Michelle keeps a flock of seven chickens in her backyard. Upon learning this, I immediately asked her to write a guest post about her chickens (I’ve recently become fascinated with the idea of keeping my own chickens — as soon as I have a backyard, I’m all over it!). Figuring that pictures speak louder than words, she decided to put together a video instead.
Below the video, she explains the differences between some of the confusing labels you’ll find on egg cartons, giving you the tools you need to vote with your wallet. Sensitive viewers please be warned: There are a few images of industrial, modern chicken coops in the middle of the video (though it’s relatively tame compared to some of the more horrendous footage I’ve seen before.) – Andrew
Package labels can make a person crazy. It’s no wonder that people at the grocery store get confused when confronted with a refrigerated wall filled with egg cartons, particularly if they want to vote for the ethical treatment of animals with their dollars.
“Free Range” chickens have access to a door leading outside, but are often so overcrowded inside the hen house, that they never find their way out the door.
“Cage Free” chickens aren’t in cages, which might imply that they have ample leg room. Sadly, this usually just means that they are crammed into a hen house without dividers.
“Pastured” poultry live outside, spending their days outside – digging, rolling in the dirt, looking for insects, and eating grasses and other plants in their environment. Because of predators, they are often kept underneath a bottomless structure or are put inside a coop at night. They have no need for medications or hormones, since they are not overcrowded and eat a balanced diet that allows them to grow normally. Their eggs are often brighter in color and much more flavorful than their industrialized cousins. If your grocery store doesn’t carry pastured chicken eggs, see if they will order some. If not, try your farmer’s market, community garden… or maybe even your neighbor.
If you are aiming for additive and hormone free eggs, buy the ones that are labeled “Organic.” Not only is their feed better quality, but the chickens themselves are not given any medications or hormones. However, Organic does not necessarily mean cruelty-free.
To learn more — and look up specific producers — check out the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard.
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About the Author
Michelle Stern is a former high school biology teacher and founder of What’s Cooking with Kids, a certified green cooking school for children in the SF Bay Area. She is the author of The Whole Family Cookbook, and was invited to the White House to be a part of the launch of Michelle Obama’s Chef’s Move to Schools Program. With sixteen years of combined teaching experience, Michelle is uniquely qualified to share strategies for parents, teachers, and homeschoolers for using healthy cooking as a teaching tool. You can follow Michelle on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.