A look at where our food comes from

Last week on Oprah, Lisa Ling gave us a glimpse into some of America’s farms – factory farms as well as organic farms – to see just how some of the animals we eat live before they become dinner on our table. They showed what the living conditions look like for egg-laying chicken, Lisa Ling in a factory chicken farmpregnant pigs and veal calves. Oprah had replica cages and crates on the stage to demonstrate the cage/pen sizes of animals in factory farms. “In an egg-laying hen cage, five to six hens could be in a single cage. The typical crate for a young male calf being raised for veal has enough room for him to stick his head out. Pregnant pigs—which can weigh more than 500 pounds—are about 5 to 6 feet long, while the cages they live in are about 7 feet long.”

There was also information presented about Proposition 2, the proposed Standards for Confining Farm Animals (specifically egg-laying chicken, pregnant pigs and veal calves) initiative statute that will be voted on in California’s general election this November. “The new regulations, which would go into effect in 2015, would require cages to be large enough to allow these animals to be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and to be able to fully extend their limbs without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens.” My friend Melissa (Nature Deva) has some information about Prop 2 on her blog and there’s more information from Cameron at The Thin Green Line. If you live in California, I encourage you to look into it before you head to the polls so that you can make an informed decision.

The point of Oprah’s show was not to scare anyone into vegetarianism or veganism, but to educate people so that they can make conscious choices when it comes to buying their eggs or meat.

In the past, I’ve bought cage-free eggs from Vitamin Cottage because I assumed that meant the chickens were treated better and able to go outside, but after looking more into it, I’m not sure that’s the case.

According to Health Castle:

  • Free-Run or Cage-free eggs are produced by hens that are able to move about the floor of the barn and have access to nesting boxes and perches. The nutrient content of these eggs is the same as that of regular eggs.
  • Free-Range eggs are produced in a similar environment as cage-free eggs but hens have access to outdoor runs as well. The nutrient content of these eggs is the same as that of regular eggs.

I recently discovered a local farm stand (thanks to Alison at Green Me) where they have free-range eggs every Wednesday, as well as locally-grown fruits and veggies available Wednesday through Saturday. We’ve been going there for the past few weeks for some produce, but I bought my first dozen eggs this past Wednesday. They open at 10 on Wednesdays, I got there at 10:30 and got the last dozen they had! Seems I need to be on the ball Wednesday mornings if I want to continue to get them each week because they sell out fast.

Free-range eggs from our local farm standAnyway, the eggs have been wonderful! Ava enjoyed carefully examining them all at home on the kitchen table (and I admit, so did I) because every egg looks different. There are slightly varied sizes, different colors, different shades of those colors, some with spots, etc. They aren’t cookie cutter eggs like you get from the grocery store and I think that definitely adds to their appeal.

On Saturday we went back to the farm stand and, because Julian wants to see the animals they have every time we stop in, we asked the owner if I was OK if we went back to look at the sheep and chickens and he was fine with that. That was cool to show the kids exactly where our eggs are coming from. I think most people want to believe that their chickens get to run around in a big open space like these chickens do, though in reality, they are generally packed 6 to a small cage for their entire lives.

Someday I’d love to have some chickens of our own, but that will probably need to wait until we move into a different house with a slightly larger yard. Ava already talks about how she will go out and collect the eggs every day. :)

Here are the kids and Jody observing the animals this weekend, and, at least with regard to the chickens’ eggs, seeing just where our food comes from:
Checking out the sheep - 10/18/08 Looking at the chickens 10/18/08
Thanks for the eggs, chickens! 10/18/08 “Come-ere sheep” 10/18/08