PART 1 : WHAT THE FORK: CAGE FREE & FREE RANGE EGGS
There is a lot of confusion surrounding egg labeling. You have “Cage free”, “Free Range”, “Vegetarian Fed”, “Pasture Raised”, “Natural”, “Organic”. There’s so many different labels for eggs these days it’s no wonder there is a ton of confusion surrounding which eggs to buy! Which is why I decided to address these confusing labels in a 3 part piece on eggs to hopefully clear up some of the confusion for all of you!
Today, for Part 1 of this 3 part series I am addressing the labels Cage Free & Free Range. Unfortunately these labels are quite misleading and the vision they depict of chickens roaming freely on a grassy meadow is not a reality. Cage-Free chickens may be “free to roam” but they are given no access to outside – ever. They are crammed as tight as can be in huge warehouses with thousands of other chickens and fed synthetic Vitamin D supplements in place of getting it naturally from sunlight. Because of their tight proximity to other chickens - they are crammed basically on top of each other, but if there are no cages they can be classified as cage free- they easily become sick, they rarely have space to walk around and are forced to stand in their own feces. These are by definition sick birds.
Free Range is slightly better but unfortunately under USDA regulations there is no minimum space requirement and free-range birds only need to be provided with “access to the outdoors”. So often, they live in similar environments described above with the exception of an added small door, but often these doors are so small no more than one chicken can fit through at a time & the space outside is very limited. Most of these chickens never even make it outside.
This is why it is SO important to know where your eggs (and hens) come from! Local, organic, pasture raised eggs are your best bet, but local is not always available.
Which brings me to why I am a huge fan of VitalFarms! Not only because of their commitment to humane, pasture raising of hens, but their commitment to healthier and happier chickens which in turn lead to healthier eggs! And you can find them almost anywhere, I buy mine at Whole Foods! That grassy meadow, with happy hens running freely, eating grass & critters (as nature designed them to!), I mentioned earlier is a reality at Vital Farms. For every 1,000 birds, they have a hectare of pasture. This means that every single bird is allotted 108 sq ft each- so they can roam happily and free! You even get a pamphlet showcasing their happy “hen of the month” in every carton. These guys are seriously committed to happy (and HEALTHY) hens. And you can taste the difference!