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Chickens are vegetarians. At least, that's what we would think if we believed the multitude of egg cartons on the shelves of our local grocery store. Hopefully you think for yourself, and upon doing so - you recall that chickens actually love insects, worms, and other non-vegetarian fare. Keep reading to see the real story behind those supermarket vegetarian-fed eggs.
Last week I stood paralyzed, staring at the hundreds of dozens of eggs lining the shelves of my local supermarket. I had failed to stock up from my favorite local farmer and was forced to make this daunting choice at the grocery store. With every possible choice making me angrier and angrier, I turned and walked away muttering to myself...
"CHICKENS ARE NOT VEGETARIANS! WHY THE HECK ARE ALL THESE COMPANIES BRAGGING ABOUT VEGETARIAN GRAIN-FED DIETS? STOP TRYING TO SELL ME INFERIOR EGGS. I SHOULD WRITE ABOUT THIS TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS."
In case you're wondering, I bought nothing. I refuse to pay MORE at the supermarket for lower quality eggs than I can't get at my local natural foods co-op or farmer's market.
"Chickens are omnivores. In the wild, they often scratch at the soil to search for seeds, insects and even larger animals such as lizards, small snakes or young mice." 
A simple search on Wikipedia discloses that ground-breaking revelation. Normally we prefer more scholarly and "high-brow" sources for our science - and we'll provide that today as we always do - but I started with Wikipedia to prove a point. That point is that even the most non-scholarly guides know that chickens aren't vegetarians. So why the hell are we being fed (pun intended) this idea that vegetarian grain-fed hens lay better and healthier eggs? I'm not buying - or eating - it. And neither should you.
What Chickens Really EatWhen allowed to live as nature intended, chickens hunt, peck and scratch the ground for anything they can find. They're scavengers who eat grass, seeds, insects, worms and even lizards, snakes and mice. Simply put, they're omnivores who eat both plant and animal food substances. The natural diet of any animal is crucial to its health - and the health of it's offspring. In the case of chickens, this optimal natural diet includes animal protein sources.
Problems With 100% Grain Diets
While our supermarket frustrations are real - compared to many "Frankenfoods", trans fats, and processed toxins - a grain-fed, Omega-3 enriched egg is not the worst thing we could eat.
Neither is it the nutritional superstar that egg carton marketing would have you believe. And therein lies the problem - the fact that every egg carton BRAGS about feeding these chicken a vegetarian grain diet as if this somehow makes the chicken healthier and justifies the higher price of your egg.
In fact, this grain-only diet has the opposite effect. It makes the chickens less healthy and they in turn produce an anemic, vitamin devoid, pale, inflammatory egg. This is the real purpose of this post. To expose this lie to the public, to get you to think for yourself rather than be led blindly by an evil, corrupt entity who doesn't care about your well-being.
Just because "MyPyramid" or the USDA says it's good, doesn't mean it is.
If that sounds like an unreasonable stretch to you, I suggest doing some research on the American Agricultural system.
Getting back to the eggs, in a 2007 study, Mother Earth News compared USDA conventional eggs to the average composition of pasture-raised eggs from 14 farms.
The results showed that pasture-raised chickens' eggs had:
- 4-6 TIMES the Vitamin D
- Almost 4 times more Vitamin E
- Nearly DOUBLE the Vitamin A
- Lower cholesterol
- Less saturated fat (while we don't necessarily want to avoid GOOD saturated fat, less of it from an inflamed animal is a good thing)
- DOUBLE the omega-3 (and significantly less omega-6)
- This study didn't assess protein quality, but I think it's a fairly safe assumption based on common sense that tissue from a healthier animal is healthier for us.
Here's why this matters:
The number one problem with the Standard American Diet (SAD) is that it leads to increased inflammation.  Since every chronic disease from cancer to arthritis is a disease of inflammation, this makes it very important that we seek out food that lower inflammation and improve our health. Pasture-raised, organic, farm-fresh eggs are one such food that can improve our health. Conventionally farmed, grain-fed eggs, on the other hand are not.
Why Is This Happening?
So WHY are chickens being fed this 100% grain diet? And why are the marketing teams trying to convince us this is an advantageous benefit? And ask I asked earlier, why the hell are we being fed this idea that vegetarian grain-fed hens lay better and healthier eggs?
Short answer = money.
Always follow the money, especially in food and agriculture. Consumers believing this LIE and spending more for cheaper eggs gives more money to the American Agricultural machine. (And we could argue that it HURTS the small, local, organic farmers. In a two-party system, any vote FOR is also a vote AGAINST the other side.)
I'm reminded of the podcast I recorded with all-natural and "better than organic" chicken farmer Glenn Ramsey of Green Acres Farm, and how he explained exactly why this is happening.
"It's all about the money. The conventional farming model allows the farmer to raise more livestock on less land and to produce more eggs with lower food costs." 
Unfortunately, pasture-raised chickens lay about 15% fewer eggs. And they weigh about 14% less than conventional chickens. 
**Wow, imagine that - move more and eat fewer processed grains = 14% weight reduction. See any parallels HUMANS?!**
So, from a business production standpoint, those 100% grain-fed farmers are getting more product to market with lower overhead, creating more revenue and increasing profit margins - as long we keep believing that vegetarian grain-fed eggs are superior.
What to look for instead
I'll admit to standing in the egg section of the grocery for longer than I ever imagined or desired. It's confusing and frustrating for someone who cares about what they put inside their body.
My ideal situation and best advice is to find a trusted local farmer and make friends so you can keep yourself supplied with local, organic, non-GMO, pasture-raised chicken eggs.
In the event you find yourself at the supermarket searching for the right eggs, here's your checklist hierarchy:
- Pasture Raised: The closest classification to our idyllic chicken-rearing setting. (Watch out for the word 'pasteurized' - it's NOT the same thing!)
- Omega-3 Enriched: 5X the omega-3 compared to conventional eggs
- Organic: Even if fed grain, we know it was organic. Non-GMO grain is better if available.
- Free-Range: Simply means chickens "had access" to outdoors.
- Cage-Free: Simply means "no cages used". Could still be in cramped hen house.
- Conventional Supermarket Eggs: I would eat ZERO eggs before I ate these.
CLICK HERE to find local food sources in your area - thanks to Local Harvest Organization.
- Long, C. Mother Earth News. 2007. http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/free-range-eggs-zmaz07onzgoe.aspx
- Francis, R. Inflammation: A Common Denominator of Disease. Arizona Center For Advanced Medicine.
- Ramsey, G. Interview. Video available here: http://houseofstrengthgym.com/hos-podcast-19-free-range-chickens-at-green-acres-farm/
- H.D. Karsten, P.H. Patterson, R. Stout and G. Crews (2010). Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 25, pp 45-54. doi:10.1017/S1742170509990214.
- Gunnars, K. Authority Nutrition. http://authoritynutrition.com/pastured-vs-omega-3-vs-conventional-eggs/