Shopping for eggs is hard. All most of us want is a fresh, tasty egg to fry up for breakfast or mix into cake batter. Pass by the egg section in any grocery store today, however, and you’re greeted with a plethora of confusing options.
Natural! Vegetarian-fed! Pasteurized! Free-range! Cage-free! Organic!
These feel-good labels are affixed to all of the major brands available in our grocery stores. Many seem self-explanatory, but they’re not. As Care2′s Piper Hoffman explained in a recent post, “The claims egg producers make on their packages, like ‘free-range,’ mean nothing, and more specific claims about happy chickens may be false.” While humane egg farming is possible, there are no legal rules to define these terms or when they can be used. In order to attain genuine, cruelty-free, fresh, healthy eggs, you’ve got to dig deeper than the label.
VitalFarms is just one company dedicated to educating the public and providing alternatives to unhealthy, factory-farmed eggs in American grocery stores — but they need help. Today, VF launched a crowdfunding campaign to help conventional egg farmers become humane egg farmers.
Care2 sat down with VitalFarms’ Aurora Porter to learn more about what’s gone wrong in the egg industry, and why the public should care about their campaign to transform a conventional egg farm into a true pasture raised operation. Here’s what she had to say:
Care2: Why is it such a big deal to know where your eggs come from?
AP: In our predominantly industrialized food system, it can be very hard to know exactly what we’re eating, and this is especially true with eggs. Producers and marketers label eggs as “free-range” and “cage-free” and hope that consumers think this means their chickens lived outside on green rolling hills, with a red barn in the distance. Nothing is further from the truth. Ninety-five percent of laying hens in the U.S. live in cages, ankle deep in feces and urine, and this of course, affects the flavor, health and quality of the egg we’re all eating, not to mention the health and happiness of the hens that produce our eggs. If you care about your health, animal welfare and the taste of the food you eat, it is important to know where your eggs came from and how they were produced.
Care2: The economy is tough. You say part of Vital Farms’ mission is to put better food into the hands of more people, but often better food is prohibitively expensive. Why should we be willing to spend more for true free-range eggs?
AP: When you buy a cheap egg, you are basically helping to finance an industry that tortures animals to produce mediocre-tasting food produced in wretched conditions. When you buy a pasture-raised egg, you are helping to keep small family farmers on their land, raising happy hens that lay the most delicious, high quality food.
We want to give shoppers a super-high quality egg option all over the country. VF eggs are sold in Whole Foods stores, for example, from California to Maine, and that gives us the opportunity to educate a public that has been misled about eggs for far too long. A dozen Vital Farms eggs cost between $6 and $8 per dozen, depending store and location. The higher price of our eggs ensures that a family farm can make a decent living raising a few thousand birds in a respectful way, instead of raising 80,000 birds in the factory farm model.
Care2: How many farmers are involved with Vital Farms now? What does it take to become a VF egg farmer?
AP: We work with 16 small family farmers to produce our pasture-raised eggs. We only own and operate one of our farms (in South Austin, TX) and many of our other farmers are second and third generation farmers. In order to produce products for Vital Farms, these families must have land that is Certified Organic, not use any herbicides or pesticides on their land or any antibiotics or hormones with their hens. Our farmers rotate pastures weekly, to ensure the freshest, greenest grass for our birds, which maintains their good health and the taste, texture and nutrients in the eggs.
Want to get involved? Today, Vital Farms kicked off a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds needed to take an entire farm from conventional to truly pasture-raised eggs in a short amount of time. You can be part of this historic effort to put healthy food within the reach of every family in America. Check out the campaign on ‘When You Wish’ to learn more or contribute.