Cooking and baking this Christmas: setting a good eggsample!
10 December 2020
Not everyone wants to, or even can, make a permanent commitment to ditching meat and dairy but if everyone made little changes, together we can make a big difference. Nudging ourselves to "do a little better" as a Christmas present to the world is surprisingly easy, whatever your outlook.
We all know we should be buying free range eggs for preference and I'm not going to go into detail why that is. You can all google it. It's perhaps worth saying that the regulations for organic registration mean that organic free range flocks tend to be smaller, have more space inside and out, often have better access to the outside and are encouraged to behave naturally. But there is more to the egg industry than free range vs caged. Let's start with size. Smaller eggs are better for hens because, well.... think about it 😉
There's been a trend over the last few years for consumers to want 'large' or even 'very large' eggs, rejecting 'medium' eggs in the process. Partly this is driven by the idea that a 'standard' egg is a 'large' egg so when it comes to using them in cooking - the recipe will call for a large one. There's an obvious circular process here - in that by driving the demand for larger eggs, the price goes up, and farmers selectively breed hens that lay larger eggs, and so on. The hens may be free range but they are unlikely to be entirely happy about the larger eggs they are producing.
So this demand for the larger egg seems daft to me because an egg is an egg, right? Honestly, I struggle to tell the difference between the sizes in general use, and baking purists will weigh their eggs anyway so the size of the actual egg makes little difference. Also, if you were thinking the larger egg gives you more yolk into which you can dunk your breakfast soldiers, you're wrong. The "extra" egg is not, as most people will guess if asked, a larger yolk. It's more of the white stuff.
But, as with many things, size is not the only thing that matters. Contrary to popular opinion, brown eggs are no healthier than white ones. In general, white eggs are better than brown if you can get hold of them (they hard to come by because people prefer to buy brown). This is because the hen breeds that lay white eggs tend to be a bit gentler than the breeds that lay brown eggs. This gentler nature means they peck at each other less (this happens even if the hens are free range - which is another reason to look for organic free range as the more space the hens have, the less likely they are to fight over it). Hens that lay brown eggs often have their beaks blunted to prevent damage to others in the flock. Officially this practice of beak blunting is to improve welfare. Obviously it prevents the pecking but it can also interfere with natural tendencies to forage, and it's not entirely clear that the blunting procedure is painless.
In summary, to maximise your support for hen welfare, always buy free range (organic if you can), don’t buy anything larger than ‘medium’, and buy white eggs if you can find them.
What to read next
3 December 2020
The green impact team have many 'litter rarely' qualities...and this month they turned their writing talents to making this practical list of things you can do to help reduce waste and give a gift to the future by having a more environmentally friendly Christmas.