A look at where our food comes from

Last week on Oprah, Lisa Ling gave us a glimpse into some of America’s farms – factory farms as well as organic farms – to see just how some of the animals we eat live before they become dinner on our table. They showed what the living conditions look like for egg-laying chicken, Lisa Ling in a factory chicken farmpregnant pigs and veal calves. Oprah had replica cages and crates on the stage to demonstrate the cage/pen sizes of animals in factory farms. “In an egg-laying hen cage, five to six hens could be in a single cage. The typical crate for a young male calf being raised for veal has enough room for him to stick his head out. Pregnant pigs—which can weigh more than 500 pounds—are about 5 to 6 feet long, while the cages they live in are about 7 feet long.”

There was also information presented about Proposition 2, the proposed Standards for Confining Farm Animals (specifically egg-laying chicken, pregnant pigs and veal calves) initiative statute that will be voted on in California’s general election this November. “The new regulations, which would go into effect in 2015, would require cages to be large enough to allow these animals to be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and to be able to fully extend their limbs without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens.” My friend Melissa (Nature Deva) has some information about Prop 2 on her blog and there’s more information from Cameron at The Thin Green Line. If you live in California, I encourage you to look into it before you head to the polls so that you can make an informed decision.

The point of Oprah’s show was not to scare anyone into vegetarianism or veganism, but to educate people so that they can make conscious choices when it comes to buying their eggs or meat.

In the past, I’ve bought cage-free eggs from Vitamin Cottage because I assumed that meant the chickens were treated better and able to go outside, but after looking more into it, I’m not sure that’s the case.

According to Health Castle:

  • Free-Run or Cage-free eggs are produced by hens that are able to move about the floor of the barn and have access to nesting boxes and perches. The nutrient content of these eggs is the same as that of regular eggs.
  • Free-Range eggs are produced in a similar environment as cage-free eggs but hens have access to outdoor runs as well. The nutrient content of these eggs is the same as that of regular eggs.

I recently discovered a local farm stand (thanks to Alison at Green Me) where they have free-range eggs every Wednesday, as well as locally-grown fruits and veggies available Wednesday through Saturday. We’ve been going there for the past few weeks for some produce, but I bought my first dozen eggs this past Wednesday. They open at 10 on Wednesdays, I got there at 10:30 and got the last dozen they had! Seems I need to be on the ball Wednesday mornings if I want to continue to get them each week because they sell out fast.

Free-range eggs from our local farm standAnyway, the eggs have been wonderful! Ava enjoyed carefully examining them all at home on the kitchen table (and I admit, so did I) because every egg looks different. There are slightly varied sizes, different colors, different shades of those colors, some with spots, etc. They aren’t cookie cutter eggs like you get from the grocery store and I think that definitely adds to their appeal.

On Saturday we went back to the farm stand and, because Julian wants to see the animals they have every time we stop in, we asked the owner if I was OK if we went back to look at the sheep and chickens and he was fine with that. That was cool to show the kids exactly where our eggs are coming from. I think most people want to believe that their chickens get to run around in a big open space like these chickens do, though in reality, they are generally packed 6 to a small cage for their entire lives.

Someday I’d love to have some chickens of our own, but that will probably need to wait until we move into a different house with a slightly larger yard. Ava already talks about how she will go out and collect the eggs every day. 🙂

Here are the kids and Jody observing the animals this weekend, and, at least with regard to the chickens’ eggs, seeing just where our food comes from:
Checking out the sheep - 10/18/08 Looking at the chickens 10/18/08
Thanks for the eggs, chickens! 10/18/08 “Come-ere sheep” 10/18/08

17 thoughts on “A look at where our food comes from”

  1. I recently discovered a truly free range egg supplier that I really like. They do free range chickens as well and have good deals for an egg/chicken delivery directly to my door. They farm about 40-60 mins from my house. 🙂

  2. Fresh food is always nutritious where as stale
    and cold food is heavy, unhealthy and not nutritious. I always love to have raw foods instead of cooked foods. This really helps well for good health.

  3. I will *only* eat eggs that come from a guy who sells them at my farmer’s market. His eggs are the best — the yolks are generally orange in color and so good. How the chickens are raised and what they eat makes a big difference in color and nutritional quality.

  4. Here’s a good database for finding out what various labels mean: http://www.greenerchoices.org/eco-labels/

    Unfortunately, even “free range” doesn’t mean that the chickens have had all that much access to the outdoors. I’ve found (as it seems like you have) that the best solution is to buy eggs from someone local where you can go check out how the chickens are treated.

