It’s true. I once taught at UCLA. It was back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Each quarter I had a routine. On the first day of class, I encouraged the students to volunteer a little about themselves and we drafted a contact sheet. Since mine was an elective class related to the music industry, it’s never a bad idea to build a list of potential contacts in Hollywood. Some students were in pretty influential positions and that old saw, “It ain’t what you know, it’s who ya know…” carries lotsa weight around L.A.
One student related: “I want to get into the recording industry because the last thing I want to do is work in my family business.” Of course, that prompted me to inquire what that line of work was that he found so unlikable he would rather start at ground zero than step into mom and dad’s. He said, “Chicken ranching. Eggs.” I was taken aback. “But ranching sounds bucolic,” I offered. My student disagreed.
“No. It’s in Irvine in a seven-story building with no windows and bare lightbulbs that are on eight-hour shifts to shorten the days in order to get the hens to lay more eggs. Four layers to a cage, scientifically sized to give them just enough space to be productive but not enough to waste room. They can barely move. Last thing I want is to be a part of that.”
It was 1985. And today, many things have changed in the egg business though those techniques are still the norm. Worse, giant commercial egg producers have latched onto marketing terms that make their eggs look like and sound like the ones you imagine come from that bucolic chicken farm in my mind, with hens pecking on the ground and cheerfully roosting at night in a nice nest of straw, plenty of fresh air and eating bugs, worms and grass they wander around in during the day. That kind of life for an egg-laying chicken is a real rarity and you’ll only be sure of that if you know your farmer and can see for yourself how his chickens live.
Does it matter? It matters what hens eat and how they live. The eggs delivered have a nutritional profile that reflects that. Hens that actually live on pasture eat what hens are supposed to eat. A commercial egg layer can live with 20,000 other hens in tight confinement, fed everything from carcass byproducts, dead cats, chicken feces, bubblegum and candy wrappers to leftover dirt. Visit www.HeartlandHealing.com/egg.gif to see a nutrient comparison. Meanwhile, don’t be fooled by commercial egg producers misleading you by twisting the terms. Here are some to watch out for.
Free-range. If that’s on the package, the eggs will likely cost more. The image: happy hens running around outside and eating bugs and such. The fact: a producer can call a chicken “free range” even if it lives in a metal building with 20,000 other birds as long as there is a small door down at the end that is open for any period of time during the day. Egg cartons typically claim, “All our hens are free to roam outdoors.” Look at the words used that infer an image: “All” and “free” and “roam” - truth usually is that none of the hens will leave their flock, food, water and warmth to go out a small door onto a cement pad.
Omega-3 This is an egg produced to provide added omega-3 fatty acids, presumed to be good for you. The hens are given food additives to add that. The layers could still eat crap and live in tiny cages as long as they get the food additive. Ironically, birds living on pasture already have a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
Pastured. Another unregulated term but often used to lure consumers. But a true pastured hen will give the best eggs possible.
Organic. Perhaps the most reliable term because it is regulated and defined by the USDA. It means that the hen or meat chicken receives no GMO feed, is fed only organic feed, has outdoor access and receives no antibiotics except if sick.
Other unseemly practices. Egg-laying hens have to come from somewhere. Those chick breeders take the little chicks and separate the hens from the males. Males are useless to them so live male chicks are tossed in a grinder to be sold as animal protein. The female chicks have their beaks chopped off because large flocks tend to develop into henpecking fights, injuring valuable egg layers.
The hard-boiled answer. Terms can be twisted and misused to market goods. We all know that. The real answer is to find a farmer whose farm you can visit and see for yourself how the animals are raised. You may pay a little more but you’ll be getting real food that is worth the value.
Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit HeartlandHealing.com.