*Disclaimer: All dishing aside (for the sake of quips and blog structure), I ♥ LA and have met many authentic people here who are not afraid to live their dream!
When I first came to LA, I worked in the film industry, commuting summers from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Upon arrival, I was immediately placed in the edit bay on a film about a young man who comes to Hollywood seeking fame and concluding with the message that you can pretend to be anything in LA because LA is all “Esse Non Verdi” (to be and not to seem).
Well actually, it was about a guy looking for love but the b-story had something to do with being anything you want to be in LA just by claiming it to be. This was apropos for me, as the Executive Producer on the film told me to act like I knew what I was doing though I’d never before stepped foot in an edit bay; something the editor must have discovered rather quickly as I went from dealing with film reels to fetching coffee by the second day.
The movie took a piss at all the eccentricities and trends of LA at the time, a time when “organic free-range, cage-free, vegetarian, yadda yadda” had just hit the elitists’ vernacular and was all the rage in fancy restaurants. The film made fun of this by attaching the litany of these qualities to everything from fish to watercress.
I vividly recall watching over and over again, a clip where a snooty waiter muttered these newfangled classifications regarding the eggs used in a schmancy omelet to this unsuspecting chump who was “F.O.B. (fresh off the bus)” from the Midwest. I identified with this chump, having just rolled into town myself not two weeks prior and suddenly swept into the frenetic whirl of the entertainment industry; this was the land of smoke and mirrors, of make-believe and misrepresentation…. I just didn’t know then how deep this falsity ran.
LET’S FREEZE FRAME THE SET UP AND TAKE A GANDER SHALL WE:
The chump in the film looked up to the waiter and in an attempt to not appear green, feigned laissez-faire familiarity with these terms yet clearly was lost.
The well-fed hoity-toity waiter was probably eating-hand-to-mouth as a day player.
The glamorous restaurant in the heart of Beverly Hills? Read: A failing diner in the Valley willing to rent out its space to a film crew.
And then there was me… I, like the chump in the film, pretending to be a qualified editor’s assistant while really a student of philosophy, was seduced by the idea that to be “in the know” I should eat these “cage free, range-free” eggs or at least dine where they were offered.
I had no idea back then what these terms actually meant of course. Paradoxically, I was always considered a “health nut” even by crunchy Santa Fe standards. Yes, I ate organic but I didn’t eat eggs much at the time. And when I did they were usually incorporated into some kind of baked good. Now, with this new exposure, I determined only to buy eggs with this nomenclature on their cartoons as I switched to a more white protein diet (the then fad intended to give you that beach-toned body LA was so famous for…when in Rome!)
What I didn’t know and wouldn’t come to fully understand until nearly two decades later, two decades! Is that the so-called organic, free-range, cage free, vegetarian fed chickens were also impostors. Yes, the old “Esse Non Videri”. These ”healthy” eggs were a mirage. The truth is…well, hard to stomach…like so many truths I uncovered in the city of litter and glitter over the decades.
So, here’s the documentary version of the faux “healthy” egg fiction that now dominates the organic marketplace. Chicken and egg eaters, hold your forks…
Fact: “Free-Range” or “cage-free” does not mean the chickens are necessarily roaming a pasture. It could mean they are not roaming in a very crowded factory, a large open space packed with chickens and devoid of fresh air and sunlight. Often times these spaces do not have windows. This missing element is crucial as it supplies vitamin D to the chicken. No D to the chicken, no D to you!
Fact: Organic as a good-thing, when it comes to “commercial organic” eggs, is bunk! Crammed in tight spaces with more fowl than foot room, these birds are anything but healthy; they are not fed antibiotics yet live in a breeding ground for disease, (hence the “farmers” who raise these chickens and procure these eggs often wear space-age, bacteria protecting, white suits when handling them). Due to these unclean conditions, the USDA has mandated that all organic eggs be bathed in cleaning agents and chlorine. And while many companies tout their cleansers to be organic, it’s still bleach; not meant to be consumed nor used on consumables!
Fact: Vegetarian diets and chickens don’t go! Chickens are bug and worm eaters by nature; they are not meant to survive on veggie diets. To compensate for the protein not offered to them by free roaming, most farmers choose soy (a controversial ingredient) in feed for these chickens, meaning it goes right to you. As well, corn is often used with the soy. Corn and soy are two of the most common genetically modified (GMO) products today. It is understood that if something is labeled “organic” it does not contain GMOS. However, without third party checks and balances constantly in place, one has no way of knowing if the large, “commercial organic” farmers are feeding their chickens feed completely devoid of GMOs…I’m just saying…it’s not like you can meander over to their farm and check things out.
Fact: Pastured chickens and hens that feed on bugs, worms, dirt and the occasional compost thrown into the field by their farmers lay eggs rich in omega-3. High levels of omega-3 fatty acids lower one’s “bad cholesterol” and raise one’s “good cholesterol. As well, omega-3 contains valuable nutrients and in turn helps build one’s immune system. Grain-fed chickens and their eggs are high in omega-6. When we are oversupplied with omega-6, one’s “bad cholesterol” rises, and one’s “good cholesterol” stays low.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO KNOW?
The American diet is heavy with omega-6 and light with omega-3. In fact, our diets have been so high in omega-6 for so long, we really need to focus almost exclusively on eating omega-3 rich foods to balance the levels out.