  5. I keep hoping my mom will get enough chickens that I can get my eggs from her but this last year when she got more they were almost all rosters lol.

    I do know where my dairy comes from. Here in Oklahoma we are lucky enough to have Braums which is a dairy near my town and while I was being homeschool we went on many field trips to the dairy and the cows are treated much better than normal dairies and they don’t use hormones or antibiotics. They have stores all over Oklahoma and I think a few in Texas. We have one just down the road. They also have a fast food restaurant and ice cream shop in the store. One of the few kind of eco-friendly things in Oklahoma. We can get local dairy that is at least hormone and antibiotic free. Also anyone that has had Braums milk won’t drink anything else.

    That turned out kind of long, sorry. haha

  6. There is some interesting information in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about the better nutrition benefit of free-range eggs as well. One fact I remember is that they have less cholesterol!

  7. Great post. I just got an email from a student group at CU who is spearheading an initiative on campus to switch to using “Cage-free eggs”…I’m going to send on your post to them because you give good information about the labeling differences.

    Much thanks to the farmers who produce good food!!

  8. Great post. I have to read it a few more times. My neighbor has eggs and he chicks run all over. They have a rooster though and the eggs have been fertilized. She tells me it’s more protein. Gross.

  9. Sad thing is the rate in which people consume food, farmers (commercial and family based) are forced into “factory” farming to keep up with demand and contracts. Where are all the animals that are free range going to live?

    (just another side to the argument I totally agree buying free range is so the way to go if one can afford it!)

  10. Have you compared the eggs to grocery store eggs? They are at least 6 x more yellow! Also, if you miss out on the local eggs, the “free roaming” cage free eggs by Nest Fresh, really do get to go outside. They are about 60 cents more than the regular Nest Fresh “cage free eggs” but it is worth it to me!

  11. I remember when I owned my food business finding out that free range can mean that there is a door in a barn. There are very loose guidelines for a lot of these things and it varies by state.

    Don’t get me started on what “All Natural” means.

    Like anything, you have to be an educated consumer.

    Unfortunately, with the threat of a depression impending, the majority of people in this country will not be able to afford anything more than the cheapest option. For me, I’m all for the good treatment of animals, but I would rather see someone cash strapped feed their family and stretch their dollars than have them be required to pay more for a dozen eggs. A dozen eggs could feed a family several excellent meals at around 89 cents for the entire dozen. At this point, can we afford to spend money on this type of legislature when we need to get out of a war and start paying back our debt to China et. al?

    California usually sets a precedent for many legislative changes and I applaud them. I think it is necessary. I work with the really poor and trust me, this issue is not on their minds at all. They think as they should–sitting at the top of the food chain and wondering where the next meal will come from and how they’re going to pay for it. So, will this legislation result in less people having access to a very cheap source of protein? It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    This was really well written and provided some great family chatter. We buy locally whenever possible, but I can see myself making some changes as the budgets tighten. Farm fresh eggs taste the best. It’s mostly because (as I also learned in the food industry) the ones in the grocery stores are usually weeks and weeks old. (They have a 6 week life in storage, minimum!)

  12. I would hope that moving toward vegan or vegetarian isnt about being “scared into it” as you write above. I would hope it would be a choice that caring people would make when they learn about the violence in the industries. Even under the best conditions on supposedly “humane” farms, the animals often come from breeding facilities that kill the males by inhumane methods (egg hatcheries where most laying hens come from)or the mothers are not allowed to do what comes naturally during pregnancy and their babies are taken away after a few days or less (as in the dairy industry). Humans drinking cows milk is an idea we have been sold. We are the only mammals who choose to drink milk in adulthood. It is not healthy for us and the earth and is not compassionate toward other species. I quit consuming all dairy products when I saw male calves being taken from their bellowing mothers who had blood coming from their chests as they pushed against the barbed wire to get to their babies….male calves who were being loaded into a truck headed for the veal facility. The choice to not consume any dairy is about caring about the male calves and about the mothers (as well as the environment and our own health). They are afterall, mothers, mothers who care about their young as much as any human might.
    Now I am 52 and feel like I did in my thirties…..so it has obviously been a healthy choice to not consume any animal products for the last two decades.

  13. oh, posts like this always make me miss my chickens. Our chickens had free range over our land, we even had vistiors from other chickens. I loved having them and knowing just what was in our eggs.

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