Cooped Up - A Look at the Living Conditions of Hens Might Change Your Appetite for Eggs

Money, money, money, money, money (x6)
Some people got to have it
Some people really need it 
Listen to me y’all, do things, do things, do bad things with it 
You wanna do things, do things, do things, good things with it 
 
“For the Love of Money,” written by Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Anthony Jackson, was a Top 10 hit for The O’Jays from their 1973 album Ship Ahoy. Here in the 21st century, it’s the theme song for Donald Trump’s reality television show The Apprentice, on which The Donald’s combover is as legendary as Anthony Jackson’s signature bass line. I promise to link the theme of money to my subject, but first I feel compelled to issue a spoiler alert.  
 
Spoiler Alert: If you like eggs, whether scrambled, sunny-side-up, over easy, deviled or poached and slathered in Hollandaise, stop reading now. What I am about to tell you will undoubtedly spoil your appetite for commercially produced eggs, even if the salmonella scare didn’t. 
 
The Land of the Blissfully Ignorant is where I resided until Sunday, Aug. 15, when I happened upon an exposé of the U.S. egg industry by Bill Marsh in The New York Times. Until then, I had imagined cage-free hens running around a farmyard being chased by the farmer’s kids and their big friendly dog, precisely what the egg industry wants us to imagine. The industry relies on feel-good terminology, such as “cage-free” and “free-range,” to conjure bucolic settings that lull us into a false sense of serenity regarding the wellbeing of the hens that are laying our eggs. 
 
But the reality of industrial farming has little in common with its pastoral packaging. According to David Sudarsky (thevegetariansite.com), “The egg industry … is morally bankrupt. They consistently offer consumers deceptions and half-truths concerning animal care standards.”   
 
While cage-free hens are living in marginally less-cramped quarters than their battery-caged sisters, the likelihood of their little chicken feet alighting on terra firma or their feathers basking in the glow of the sun is slim to none. As if that weren’t bad enough, most egg-laying hens in the U.S. suffer through the process of de-beaking, or “beak-trimming,” in the feel-good parlance of the industry, which promotes the painful measure as necessary to avoid the pitfalls of the pecking order when raising vast numbers of hens in close quarters. 
 
Two websites that offer invaluable, if hard-to-stomach, insight into the egg industry are United Poultry Concerns (upc-online.org) — a nonprofit animal rights organization that addresses the treatment of domestic fowl — and Compassion Over Killing (cok.net) — a nonprofit animal protection organization that encourages transition to a plant-based diet. 
 
The good news is that we have options. Avalon Acres (avalon-acres.com) and Peaceful Pastures (peacefulpastures.com) offer eggs from honest-to-goodness humanely raised hens, and Tina at Peaceful Pastures reassured me that her hens all have beaks and get plenty of fresh air following her around all day.  
 
Raising our own is another option for us gals in Nashville. Metro’s rules on raising chickens are a little confusing, but with responsible animal husbandry and respect for your neighbors (i.e. good containment and no roosters), you likely won’t run afoul of codes. 
 
For those of us wishing to phase out eggs altogether, there is the egg-replacement option. Post Punk Kitchen (theppk.com) is a dandy resource, explaining all of the different egg replacements (For example, 1/4 cup applesauce = 1 egg. Who knew?) and which ones are best suited to your particular needs.  
 
So here’s the promised link: Greed, pure and simple, is at the root of the inhumane practices associated with the U.S. egg industry. Huge agribusinesses are much more interested in their bottom lines than in the wellbeing of their hens. Shelling out the extra money for cage-free or free-range eggs at the supermarket is simply increasing the bottom line of these conglomerates, so save your money. Spend it instead on a share of a CSA that includes eggs, or at a local farmers’ market, where you’re more likely to get true humanely raised eggs.

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