Ok, a terrible rip-off of a silly song, but alas. Throw me a bone because my musical tastes were formed largely in the late 80s/early 90s so really, what do you want from me, and my throat huuuurrrts. Can you tell I am a most pathetic sick person? Why do kids resist naps? And how -I'm really curious about the process here- can they jump and call for you ceaselessly and then INSTANTANEOUSLY fall asleep, never to be heard from again until they wake? I do not fall asleep in this manner, and it boggles my mind. Oliver was a bed-ridden spring for a full 15 or 20 minutes, calling "Mommy, why are you not in here? I need you! I am not sleepy!" and then suddenly, silence. Hmm.
Anyway, back to the eggs (and other pasture-raised goodies) while I'm waiting for my ricotta to finish curding. Having researched all the eggs offered at our local Whole Foods, I'm sad to say that only one "brand" seems to really(!) be selling free-range, pastured eggs. Three cheers for Vital Farms, a co-op of farms in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Georgia, whose parameters for including a farm under its purview include: pasture land that "must be USDA certified organic with a minimum of three years of no chemical input," the hens and all feed that they don't consume from the pasture must be USDA organic certified too, and the chickens and hens roam around and get exercise, laying eggs on their own natural schedule.
Nutritional Differences: Pastured animals produce nutritionally different (better) meat and eggs. When animals are allowed to eat what they evolved to -grasses and other plants, insects, etc- they consume a multiplicity of vitamins not found in industrial by-product corn- and soy-meal. And, as Vital Farms and others stress, when animals roam outdoors rather than being locked inside, they benefit from sun-based Vitamin D, just like we do. When animals can move, run, release stress via movement, their meat is leaner, more nutritious. In Real Food, Nina Planck (founder of the NYC Greenmarket), writes that feedlot cattle are "30% fat by body weight--technically obese" while their grass-fed counterparts produce meat that's lean as a skinless chicken breast.
The fat content in these meats are different too. Industrial beef contains less monounsaturated oleic acid (an LDL-lowering fatty acid), less CLA omega-6 fat (a polyunsaturated fat thought to help build lean muscle and prevent heart disease and possibly cancer) and all the growth hormones (including known endocrine disruptors) and antibiotics the cattle are administered to fatten up quickly and ward off feedlot-born diseases before slaughter.
Pastured and industrially grown cattle produce much different milk too. Grass-fed cows' milk contains "more omega-3s, more vitamin A and more beta-carotene and other antioxidants" than their feedlot kin. Planck, pulling from a Journal of Dairy Science report, notes that "the CLA in grass-fed butterfat is 500% greater than the butterfat of cows eating a typical dairy ration."
Likewise for eggs, a wonderful source of protein, biotin, lutein, and choline. And as the Vital Farms website states, "in comparison to a conventional egg, pasture raised eggs 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
- 7 times more beta carotene
as well as 4 to 6 times more Vitamin D than conventional eggs."
How many of those vitamins and fats do you recognize by virtue of seeing at your market, one upon another new product boasting of their inclusion? They've got to be good if nutrition scientists want to add them to everything from cereal to yogurt and so on. But you can also get them naturally!
Yes, these products cost more -a dozen Vital Farms eggs is $5.99- but I think that it's not hard to see why. If a farmer is providing enough land on which animals can roam and feed, respecting their natural reproductive schedules, slaughtering them humanely and cleanly, it adds up. As one who has tried repeatedly to harvest more than 2 organic strawberries from my backyard, I can tell you that it's damn hard and I definitely understand why a pint of them cost $5.
If we had real Farm Bill reform, subsidizing this kind of real food rather than corn, soybeans and what you can make from them, costs would go down, accessibility would go up, and we and our Earth would be all the healthier for it. In the meantime, get out to your local farmers markets and demand better from your grocery stores! Go Team!
Good associated reading: Real Food by Nina Planck, The Omnivores Dilemma and pretty much anything else by Michael Pollan, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.