I started looking into the health benefits and trade-offs to chicken and duck eggs recently, when a friend who raises ducks on her farm told me that duck eggs are much, much healthier. I was intrigued, but not quite ready to launch a full conversion. After all, I have access to fresh eggs daily from my landlord’s chickens, and duck eggs would fall in the hard-to-get gourmet category. My friend who raises them lives a few hours north of me anyway, so its not exactly a convenient grocery trip to her farm. In any case, I have really been thinking about how and why we have become, as a western society, fully accustomed to (and even dependent on) the chicken egg. My side-by-side egg comparison revealed some interesting things, and it got me thinking again about the sustainability of the modern egg industry. So what exactly is “a good egg”?
Like most city-raised midwesterners, I have never actually eaten a duck egg (though I have had duck egg pasta, I could not describe it’s texture, look, and flavor profile), so I am by no means claiming to be an authority on this matter. I simply think that having only one side to the equation by having so many Americans eating just chicken eggs is patently crazy. It’s just another example of mass-produced monoculture.
The article called why you dont want to buy organic eggs at the grocery store explains: “There are currently about 245 egg companies with flocks of 75,000 or more.” And if the image of all those birds in one place and in generally terrible conditions isn’t enough to turn you, then hearing about the requirement that nearly all mass-produced eggs receive a chlorine bath and mineral oil coating before being put into cartons may do it for you. The shell is a permeable membrane like our skin! The idea of growing up with bleached eggs all my life is starting to sound a bit unsettling. [Side note, the article I am citing actually may be on either the taking or unintentioned giving side of some internet plagiarism. See this article and compare. Hm!]
The image above is from the US Poultry & Egg Association. To me it seems terrifying that this is the banner image they show when you visit their site. To me it shows just how mass-produced the marketed eggs are.
And to further this image, according to the USDA ERS:
“U.S. egg operations produce over 90 billion eggs annually. Over three-fourth[s] of egg production is for human consumption (the table-egg market). The remainder of production is for the hatching market. These eggs are hatched to provide replacement birds for the egg-laying flocks and to produce broiler chicks for growout operations. The top five egg-producing States are Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Texas. The large majority of the U.S. table-egg production is consumed domestically. U.S. egg and egg product exports are a relatively minor proportion of production. U.S. per capita consumption of eggs and egg products is around 250 eggs per person.”
But The New Agrarian says it so well:
“I, like almost everyone else I know, was raised on supermarket eggs, sad pasty things laid by miserable overbred birds crammed into tiny wire cages and forced by hormones and underfeeding to overproduce eggs that are stored until what little flavor they once had is long gone: supermarket eggs may be months old by the time you eat them. This makes me sad, both for the chickens forced to lay the eggs and for the humans stuck eating them. It also makes me angry, furious actually, at the miserable humans who thought this sort of ‘agriculture’ was ever a good idea.”
Rodale has an article on the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) chicken egg regs. One bit of info I will recommend to clarify something I always wondered about is that: “A ‘cage-free’ designation doesn’t tell you as much as the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label.” But when looking again to Rodale to clarify the question of duck vs. chicken eggs, I found one of the most succinct explanations yet:
“Higher in protein, calcium, iron, potassium, and pretty much every major mineral than chicken eggs, duck eggs are a good first step away from chicken eggs if you don’t consider yourself a very adventurous eater. They taste virtually identical to chicken eggs, and are about the same size, so you can substitute duck eggs into your recipes very easily.” (Rodale)
The image above reminds me of what my friend has going on up in Bodega, CA. She also has Khaki Campbells ducks, as are pictured above. Funny enough, Bodega is also where Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed. The Birds. The Ducks. The Eggs. Hmmmm. And it is a bit funny that I am telling this story just before Halloween, because that was my costume one year.
So whether I “should” be eating duck eggs or chicken eggs, I still have chickens. Well technically my landlord has chickens. I am so lucky to have access to a marvelous array of eggs, including the blue eggs from the Araucana. Having eggs from heritage breed chickens is a special experience. Having the bragging rights of blue eggs, alone, is fun enough . . . but the increased diversity is how nature intended it, and having diversity in our ecosystems and in our diet is crucial.
I am a big “breakfast person.” My routine for the last few years is to have a breakfast burrito or eggs and toast with lots of veggies every morning before work or play. So whether I eventually switch to duck eggs or if I stick with chickens, I am just so grateful to have these ladies in my life!
But I cant leave this post on a total cliffhanger. My friend offered me the opportunity to try some of her duck eggs! So later this week, I will get the chance to dive in and try them! Ill be sure to post the results.
Have you ever eaten a duck egg? If so, what did you think? If you want to share any resources on this subject, too, that would be great!