Fact: While the following pertains to commercial chicken and eggs, I feel the need to list it here because it’s just unfathomable that the USDA would approve this. Roxarsone is an additive used in chicken feed, it’s the most common additive used to promote growth, kill parasites and improve pigmentation of chicken meat. Oh did I mention it’s an arsenic-based additive? Yep. Arsenic! Apparently, in its original form, Roxarsone is relatively benign. But under certain anaerobic conditions, within live chickens and on farmland, the compound is converted into more toxic forms of inorganic arsenic. Arsenic has been linked to bladder, lung, skin, kidney and colon cancer, while low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes. Apparently Roxarsone was banned in Europe but not in the US. Nice.
Fact: Pastured chicken eggs, meaning actual free roaming, bug/worm/compost/dirt/grass (high in beta carotene) pecking hens and chickens have five times the nutrient value of commercial organic eggs. Below are the latest findings from MotherEarth News.
Pastured to Commercial eggs have:
- 5 times more vitamin D
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta-carotene
The MotherEarth News wasn’t the only one doing research on this. Check out all these other studies they cite (thank you Cheeseslave.com):
- In 1974, the British Journal of Nutrition found that pastured eggs had 50 percent more folic acid and 70 percent more vitamin B12 than eggs from factory farm hens.
- In 1988, Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet, found pastured eggs in Greece contained 13 times more omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids than U.S. commercial eggs.
- A 1998 study in Animal Feed Science and Technology found that pastured eggs had higher omega-3s and vitamin E than eggs from caged hens.
- A 1999 study by Barb Gorski at Pennsylvania State University found that eggs from pastured birds had 10 percent less fat, 34 percent less cholesterol, 40 percent more vitamin A, and four times the omega-3s compared to the standard USDA data. Her study also tested pastured chicken meat, and found it to have 21 percent less fat, 30 percent less saturated fat and 50 percent more vitamin A than the USDA standard.
- In 2003, Heather Karsten at Pennsylvania State University compared eggs from two groups of Hy-Line variety hens, with one kept in standard crowded factory farm conditions and the other on mixed grass and legume pasture. The eggs had similar levels of fat and cholesterol, but the pastured eggs had three times more omega-3s, 220 percent more vitamin E and 62 percent more vitamin A than eggs from caged hens.
- The 2005 study Mother Earth News conducted of four heritage-breed pastured flocks in Kansas found that pastured eggs had roughly half the cholesterol, 50 percent more vitamin E, and three times more beta carotene.
SO WHAT’S AN EGG LOVER TO DO?
If you’re hankering for a chicken or hen egg (hens are denser in nutrients) the hierarchy goes like this:
PREMIUM GOLD STANDARD: Eggs from chickens in your own backyard raised on biodynamic soil. Biodynamic soil is the most nutrient dense and yields the most worms as well as gets richer in nutrients over time. Biodynamic eggs have a deep yellow (sometimes almost orange) color and are very rich. You may find one egg of this variety lasts you through the day and fills you in a way unparalleled to commercial organic eggs.
GOLD STANDARD #A: Eggs from chickens in your own backyard feeding on your organic compost, worms, bugs and grass while getting plenty of sunlight and clean air.
*Please note, if you live in cold climates or where seasonal temperatures change greatly, you may find you need to supplement with organic soy-free feed during winter months. At this time bugs and worms may not be plentiful or snow may render milling about less feasible. Assure your feed, or the feed your local farmer uses, is organic.
GOLD STANDARD #B: Biodynamic eggs from a farmer you TRUST!
SILVER: Pastured eggs from a local farmer you TRUST! (see above). Assure the birds are pastured/bug, worm/grass/dirt pecking and get lots of fresh air and sunlight.
*See above about organic feed supplementation.
*Please note, the “Essi non Verdi” theme applies here as I have experienced two farmers whose integrity was called to question when it was suspected that one was repackaging commercial eggs and selling them as pastured and another was feeding his chickens corn-based feed, (organic or commercial unknown) but saying they were fed only compost, bugs and worms.
* Keep in mind: if you have true pastured, high-quality-pecking chickens, the eggs are best not refrigerated. Eggs come with a protective coating on the outside of the shell that keeps bacteria out and helps seal in nutrients. Some nutritionists say they see better results with clients who eat eggs kept at room temperature. This coating is broken when refrigerated or washed.
If you’re having difficulty finding a farmer in your area ask around at your local farmer’s markets (farmers don’t always put their eggs on the table and most can’t produce quantities vast enough to command a booth for eggs alone—another good sign these eggs are on the up and up. Be wary of the “pastured chicken farmer” who can produce large quantities and sell at multiple farmers’ markets. Space and nutrient dense dirt for lots of chickens is not easy to come by and is expensive. Be double wary if the large quantity egg farmer is selling the eggs at a low price point).
Finally, you can contact the westonaprice.org foundation for listings.
ESSE QUAM VIDERI (TO BE, RATHER THAN TO SEEM TO BE)
Non-commercial “organic” or “pastured” eggs may not be celebrity perfect but I find them beautiful in their organic irregularity: varying sizes, shapes, and texture, even color! You may discover during certain times of year, their yolks are deeper yellow than others and super rich. You may also find less of these nutrient dense eggs are needed to satiate your protein fix.
While these eggs may not come in fancy packaging or bear long-winded descriptions, they’ll be just what they say they are and that is the real deal!
*Discussion of fertile versus non-fertile eggs to follow…And here it is, short and sweet:
Originating in folklore it’s believed that fertile eggs have more nutritional value than non-fertile eggs but this theory has not been proven via any known tests.