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The American Diet Gets Egged On

Americans eat an average of 253 eggs per year, according to statistics provided by the United Egg Producers. That’s a lot of eggs, but it’s not entirely surprising, given that eggs are an essential part of our common diet. Incorporated into a plethora of prepared products, baked goods and on their own, many of us eat eggs, in one form or another, on a daily basis (vegans excluded). It takes 280 million laying hens to satisfy our current egg habit — a multi-billion dollar industry. Yet, why do so many of us restrict our eggs to the breakfast table? Is it our fear of cholesterol, lack of imagination or just habit?

Many cookbooks devote full chapters to egg cookery. I have even seen entire books devoted to the subject. Eggs are in a sense the perfect food. They lend themselves to a variety of techniques, are easy to prepare and are omnipresent in every cuisine. Cooks pride themselves on cooking the perfect omelet — a single dish exemplifying their skill and finesse. Yet eggs can just as easily be enjoyed simply hard-boiled, sunny-side up or scrambled with cheese. It is in savory and sweet dishes that eggs really shine, lending their luxuriousness and their emulsifying properties and their ability to cause things to rise and foam that results in magical dishes such as soufflés, flans, sabayons and meringues.

Nutritionally, eggs are quite spectacular. This is especially pertinent when it comes to pastured eggs. These eggs are laid by hens that have been allowed access to pasture, foraging on grasses, grubs, insects and worms. Sounds gross, perhaps, but it actually makes a huge impact on the nutritional content of the egg. According to Mother Earth News, which conducted a field study in 2007, pastured eggs, or true free-range eggs, may have 25 percent less fat, one-third less cholesterol, two-thirds more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E and seven times more beta carotene than their factory-farmed counterparts.

Luckily for us here in Champaign-Urbana, pastured eggs are readily available. Tomahnous, Triple S, The Moore’s and Country Cottage farms all sell their eggs locally at the Urbana farmer’s market. The Common Ground Food Co-op stocks local eggs and Strawberry Fields in Urbana carries free-range eggs from Osage Acres Farm in Fairbury. The Moore Family Farm also offer their eggs year round through the Prairieland CSA, with convenient weekly pick-up locations in both Urbana and Champaign. An egg share is easy to obtain with minimal obligation through the Moore Family Farm.

Supermarket eggs labeled as free-range do not necessarily have the nutritional benefits of pastured eggs. Unfortunately, factory farmed hens with as little as an open door leading to a concrete yard can legally be labeled as “free-range.” True, free-range/pastured eggs may be more expensive than their supermarket counterparts but they are well worth it. Not only are they nutritionally superior, but certainly more humane and sustainable as well. A good way to justify spending more money on these nutritionally superior eggs, if that alone is not enough, is to incorporate eggs in meals throughout the day, including dinner. Less expensive and more versatile than meat, eggs are a delicious protein alternative — something that many vegetarians are well aware of. So next time you open the fridge, reach for a farm-fresh egg.

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