Unscrambling Egg Carton Marketing
Have you ever pondered the many terms on egg cartons, as you reach for another dozen at the store, and wondered which is best? The confusing vocabulary is enough to hard-boil the mood of even the most patient, discerning consumer.
Free Range. Free Roaming. Cage Free. Pastured. No Hormones. No Antibiotics. Vegetarian Fed. Farm Raised. Local. These are just some of the terms printed on egg cartons. What, if anything, do they mean?
“Where else but a farm would eggs come from?” chuckles Mary Pratt of Elihu Farm, one of several vendors at Saratoga Farmers’ Market who sells eggs. “ ‘Farm Raised’ is a meaningless marketing slogan; remember it could mean a large-scale, industrialized ‘factory farm.’ ”
Also without true significance: “No Hormones” and “No Antibiotics.”
“The USDA does not allow poultry to receive hormones; there are no antibiotics approved for laying hens,” Pratt continues. “ ‘Farm Fresh’ and ‘All Natural’ are terms with no uniform definitions.”
Farmers have adopted many ways to raise laying hens since World War II. Most eggs produced in the United States still come from chickens that live a mechanized life in wire cages.
Thanks to public demand, and animal welfare concerns, more eggs now come from “cage free” or “free roaming” hens. According to the Egg Nutrition Center, these hens can move about in their barn with unlimited access to food and water. But the Animal Welfare Institute points out that the amount of space per bird isn’t specified.
Most people assume that “Free Range” hens should have access to the outdoors, but according to Consumer Reports, there are no standards. The amount or type of space hens have outside the barn isn’t given on labels. Pastured hens should have unlimited access to fresh, young pasture plants. Little verification for these claims takes place, except for cage-free.
“ ‘Vegetarian fed’ hens receive no meat or animal by products, which may sound like a good thing, but is not a normal diet for these omnivores. ‘Pastured hens’ have a more natural diet that includes worms and bugs, along with their pasture greens and chicken feed,” explains Pratt.
In grocery stores or other retail settings, discovering the origin of eggs can be a goose chase. A customer-detective can look up the company’s web site, if given, or call the toll-free phone number. Carton labels sometimes list more than 10 states as far away as Texas, that provide the eggs.
In contrast, at Saratoga Farmers’ Market, you can talk directly to the farmers to find out more about how their hens are raised. No toll-free number needed. When the market moves from High Rock Park to its indoor, winter-season location beginning November 1 at the Lincoln Baths in Saratoga Spa State Park, around half a dozen farms will offer their own eggs right through the winter.
Pumpkin Egg Custard
*Ingredients can be purchased at the market
2 cups pumpkin* puree (or cooked, pureed butternut or buttercup squash, or sweet potato)
½ cup milk*
4 eggs*, beaten
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pumpkin spice (or equivalent blend of cinnamon, nutmeg)
¼ cup honey*
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray 6 oven-proof ramekins or custard cups with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl mix together pumpkin, milk, eggs, vanilla, spices and honey.
Pour mixture evenly into ramekins. Place ramekins into larger baking dish for easy transport and stability in oven.
Bake for 40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.