Case studies in the Politics of Food and Choice: Eggs & Salt

Case studies in the Politics of Food and Choice: Eggs & Salt


I stumbled across an interesting article on eggs yesterday while sitting in Borders reading up on something I’m going to be doing an in depth series of posts on. Apparently a study at the USDA has shown that factory farm eggs are far less nutritious than pastured eggs. I don’t know what causes this… although one can imagine the havoc that living in a cage your entire life that is barely bigger than your body, having your beak cut off and breathing in air so foul your whole life that people need to wear an environmental suit when they go in to the building you live in would do to your body and what it produces.

The numbers are quite compelling. Chickens that are let out to pasture produce eggs with:

1/3 less cholesterol
1/4 less saturated fat
2/3 more vitamin A
Two times more omega-3 fatty acids
Three time more vitamin E
Seven times more beta carotene
Three to six times more vitamin D

Now some would take these numbers and offer the idea that we should only allow these kinds of eggs to market. I would disagree, although it would seem fair to require that the difference in nutritional value be prominently placed on packaging. I think people should know exactly what they are getting. Eggs provide a cheap source of protein, and helped me afford that necessary part of my diet through a period where I was low on money, but now that this isn’t an issue, I will certainly switch.

In related news, a New Jersey man is suing Denny’s over the high salt content in their food. I’ve read a handful of articles about this, and I’m still confused as to what exactly he is suing over. As far as I know there is no law that requires restaurants to disclose the salt content of their meals, and frankly, when I eat out at a low quality chain restaurant like that I accept the fact that I’m going to get something cheap that is probably pretty terrible for me. I fail to understand what law they are breaking by offering these foods, and while I completely agree that it is a good idea to have nutritional information for customers (potentially on the menu), it strikes me as something that should be  proposed through the legislature, not forced through by judicial fiat.

So what do you think about this?

Should a customer be able to sue a restaurant because its food is unhealthy?

What should labeling be required to show, and where should it be placed?

  • Duncan Riley

    The stats don’t surprise me, but you missed one important point out: free range eggs taste better. I’m no activist who has a deep concern about caged egg farms, but I’ll only buy free range due to taste. Same not surprisingly goes for chicken: a good free range, hormone free chicken tastes better as well.

  • Tully

    I have access to free-range eggs and fresh chickens from a relative who keeps chickens, and I echo Duncan Riley. Free-range eggs also LOOK better when you cook them. Store eggs have pale yellow yolks, free-range eggs have orange yolks. Looks much better on the plate.

    Of course, if you banned “cage eggs’ and only allowed free-range eggs, the price of eggs would go up quite a bit.

  • http://sidewaysmencken.blogspot michael reynolds

    I am very upset by this. I buy free-range organic eggs. But I had no idea that in doing so I was missing out on cholesterol and saturated fat. I feel ripped off.

  • Terry

    Wow. I have gotten into local farms since I moved into the Hudson Valley of NY. Actually, tonight’s dinner – from the beef to the vegetables – was all local. But I had no idea the difference with eggs. We get ours from the farmer’s market during the warm months, and they’re only $1 more then store bought…

    BUT, while I couldn’t go near a fast food restaurant in the least (Denny’s being a turn-key Sysco restaurant), to me it’s completely misguided to think you should sue because of their sodium content.

    We are, and have always been, a ‘buyer beware’ economy. He had choices, he made choices, and Denny’s does not have a monopoly on food or nutrition.

    If he was on food stamps, and they were only accepted by an entity that had only high sodium, poor nutrition food choices, I could understand the basis of a lawsuit. But not a seemingly independent citizen who made bad choices.

    There is bad food out there. There is high cuisine from amazing chefs that are very bad for you (but taste amazing!). There are cheap, poor, nasty places like Denny’s that have bad food for you. Buyer beware….

  • Terry

    … can you link to this study? Love to read it for myself (before I start quoting your non-referenced facts)

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    Its because free-range chickens suppliment their diet with insects they find around the farm, while factory chickens only eat corn or grain pellets.

    The chickens eat a lot of empty calories! You are what you eat I guess.

  • Mike A.

    The Omnivore’s Dilemma….
    great book to read if buy locally interests you.

  • Mule Breath

    The egg story I’ve know for years and the earlier comment about chickens eating bugs, etc. is likely a correct assessment. The Denny’s lawsuit is news to me. Seems foolish, for certain. Not only are there not laws requiring revelation of salt content, there are no laws compelling the gent to break fast at Denny’s. The dude is an idiot, and the lawyer is a… well… lawyer.

  • ExiledIndependent

    I wonder how much acreage it would take to put all of the factory-raised chickens into pasture. Are the better tasting, healthier eggs more expensive as well? I’m going to bet my money that the answer is “yes….”

  • Mike A.


    The Omnivore’s Dilemma goes into some detail about this issue. One farm the author reviews in particular is Polyface farms ( run by a man named Joel Salatin. This farm uses a method of rotation that allows it to produce beef, port, poultry, rabbits all without chemical fertilizers, growth hormones and antibiotics. It’s a good read.

  • ExiledIndependent

    Thanks for the link, Mike!

  • WHQ

    As an aside, that the man suing is from New Jersey jumped out at me. I, too, am from New Jersey. It is the state that once had a (short-lived) law banning over-easy, sunny-side-up, soft-boiled, or any other preparation of eggs leaving the yolk liquid, from being served in restaurants. …No dippy eggs! There’s another case study of the politics of food and choice from the Garden State…the Garden State.

  • kranky kritter

    Eggs are a great source of cheap protein, and all the bad stuff is in the yolk. So I always use reduce the yolk in scrambled eggs and egg salad.

    I’ve no reason to doubt the data. Where I live, I can get a dozen eggs for 99 cents, and I have no idea what free range costs in Massachusetts.

    So you can likely make a very solid argument that store eggs are still a far more cost-effective choice for providing adequate nutrition. If in fact your overall diet is providing you with a sufficient daily allowance of the vitamins and nutrients about which Solomon notes the discrepancy, then the discrepancy isn’t all that relevant.

    Still, it’s worth noting that efficiency of production adversely effects nutritional content. As a general rule, I suspect one could find MANY instances where this occurs.

  • Bob Morris

    Most restaurant food contains high levels of sodium. So the simple way to avoid that high amount of sodium is to avoid eating at restaurants.

    I don’t suppose it ever occurred to the individual who filed the lawsuit that he could cut back on his sodium content by buying meat and eggs at the store and prepare them without adding any salt.

  • Mike A.

    “In related news, a New Jersey man is suing Denny’s over the high salt content…”

    I believe this is one of NJ’s politicians looking for a replacement source of income since the fbi rolled into town…

  • Solomon Kleinsmith

    I can’t find the study, otherwise I would have linked to it (and not added the qualifier ‘apparently’) although I found a whole bunch of places that quote the same information.

    Here is a good one:

    This one mentions several studies backing the general claim that cage free chickens produce more nutrient rich eggs:

  • Solomon Kleinsmith

    I also must say that I’m finding it very amusing that I am finding I can’t seem to predict with any level of accuracy which posts will get the most attention. I will continue to stray from the beaten path and bring you stuff like this that I come across :)

    (Captcha = pleasure Senate)

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    This study shows no significant difference between organic and non-organic food generally. I wonder if eggs were tested.