Recently I commented to a group of friends that it’s a good thing that no more than one percent of the people I talk to actually take my advice. Otherwise the egg line at the Farmer’s Market would be insufferable and would require a greater dedication of my resources. As it is, juggling appointments to drive to Ballard and wait in line on a Sunday morning for my ration of one dozen seemed a little irrational. You’ve got to wonder what my other errands were that this was highest on my list of priorities. It was a neat little social triumph however that I could find a couple dozen people with matching food eccentricities willing to wait for eggs including the ex-boyfriend who claimed we had nothing in common. I saved him a place in line.
I was also lucky enough to get in line behind Don who spent the otherwise boring thirty-minute queue pondering all the ways the government is trying to eliminate us with various food toxins and healing my right kidney telepathically. He also tried at least five different ways to persuade the farmer, George, to up our ration – the good little egg-eaters at the end of the line be damned. In spite of Don’s many talents, George wasn’t budging which made me fear for my right kidney a little. On the plus side, the organ I didn’t know was faltering until the inline diagnosis was now giving me no more trouble that it was before the mind massage. I was still feeling as if I got my money’s worth. The eggs were $5.50 and the kidney treatment was free. (What’s truly amusing is that I don’t make this stuff up).
I’m not some truffle pig on a foodie foraging mission and these are not Faberge eggs laid by chickens that drank nothing but merlot and married for love. These are just healthy chickens that lay healthy eggs. What’s interesting is that in a city full of people, the couple dozen of us standing in line at Ballard Market are among the few who eat what we’re supposed to and we’re standing in line for eggs produced by the few dozen chickens out of millions who are actually eating what they’re supposed to. As apposed to the supermarket designation ‘Free Range’ which means nothing if you know anything about chickens. To Cliff note it, chickens are healthy when they eat grass and bugs but most of the time the area they have access to is too small for the number of pooping chickens. The nitrogen in their droppings kills everything and leaves nothing but a grass-free, bug-free dirt track that does little for the chickens or their eggs other than drive up the price per dozen.
Craig Cooper, NW CrossFit Coach, spends his Sunday morning in Skagit River Ranches’ egg line and given that he typically eats six eggs per meal, 4-5 meals per week you can understand why quality matters. Cooper said, “As far as I can tell, the farmer's market is the only reliable source of TRUE free range eggs; eggs from chickens who spend most of their life outside, eating grass and bugs.”
Most supermarket egg cartons don’t have a label that covers a chickens’ questionable taste in grub. Though most shoppers are content with the pretty adjectives that paint an image of frolicking chickens who are tacky enough to do the Chicken dance even when there’s no wedding, it’s worth doing the research to know what you’re buying.
The egg comparison in Mother Earth News’ tested eggs in hopes of proving that there’s a difference. Mercola reported in his newsletter, “Without citing any research of their own, most egg industry advocates hold fast to their claim that commercially farmed eggs are no different from pastured eggs, and that hens’ diets do not alter their eggs nutritional value in any significant way,” he continues, “Mother Earth News points out the flawed and downright fraudulent definitions of “true free-range.” The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines “free-range” as chickens that have “access to the outside.” However, it does not define their diets, nor whether or not the “outside access” is to a cement courtyard or a field fit for foraging."
“After reading all of the egg cartons at the grocery store, even Whole Foods, I wasn't convinced that any of them were truly free range, because the USDA and FDA control the labeling of such items, so freerange doesn't really mean free range. I decided that the only way to be certain would be to ask the farmer direct, which brought me to the farmer's market. I felt confident of the quality of their eggsbecause I could ask them questions like "do your chickens REALLY spend a lot of time outside?" and "do your chickens eat grass and bugs, and what else do you supplement their diet with, if anything?" Cooper said.
Free-range, free-roaming – either way free-association when it comes to eggs is ‘cholesterol’ and most people haven’t looked beyond the behemoth American Heart Association to get the skinny on saturated fat for themselves. Here’s where I could geek out and drown you in data but I’ll let Larry McCleary, MD explain it straight out of ‘The Brain Trust Program’:
While it’s quite true that eggs are a source of cholesterol, science now agrees that eating them doesn’t particularly raise the cholesterol level in your blood. In fact, dietary cholesterol only accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the cholesterol in your bloodstream. Your body, itself, makes the other 85 to 90 percent. In a fail-safe maneuver to be sure you have enough of this important raw material, if you eat less, your liver will simply crank up production.
What’s more you need cholesterol to make many hormones as well as vitamin D. It also plays a vital role as a structural molecule in the membrane of every cell in your body. The brain, especially, is a cholesterol-dependent organ. Research in animals, including nonhuman primates and humans, shows that deficiency of dietary cholesterol results in depression, aggression and agitation. It is interesting that the average cholesterol level among prison inmates is lower than the average of the general population.
If you’ve been running from cholesterol as if it wears a hockey mask and wields weaponry, you can tell us - once you get over being pissed at the waste of your time - how easy it is to find it in food. If that’s all eggs had to offer, I’d be sipping my coffee at home on Sunday morning in my fuzzy socks taking advantage of my long distance minutes.
Cooper said, “Omnivore's Dilemma opened my eyes to the virtues of getting true free range eggs. After reading the book, and following up on his research, it became apparent to me that the quality of the eggs you eat are directly affected by the lifestyle (exercise & nutrition) of the chicken who laid it. Because chickens are omnivores, they require a diverse diet that includes primarily grass and bugs. When fed optimally, a chickens' meat & eggs will contain a favorable Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio, and be much more nutritionally dense (more vitamins and minerals) than their conventionally fed counterparts.”
Dr. McCleary believes eggs are great brain food based on the total nutrient profile. Said McCleary, “They are an excellent and inexpensive source of complete protein and important vitamins, such as A, E, B12, and folate. The yolk is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin – two nutritients that research has shown will reduce the risk of macular degeneration of the eye. The macula is the most important portion of the retina, the screen at the back of the eye onto which we focus images to see. Macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness. Also, don’t forget that the eye is merely an extension of the brain so it stands to reason that what’s good for the eyes is good for the brain as a whole. But there’s even more. Eggs are also rich in choline, another B vitamin family member and key player in maintaining brain health. Choline and folate work hand in hand to lower levels of homocysteine, which, if you recall, puts the brain at heightened risk for memory failure when allowed to build up.”
Knowing that nutrients are far more bioavailable in food, eggs become a great little nutritional supplement especially too because making sure to include enough protein in your meals will keep you from craving sugar later in the day. When Mother Earth News finished their latest egg-testing project, they included my favorite farmers in their study and found the following:
Compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain: 1⁄3 less cholesterol , 1⁄4 less saturated fat , 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene.
All this thanks to a belly full of bugs and whatever else it is that chickens choose to scratch up. But before the testing even began, those of us in the egg line knew we were on to something. "We have many loyal customers who stand in line 30 minutes before the market opens to get our eggs," George & Eiko Vojkovich of Skagit River Ranch said in the article. Even before we knew the nutritional density, we at least knew they tasted better.
According to Cooper, “True free range eggs have a much thicker and fuller yolk, which results in a richer, creamier taste. If I cook the eggs, I just fry them, and keep the yolk as runny as possible. The yolk is where all of the fat is, and it's prone to oxidation if heated beyond a certain temperature. The white should be solid, because it contains antinutrients that are potentially harmful if not killed by cooking.”
Great, you’re eggs or mine? I’ll be there at 8 a.m. with hot coffee and my fuzzy socks.