chickenThe lights are bright.

Shopping carts are clanking around you.

You’re shivering, arms crossed protectively in front of you, because you’ve found yourself standing in the refrigerated isle of the grocery store for WAY too long.

You’d love to get out of there quickly and head home to catch the latest episode of Simpsons, but instead you’re stuck here, freezing your bum off, trying to figure out which egg carton to buy amidst a dozen options.

And you have reason to be confused.

There are SO many labels and a lot of them sound the same. It’s hard to understand why one carton of eggs costs twice as much as another, and you’d like to understand what kind of value you’d get from buying one brand over another.

Well, you’ll never have to freeze in the grocery store again.

This article will crack the code on egg carton labels, so the next time you buy eggs you’ll know exactly which ones to get.

 
First thing’s first, let’s get one thing straight.

You should always be suspicious of anything labeled “all natural”. That goes for eggs, dairy, fruits, veggies, and packaged foods alike.

Thanks to a legal loophole, “all natural” doesn’t actually mean anything.

Companies can just slap it on the label to try to sell more of their product, but they often use it to describe things that are about as far from natural as can be, like chemically constructed artificial flavors that are designed to taste “natural”.

Do yourself a favor and don’t fall for the “all natural” label.

“Organic,” on the other hand, is a label you always want to look for.

When you buy organic it means that the product you are purchasing, whether it’s a plant or animal, was produced without the use of harmful chemicals and dangerous pesticides.

But while it’s a great starting point, being organic is really just the bare minimum requirement when it comes to nutritious food, especially animal products like eggs.

 

“Antibiotic-free” is another label that’s super important on your egg-carton label.

For most large-scale farms, quantity trumps quality on their priority list every time.

This skewed value system leads big factory farmers to use some super questionable production practices, like packing animals into inhospitable environments where they’re bound to get sick, and trying to prevent the spread of illness with pre-emptive doses of antibiotics.

This isn’t just bad for the animals, it’s bad for all of us.

More and more strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are cropping up and killing people, and using antibiotics on animals without any discretion is making the situation worse than it has to be.

Do yourself a favor and only buy animal products that are antibiotic-free.

Alright.

Maybe these first three labels are old-news for you.

 

Maybe you’ve been buying organic, antibiotic-free eggs for years and even jumped on the free-range egg train when it came on the scene a little while back.

After all, free-range eggs are as good as they get, right?

Wrong.

Unfortunately, free-range eggs aren’t always as awesome as you think they are.

Here’s why:
“Free-range” or “cage-free” means that the birds aren’t trapped in cages their whole lives but are able to walk around.
Yes, that’s a good thing.

But no, it’s not good enough.

The conditions these “free-range” birds are raised in aren’t actually much better than if they were caged.

 

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image source: http://www.theguardian.com/vital-signs/2015/jul/14/bird-flu-devastation-highlights-unsustainability-of-commercial-chicken-farming

Again we have the problem of mass production and skewed values.

Quantity over quality.

To get more bang for their buck and lower their maintenance costs, poultry farmers pack their birds into coops at maximum capacity, giving them very little room to roam around.

 

Sure, the birds can roam free…but they have nowhere to go.

Instead of clucking around on a green pasture with unlimited access to the grass and bugs that make them happy and healthy, free-range birds are usually stuck inside a stuffy, smelly, overcrowded barn, trampling on their neighbor’s poop, and only have monotonous feed to eat.
Even if they have access to some outdoor space, it’s usually a muddy pit and not enough to keep them healthy.

To make matters worse, the feed they are given is usually composed of corn and soy, which is a far cry from what they’re naturally supposed to eat: greens, seeds, worms and bugs.

And to sprinkle a little extra salt on that wound, some factory farmers will bulk up their already low-quality inexpensive feed with sawdust, chicken feathers, and animal parts, just to make their operations even cheaper.

You know the old saying “you are what you eat”?

If you eat the eggs these “free-range” birds lay then you, my friend, could be sawdust and chicken feathers.

I think you’re better than that, and I hope you do too.

Here’s what you should do instead:

Buy eggs from “pasture-raised” hens.

 

 

image source: http://greenbeandelivery.com/healthytimes/foodnutrition/pasture-poultry-and-eggs/

image source: http://greenbeandelivery.com/healthytimes/foodnutrition/pasture-poultry-and-eggs/

 

The “pasture-raised” label tells you that the chickens that laid the eggs were able to run free in outside in their natural environment, living out their natural chicken lives the way they were meant to.

Just look at these little guys in the photo, don’t they look vibrant? Even their feathers are fluffier.

But being pasture-raised isn’t just good for the birds who get to run around outside, it’s good for you too.
Living on pastures gives our feathered friends unlimited access to worms, bugs, and greens, which are filled with nutrients the birds wouldn’t otherwise get from their feed.

This means that each pasture-raised chicken and egg much more nutrient dense than their factory-farmed counterparts.

 

And you can actually see the difference. Pasture-raised egg yolks tend to be a richer yellow with a thicker egg-white.

Plus they taste better!

Don’t believe me?

Do a taste test at home and report back. I’m sure you’ll notice a difference.
Luckily, the tides are beginning to turn.

After years of factory farming, more and more local farms are shifting their values back to quality over quantity.

They’re turning away from mass production practices in favor of healthier environments for their products and their customers.

Of course, there are exceptions.

If you go to a farmer’s market you’ll probably talk to lots of small farmers who use organic or better-than-organic farming practices (like biodynamic or permaculture farming) but because they’re so small they don’t have the funds to go through the very complicated USDA organic certification process.

If you have the chance to talk to farmers one-on-one you can find lots of great products that are the same quality or better than what you would find in the supermarket but they just don’t have the label.

Even better? You can visit these small local farms and see exactly where your food is coming from.

Unfortunately many of us don’t have the chance to talk to the people who produce our food, so labels are the only way you can know and trust that you’re getting the best quality ingredients.

So the next time you find yourself staring at a wall of egg cartons, choose pasture-raised, organic eggs.

They might cost a couple dollars more, but the extra cost is worth it for the nutrient boost you’ll get from eating those eggs.

 

Do you have a friend/colleague/relative who could benefit from the information in this article? Do us both a favor and pass it along!

The more people know about egg-carton labels, the more we can support healthy farming practices.

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