Pasture-raised, free-range eggs

After a month of watching what we put into our bodies and being considerate of how our eating habits impact our environment, we recently made our first visit to our local farmers’ market and purchased farm-raised eggs.

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Beautifully imperfect eggs: I love that color!

I was a bit surprised when I opened the carton at first, as am accustomed to white eggs, as most Americans are, but the color was all the more intriguing. As I later read, the color of the shell and sometimes the yolk can give away if a hen was given antibiotics before laying the egg. I decided to give our new eggs their first test with scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning; there’s not much to hide their flavor, and its a simple, healthier breakfast than most counterparts. Our first impressions were good ones: the eggs were slightly larger, the taste was slightly more flavorful (not so eggy), and they cooked differently as well, giving us fluffier scrambled eggs.

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Local eggs were a bit larger than store-bought eggs, perfect for breakfast of champions!

Our breakfast was a success: even small victories are still victories. The flavor was slightly better, some of which might have been psychological, and we enjoyed it all the more knowing that we bought locally harvested eggs, which led me to look into the benefits of choosing pasture-raised, free-range eggs over the mass-produced versions that fill the cold section of local grocery stores.

The animal treatment of hens used for egg production is cruel by many factors, and we don’t ethically support that method of production; however, even if it doesn’t hit the front of your radar, there are many health benefits to choosing local eggs. First, it’s important to understand the terminology.

Free-range means that animals are not caged and are allowed to roam naturally. One might not think this is impactful for hens when it comes to their eggs, but consider the limitations on caged chickens: they are often fed corn or a byproduct instead of eating grasses and bugs that are part of their natural diet, they cannot exercise and suffer from weaker bodies, and they are often given antibiotics and other medicines to make up for their diet and health deficiencies to keep them producing eggs. All of that can affect the quality of their eggs. Some studies have found that free-range hens’ eggs have lower inflammatory fat profiles and fewer issues with salmonella than their caged counterparts, giving evidence that some of the unhealthier aspects of eggs can be introduced by mass production of eggs outside of the natural method of farm raising the hens. It’s important to realize, however, that some areas are allowed to use free-range to describe any uncaged hens, which can mean they are not roaming in grass but in an open area that could be concrete or in a shed. If you are unsure, ask the vendor or farmer for more information about what free-range means for their products.

Grass-fed or pasture-raised means that the farmer allows the animals to have as close to a natural diet as possible. Grass-fed is more commonly used to refer to cows, whose diets are almost entirely grass-based with some substitutions of alfalfa in the winter months; pasture-raised is used to refer to hens or chickens because of their differing diets. Regardless of the difference, the labels equate the same impact on your consumption: a natural diet for the animal means a more natural diet for you. Neither of these terms necessarily implies that the animals are antibiotic-free or had no medicine used during their growth, so be sure to ask if you are unsure. Many local vendors clarify on their packaging if the product is antibiotic- or medicine-free.

If you can get your hands on eggs that are pasture-raised, free-range, and antibiotic-free, you’re in for a healthier meal. Studies have shown that the nutritional data for free-range eggs is healthier overall compared to caged eggs, with free-range eggs have more omega-3 fatty acids (helps lower cholesterol), more vitamin E, more vitamin A, less saturated fat, and less cholesterol. For an in-depth study of the nutritional differences, give this Penn State study a quick read. It’s fascinating when you consider that something as small as an egg, which we commonly add to other ingredients when making meals or baking, can have as strong an impact as tripling your Vitamin A intake if you select farm eggs over factory-produced eggs. Imagine how much your diet will be affected if you consider these aspects for every ingredient you are ingesting. It’s staggering!

If you are interested in learning more about pasture-raised, free-range eggs, I encourage you to do some research online and check out your local farmers’ market. If you are unsure about how to locate farms local to your area, check out Eat Wild to view a list of farmers in your state that offer a variety of selections of meat, poultry, and eggs.

When you do start out with your locally produced eggs, I recommend a quick and easy recipe for delicious scrambled eggs, just how we like to cook them at home!

Southwestern Scrambled Eggs

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Two eggs (per person)                                          sea salt
1/4 cup of diced onions                                          pepper
shredded cheddar cheese                         onion powder
salsa                                                               garlic powder
sour cream                                                       3 tsp butter

  1. Heat 2 tsps butter in skillet and add onions. Let cook for 4-5 minutes, adding more butter if needed and stirring occasionally.
  2. While onions cook, mix eggs and seasonings to taste in a small bowl.
  3. When onions are cooked, set aside and add 1 tsp butter and eggs to skillet on medium heat. Fold and mix eggs to keep from burning.
  4. Just before eggs are cooked, add onions and a handful of cheddar cheese. Mix together.
  5. Plate with another sprinkle of cheese and a dollop of sour cream and salsa.

This is my favorite way to enjoy scrambled (local) eggs. I hope you enjoy it, too, and give pasture-raised, free-range eggs a try next time you are at the market.

 

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