Photo by Carol Ann Sayle
My grandmother, farm wife to a tenant cotton grower in north-central Texas, at the eve of the last century, loved her flock of laying hens and their accompanying roosters. She allowed them to be chickens, to scratch around the farmstead, eating worms and plants, take their daily dust baths, lay their eggs in a straw-padded nest box, and she daily dispensed the traditional treat of a bit of cracked corn. Her reward, other than enjoyment of their personalities and antics, was their wholesome eggs. The nutrition of these eggs helped her raise five healthy children.
Family lore never suggested that anyone got sick from eating the eggs. The possibility of her hens' harboring the salmonella bacteria was an unknown concept.
My grandmother is but a memory now, but I inherited her affection and respect for chickens, and the sense of responsibility to provide a natural environment that encourages good health. My flock is allowed the freedom to live as chickens should live, out on the land eating a variety of foods, breathing clean air, and sleeping in a protective hen house.
Sadly, however, in our modern world, where efficiency and price points are prized over compassion and health, laying hens have been sentenced to endure shortened, wheezing lives in horrendous, sunless concentration camps, fed the same dull, antibiotic-laced food every day. Under the resulting filthy conditions--where "hazmat suits" must be worn by workers removing dead hens daily from the crowded cages--everything can get spoiled, everything can become contaminated. It's no wonder consumers should worry about being harmed by the eggs they eat.
Of course, per protective government standards, the eggs are washed and graded and immediately stored in refrigeration. Perhaps a few weeks, or a few months later, you can buy them at your grocery store. Amazingly, even old eggs produced in this strange industrial manner are generally free of salmonella. Of course they are also minus beneficial nutrients and flavor, but they are cheap. And there's no extra charge for the inclusion of antibiotics.
If you want "real" eggs like my grandmother's family ate, where do you turn? To the government? Nope, our elected officials would have to demand a complete restructuring of the industrial system--but hey, we're not talking about cars here! Just eggs...
Other than eschewing eggs completely, think about these safe options: Buy eggs from your local farmer, or raise chickens in your back yard. Feed the "girls" some organic grain, let them forage for bugs, worms, and green plants (they are omnivores with palates that appreciate variety), and every day, collect the just-laid eggs. Wash them in water warmer than they are, if the shells bear evidence of soil or "poo de poulet," and then refrigerate them.
Note: if you place your clean hand between the legs of a hen standing up to drop her egg, the egg will land perfectly, antiseptically clean. It's only when the hen steps on it while leaving the nest that the egg could use some tidying up.
Eat the fresh eggs in an omelet the next morning. The flavor is sublime. The nutrition is there. You'll sleep well that night as you won't be worried about salmonella at all.
Congress members, to their credit, are in a tizzy to protect Americans from the modern food supply, which with all of its high tech measures still fosters repeated food scares. Our representatives envision safety plans that will end contamination and punish contaminators. I agree that they should enact stringent controls on the industrial producing of eggs, the ones that harbor the bacterial problems, the ones that give eggs a bad judgment: "dangerous."
And all because chickens aren't allowed to be chickens; instead they are tortured slaves who struggle to produce an egg almost every day lest they wind up prematurely as fertilizer or dog food.
Wouldn't YOU extract some revenge?
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.