We eat a lot of eggs. Our son is particularly enthusiastic about them – he will sit in his high chair at lunchtime yelling “eggiesh!!!” until his omelette is served up. He also gets quite excited about helping to “do mixing!” for scrambled eggs.
We also read a lot of books about farms. We are teaching our son, through these books, that farms are like the picture above – spacious, green and happy places (although I’m a bit worried about the proximity of those cats to the hen house – if they’re anything like our #notvegan cat, those plump chickens won’t last long).
I decided a long time ago, at my first Rise Up Singing camp (an amazing singing camp on the edge of Dartmoor, where I’ve learnt a lot about community, sustainable living and being a part-time hippy) to try really hard not to eat animals who’ve had a miserable life. This has been quite hard to stick to, while keeping budgetary constraints in mind and also the need for convenience when working 100,000 hours a week as an NHS manager, or more recently when spending every waking moment trying to stop a toddler from maiming himself. But we have recently made some decisions on this; this post is about eggs in particular.
So, just in case you’re interested, a brief history of welfare issues for egg production is as follows:
2012 saw the EU banning “barren” battery cages for hens. Hens are still allowed to be kept in “enriched”cages, with supposedly more room to scratch and nest, and places to perch. But Compassion in World Farming’s investigations show that the reality of this system is still a huge amount of suffering for hens: overcrowding causes feather-pecking, most hens are painfully debeaked and they have limited space to carry out natural behaviours such as washing, wing flapping and dust-bathing. Approximately 58% of all chickens farmed in the EU are within caged systems. If you think this should no longer be allowed, you can support the End the Cage Age campaign here.
Going back to 2004, the UK introduced a mandatory labelling scheme to identify the farming method used, and this led to an increase in demand for higher welfare eggs. 60% of UK eggs are now cage free – either barn eggs (in barns with no access outdoors but no cages), free range or organic.
BUT – and here’s the rub. How free range is your free range egg? Possibly not very. “Multi-tier” free range hens are a thing – basically they live in multi-storey metal layers in a barn, with a limited amount of exits to the outside, which are often blocked off by dominant hens. Over-crowding is a major issue; there is no limit on flock size, as is the case for organic farming. Beak trimming is also commonly practiced. This article is a grim read but probably represents the reality of a lot of “free range” chicken farming, where less than 10% of the hens are outside at any given time, and some are never able to go outside at all.
So we have decided to only buy organic – unless we can be completely assured of the welfare standards of the farm supplying the free range eggs. This takes a lot of effort and research and I think is only really possible if you personally know the farm (difficult in zone 3), or the shop-keeper (maybe possible in a health food shop or green grocer – I’m working on this in our locale).
The cheapest organic eggs I’ve found are from Aldi at 20.83p each – vs. 12.33p each for free range and 7.9p for eggs from caged hens. If you buy 12 eggs per week, switching from caged to organic would cost you an extra £1.55 per week, and switching from free range to organic would cost you an extra £1.03. Maths is not my strong point, but I think this means that organic eggs are over 250% more expensive than caged.
We’ve managed to afford this switch by making other savings, mainly by significantly reducing how much meat we eat and cooking a lot of Jack Monroe‘s amazing recipes. It’s a matter of priorities, and every decision has an impact on other decisions – every action has a reaction.
I am really thinking hard about the whole vegan concept – not ready to write about this yet, but give it time! I am going to have vegan dinner tonight at Cafe Rouge, so follow me on Twitter for exciting food photos! @TheEverydayRad1
(No Instagram, ever. Promise)