The environmental impact of eggs.

Illuminating answers to environmental questions.
June 1 2010 7:11 AM

Green Eggs vs. Ham

What are the environmental impacts of eggs?

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What if you decide to skip the supermarket and get your frittata fixings from the farmers' market or another local purveyor? Well, besides the happy, satisfied glow that comes from knowing where your food is produced, buying from a well-managed small farm can have eco-benefits. On a farm that rotates cattle and chickens on the same pastureland, for example, hens can pick out and eat the bugs from cowpies, providing the bird with important nutrients and helping tamp down fly problems. Birds that are "pasture raised"—i.e., that eat a lot of insects and grass alongside regular feed— produce eggs that may have health benefits, like higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. It's often said they taste better, too, though that luscious flavor will probably come with a higher price tag. Whether small-scale farms can meet the world's egg demands is another question—and a crucial one to consider in terms of the overall sustainability of our food systems. But for her personal grocery needs, the Lantern likes going small and local when she can.

Finally, what if you have embraced your inner farmhand and are raising chickens yourself, like Susan Orlean? Xin speculates that these birds will perform about the same as the free-range type, in terms of feed utilization and carbon footprint. However, as many suburban hen-keepers note, backyard birds can become important parts of your home's ecosystem, performing useful services like pest control, food waste disposal, and compost turning. Plus, you don't have to worry about those pesky food miles—making a homegrown hard-boiled egg the ultimate locavore treat.

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Is there an environmental quandary that's been keeping you up at night? Send it to ask.the.lantern@gmail.com, and check this space every Tuesday.

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Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.