolk.

Pastured vs. cage free: Choose eggs that are from pastured hens.  The difference between a “pastured” hen and a “cage-free” hen comes down to a matter of choice.  Cage-free hens are allowed outside for a certain amount of time each day – I’ve heard as small amount of time as five minutes per day is considered cage-free by USDA standards.

A pastured hen is one that exercises free will in it’s coming and going.  It’s allowed to run around the farm doing it’s thing of eating bugs, picking things out of manure piles, pulling worms out of the ground and ingesting all the good things that make their eggs so nutrient dense.

Commercial operations are normally not the setting for this roaming activity as they are highly regulated, production oriented facilities.  The poly-cultural farm setting is ideal – buying from a local farm that you know and trust.  However, we live in a great area and there are several egg producers that are raising hens in a pastured setting while creating economic strength for their industry.  A local operation that does a good job is Champoeg Farm where you can read all about how their birds are raised and housed on their informative website.