Spring has arrived in all its glorious splendor. It is my favorite season – a time to be outdoors and celebrate the light with occasions like Easter, Passover and the Spring Equinox. We are surrounded with sunshine, flowers and gardens bursting with vibrant delights. Fresh sprouts, shoots, the promise of newness, birds singing, baby animals, blossoms, and the rebirth of life after winter remind us of the regenerative power within us all.
Many of the festivals use eggs for decorations and games as a symbol of rebirth, fertility, and vitality. I have such wonderful
memories of dyeing eggs different colors, searching for them in the grass, and cracking the ones containing confetti over one another’s head. On top of that, there were all those boiled eggs to eat afterward!
Eggs are one of my all time favorite foods because of their simplicity, versatility and just plain deliciousness. I always strive to provide food which is in alignment with my values, as well as nourishing and tasty for my family and myself. There are categories of eggs to choose from at the grocery store – free range, organic, cage free. What do all these labels mean? Are some eggs better or healthier than others?
Cage-free eggs are eggs from birds that are usually raised in an open barn or floor area. Generally, the chickens are still in close quarters but not in cages. They are able to open their wings, have more space, and are allowed perches and nest boxes to lay their eggs. Depending on the farm, they may or may not be treated with antibiotics.
Free-range eggs are laid from hens that have the opportunity to go outside. These hens’ living conditions are similar to that of the cage-free hens. Open doors allow them the opportunity to travel into and out of a barn at will, or to spend a portion of the day roaming outdoors. Smaller farms may keep birds outside under a canopy area, where they have longer intervals outdoors. Since these hens are not caged, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. There are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed.
Organic eggs are laid from hens that are uncaged inside a barn, and can usually go outside; however, the duration and amount of outdoor time is not defined. They eat organic feed and don’t receive vaccines or antibiotics. These farms are monitored annually by a USDA accredited agency. In order to qualify for USDA organic certification, the grains used for the hens’ diets must be produced on land that has been free from the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years. Genetically modified feed crops are not allowed, and hens must be cared for without hormones, antibiotics and other intrusive drugs.
Pasture Raised and Certified Humane
This term means the chicken is free to roam about the land without being limited to a few hours a day. They usually are given organic feed and are antibiotic free. The hens must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density, and number of perches and nesting boxes.
The terms organic, free-range, and cage-free have nothing to do with what is healthier, better or safer. No matter which choice you make, just make sure you do the following:
•Check eggs before buying to make sure there are no cracked or leaking eggs, which could transfer any bacteria that are present.
•Immediately refrigerate eggs to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below, so if bacteria are present, they won’t multiply.
• Cook eggs thoroughly.
All these labels can leave you feeling confused, even overwhelmed. Choose what you value most: organic eggs, pesticide free eggs, or the hen’s humane living conditions that allow for happier and healthier chickens. I try to keep in mind to choose simply and not over think it. It’s important to inform yourself with the options available and what they mean, then apply them to your life. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Enjoy the discovery and rebirth. Dance and celebrate the choice you make, the emergence of a new spring, and your love of the egg.