This causality dilemma had a different tense: which came first; but today the question could be equally challenging. I was in the supermarket and a girl next to me reached for a box of free-range eggs. "Why are you buying those? They are more expensive!" said her partner. She whispered to him something about cage free chickens, almost apologetic, and he, not whispering, said "I don't biiiip care about the biiiip chickens, I want to eat eggs!".
Well, he obviously didn't have any problems with such dilemmas, he put it very clearly: he came first. OK, expense could be a consideration, but this supermarket is possibly Auckland's most expensive, and this couple didn't look poor, or with a big family to feed. The price difference was about NZ$2.00.
In defense of eggs
I remember when I was little, eggs were expensive, and precious. Farm ladies came to the village to sell them for cash, both to people and shops. When I was staying with grandma she used to make me the sbattuttino (egg yolk spoon-whipped with sugar), and if I found a fresh egg in the hen house I was so excited. Sometimes it was still warm, sometimes I could have it and drink it. Then, not so many years after, I read an interview with a representative of a big Italian poultry company. He said that when the company started an egg costed 100 lire (Italy's old currency), like an espresso coffee and a newspaper. I can add that I could also buy Topolino for 100 lire, my favourite comic book digest, and another big luxury! But then the article went on saying how both coffee and newspaper prices increased over the years to 1,600 lire, while eggs were still 100 lire each. To him this was a major progress for humanity, like battling hunger. Chickens, from the same company, started also to be really cheap. I don't remember how many years ago that was, but I was still young, and something was stirring inside me.
I felt that we weren't paying the right price for an egg.
From farm to industry
I don't need to tell you how eggs got so cheap, and how chickens manage to grow from eggs to frozen bags in your supermarket shelves in only 8 weeks, I am sure that you can easily guess that.
My aunt has a few chickens, she never kills them, they died of old age and sometimes, sadly, they get eaten by a fox or a stray dog. She collects the eggs and eat those, in the good season they make each one a day, in winter they lay very little. Next door my uncle is a vegetarian, he too has a couple of hens, and eat the eggs. Both my aunt and my uncle have space, nothing major, a nice little field and a few trees, but they can let the chickens out during the day, you know, just walk around picking in the grass... things that chicken like to do very much! But if my aunt and uncle were industrial chicken farmers in that same space they have they could easily pack tens of thousands of birds.
Good for you?
I have been a vegetarian for many years now, but I always ate eggs. Eating eggs for me means maybe two or three per week, sometimes more if I am baking cakes, making desserts, or making fresh pasta. But generally, I always though of eggs as a highly nutritious and precious food to use with discretion. Also my lifestyle doesn't justify eating a couple of eggs for breakfast every morning: I am not that active! I tend to count how many eggs I have per week (including all the baking and so on) and if I go over my allowance I try to balance with other protein food the week after. And this is not only for ethical reasons, but for health reasons as well.
Growing kids can handle more eggs (although more and more seem to be allergic to them), but adults... I don't know. We have so many problems with high cholesterol, obesity and heart problems in the western world that a fewer eggs wouldn't go amiss. Coming into Easter I think of special food, and eggs are special food. An old saying goes: "If you have an egg you have a meal", and that pretty much summons it up for me :-).
Photos and Text by Alessandra Zecchini ©