Organic Egg on Our Faces

If you pay more for organic, cage-free eggs, guess what: The yolk's on you.

As a person who tries to do the right thing by buying the right things -- in other words, voting with my dollars -- I've been purchasing organic, cage-free eggs from my local supermarket and my non-local progressive wavy-gravy mega-mart. All the while, I thought, Fie on you, factory farms; I may have paid more for these eggs, but they came from happy chickens and humane farmers like my grandpa.

And all the while, the factory farm owners were laughing their conglomerate butts off at me.

Thanks to two years of egg-related research by The Cornucopia Institute, an advocate for real family farms, I was ultra-dismayed to learn the words "organic" and "cage-free" does not mean that the chickens who lay these eggs were put out on a nice, natural pasture with plenty of room to flap their flightless little wings, eat stuff they should be eating, and then go back to comfy nests to lay gorgeous future scramblers. No, "organic" just means they eat organic feed. And "cage-free" just means they aren't in cages; it doesn't mean they aren't packed by the thousands in filthy, cramped, airless sheds. And "access to the outdoors" means there might be a tiny door leading to a concrete patio, should any chicken be strong or brave enough to get outside. (For a list of the best and worst egg providers, click here. For a video on the egg research, click here.)

Quel nightmare, peeps. And here I thought I was doing good by spending a little extra money to get organic, cage-free eggs. I might as well have been saving money on the dollar-a-dozen kind, as it's the same difference. And ultimately, those dollar-a-dozen eggs come with a hefty price tag: Remember how half a billion of those had to be "recalled" (read: destroyed) due to a salmonella outbreak? Yeppers, that's just what I want for breakfast -- scrambled salmonella.

I know not everyone can afford to buy organic food. Me, I cut back on other things (so long, cable) so I can put healthier food on our table. Sometimes I can't deal with five-dollar strawberries, but when I do spend more, I want to know that I'm not just buying a buzzword. I want to support farmers who take care of their animals and crops the way my grandfather did -- naturally and humanely. Thanks to Cornucopia's list, I can do that. Or I'll eat oatmeal for breakfast. One way or the other, when it comes to factory farms, I'm going to get my fie on.