Monday, 6 August 2007

Eggs and country living

Cartons of eggs stretch out on either side of me. An egg factory perhaps? No, just the egg section of my local supermarket. Back in the “old days” you could go to a store and get eggs. Then different sizes were introduced. You got to pick from regular or large. Sometimes you got brown eggs, sometimes white. Next came extra-large. Now my recipes all specify the weight of egg used. I am directed to use two 700g per box (or 59g each) eggs and I have to do complicated sums in my head to work out what happens if I use smaller eggs, or one 59g egg and the leftover egg yolks of different sized eggs.

Free-range eggs became de-rigour in certain shops then permeated the supermarket. Now you stand in front of the selection trying to work out the difference between the way each chicken is treated which leads to 20 or so different egg options. There’s “barn-laid” which I think is trying to tell the consumer that though the chickens were in a shed, "no way nuh-uh were they crammed into battery boxes." There’s “vegetarian eggs” meaning that the chicken was not fed animal by-products. There are eggs from chickens guaranteed to be fed only non-genetically modified vegetable products. There are your standard free range eggs and there are organic free range eggs. There are even Omega 3 fortified eggs and some which I haven’t yet worked out their USP (unique selling point).

Last week I picked up a box of Woolworths’ own brand free-range eggs and next to a picture of eggs nestled in green grass read the caption “Our Free Range eggs have been laid by hens that are free to roam outdoors during the day and nest in boxes at night.” I wondered out loud if they got doonas, classical music and massages as well and startled my neighbouring shopper into a laugh. Mainly I just look for the cheapest free-range eggs or what’s on special that day.

For the first time in my life, a lot of the people I know don’t buy eggs. Some of the kids at school have never eaten a shop-bought egg or drunk pasteurised milk. At least two of my children’s classmates drink milk straight from the cow and more have their own chickens. I find it amazing that people still have a level of subsistence on the land. They find it amazing that I buy eggs and milk and suggest that I try having a house cow, outlining how little work it really is. I decline bottles of fresh milk with thoughts of brucellosis and fat content. I understand now why it was nearly a crisis when Education Queensland made rules about serving healthy food at tuckshop including low-fat milk. I thought it was a good idea. Heads nearly rolled at the P & C at the thought of the potential brain damage to our children.

I avoid keeping chickens myself with thoughts of animals dependent on me on a daily basis and their attraction value for snakes and vermin. I love that I can grow some of my own vegetables and herbs but anything further seems like a lot of work for little return. I wonder if I would think differently if I were poorer, more dependent on the land or if I hadn’t been raised in million-person plus cities. Instead I drink my pasteurised, homogenised, fat-removed milk and cook with my neatly washed and cartoned eggs, living a life in the same location but far removed from that of the early settlers.

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