Stupid laid her first egg one sunny spring morning. It was petite, brown, and still warm to the touch when I went to retrieve it.
Just minutes later, I was preparing that egg for breakfast. For the first time in my life, a tantalizing, buttery scent emanated from the crackling fry pan below me. And upon breaking into the yolk, I was greeted by a buttery stream of viscous flowing gold. One taste, and I was hooked.
Was this nirvana?
Stupid was my white silkie chicken. She was named for her gawky appearance and happy-go-lucky attitude, one that I could only dream of ever attaining. Stupid was still youthful in body, but with wise eyes well beyond her years. Through them I could envision an American past where people didn’t buy eggs, but raised them. Where people didn’t rely on big industry to provide for them, but provided for themselves.
Chicken eggs have been a part of American cuisine since the Quakers boiled egg-battered balls in milk as a snack, and more than 300 years later, eggs are eaten on a daily basis as a wide-ranging facet of this nation’s diet. Whether they’re found in our Hostess Twinkies or in a home-cooked meal, eggs are a consistently cheap and convenient component of our food.
However, as egg production has shifted from local family farms to warehouse factories containing chickens by the thousands; Americans have become increasingly distant from the source of our beloved eggs. Most teens, like sophomore Madina Safdari, would admit to their indifference towards varying labels on food production, such as “organic certified” or “free-range.”
“I just buy them. I probably should look more into those things, but I don’t really feel the need to give them any thought,” Safdari said.
The typical consumer is not aware of the fact that egg cartons without such certifications often fail to provide their chickens global standards meant to promote humane treatment in farms and the output of healthier, tastier eggs. For example, Dr. Konrad Lorenz, a leading scientist on animal welfare, has criticized the commonly used battery cage, a 67 square inch housing in which a laying hen can spend her entire life.
“The worst torture to which a battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire somewhere for the laying act. For the person who knows something about animals it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow cagemates to search there in vain for cover,” Lorenz told the Humane Society.
In contrast with the factory-raised chickens Lorenz described, Stupid was a happy, healthy, and hearty chicken. Unlike some other egg consumers, I could guarantee myself a peace of mind when eating her eggs because I knew that she was enjoying fair conditions in my very own backyard. And aside from yielding incredibly delicious, guilt-free results, raising Stupid was as uncomplicated as providing her and her friends a simple coop, along with a diet of cheap feed supplemented by green table scraps.
In addition to being low-maintenance, chickens have the potential to become sustainable additions to many homes as well. According to chicken expert Patricia Foreman, chickens can bio recycle up to seven pounds of food scraps every month. So, if only 2,000 households adopted three chickens and fed them a diet of vegetable leftovers and feed, they could divert 252 tons of waste from landfills annually. In relation to the millions of tons of chicken manure egg factories let go to waste every year, it seems backyard flocks may be a bit more sustainable.
As the shortcomings of American food production become more and more evident, you may begin to ask where the heck you can access some delicious, farm fresh, humanely raised, and sustainable eggs without paying premium, sometimes unrealistic prices.
To find the answer, look no further than your own backyard. Chickens need not be the mementos of a more self-reliant America, but a constant, persisting reminder that if consumers ever feel that industry has failed them; they have the opportunity to take matters into their own hands with as little as a coop and some feed.