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The Blue Egg
I wrote this some years ago, but I thought of it as I was writing about Spring Equinox. Birds in the wild don’t lay eggs over the winter because it’s too cold for the chicks to survive when they hatch. So finding bird eggs is one of the first signs of spring. I don’t eat many eggs nowadays but in the past I would celebrate spring by eating things like strawberry and ricotta omelets and other egg dishes for a good week after the equinox.
[At the time I wrote this, I was eating] two scrambled eggs almost every morning for breakfast. Now I rarely eat eggs and eat a lot more plants.]
I had been buying local, natural, free-range eggs at the natural food store down the street. They came in a plain white paper carton, with a simple label pasted on. “Hunt and Peck Farms,” read the label. “These ungraded FREE RANGE eggs are hand polished and not washed with detergent. No hormones, antibiotics or animal by-products are added to feed.”
These eggs were delicious, with big bright yellow yolks.
But what was really wonderful for me was that the eggs went into the carton just the way they came from the hen. They were all different shapes and sizes. Some were so large that they barely fit in the carton. Others were rather small. Most were brown, but last week, there was a blue egg in two of my little six-egg cartons. A blue egg. I had never seen one in an egg carton before.
I loved eating all those different eggs. They were real. They were natural.
A few days ago I went to buy more eggs. They were gone. Something about labeling, the stockperson said. I looked at the eggs that were in their place. All white, all identical. They had organic eggs, but they were all brown and identical and shipped in from some other part of the country. I didn’t want to eat them.
In our consumer world, where all the eggs have to be the same size and color, even foods that are organically grown are not presented to us as they are in nature. I much prefer eggs of different colors and sizes and all the shapes and sizes of fruits and vegetables I find at the farmer’s market.
Identicalness is the result of industrialization. Uniqueness is the result of Nature. Every form in Nature is unique–every snowflake, every fingerprint, every cloud… I like to see my food show its uniqueness too.
Eggs are also seasonal. We don’t know that because eggs are sold year-round in our supermarkets. The eggs that we eat today are mostly from domesticated birds, but for thousands of years, people collected eggs from the wild for food. Before 1900, wild bird eggs were on the menu in restaurants.
In the wild birds and other animals lay eggs only during the time of year when the weather is such that the hatched babies can survive. So there are no eggs in winter, and eggs are then again plentiful with the coming of Spring.
I first became aware of the seasonality of eggs when I lived in a rural community in Northern California and visited a neighbor who raised chickens. She told me that her chickens required 14 hours of sunlight to lay eggs and that commercial eggs in the wintertime come from chickens raised under electric lights. Hens naturally have an ongoing urge to lay eggs from spring to fall, when they lose their feathers. Then they wait through the winter until 14 hours of sunlight return in the spring. Of course, depending on where in the world these chickens are, the actual date the 14 hours or more of sunlight begins and ends is different from place to place. Even though eggs are available in the supermarket all year long, in the scheme of Nature, our bodies really are not designed to eat them every day.
So to really be aligned with the natural cycle of eggs, I should only eat them when the days have more than 14 hours of light. Let’s see…here in Florida that’s…hmmm…the month of June. Here’s a fascinating website about bird behavior (and chickens are birds) that shows the variations in daylight hours at different latitudes (called a “photoperiod”). It seems the farther north you are, the more days of 14+ hours there are. At the equator, it’s a steady 12 hours of daylight all year long. So do they not have chickens? Perhaps at the equator the photoperiod for chickens is different…