With a backyard unsuitable for the raising of livestock, I was very pleased to see my local Whole Foods store carrying Vital Farms pasture-raised organic eggs.  Even more pleasing was the fact that they were on sale, and BOGO at that!

A few years ago, seeing something like "pasture-raised" would have been unthinkable at a large grocery store, even Whole Foods.  At that time, the "Organic" label was just making its way into the awareness of the average shopper.  With customers willing to pay more for items that seemed healthier, a vast plethora of similar labels emerged from the minds of poultry marketers.  Unfortunately, these labels didn't always tell the whole story. 

Whether it was "cage free", "free-range", "omega-3 enhanced", "vegetarian fed", or "all-natural", the images of bucolic farmsteads didn't always match the reality of the product.  As it turns out, "free-range" only meant that the hens could go outdoors if they really wanted to but apparently few of them actually do, "vegetarian-fed" means that the chickens weren't fed cow blood or chicken parts, and "omega-3 enhanced", while potentially more nutritious for us, was simply a matter of enriching the chicken feed and we all know how great "enriched" bread and cereals are.

According to the USDA, the claim "pasture-raised" means that the animal in question had continuous and unconfined access to pasture throughout their life cycle."  The idea of pastured chickens, cows, and other animals is nothing new.  Up until the advent of industrial farming practices, all chickens were "pasture-raised" and as a result, their diet was varied and included bugs, grass, in addition to grain-based chicken feed.  

Free to roam about and maintain normal social interactions (chickens are very social creatures) these chickens would have experienced far less stress, disease, and their waste products (i.e. chicken poop) would have actually nourished the soil on which they trod.  As it is today, most chickens are raised in something that more closely resembles Dante's Inferno than a farm.  The result of a system focused solely on maximizing profits is that the wellbeing of the animals, the workers, and the end consumer is ignored.  Such concerns are seen as unnecessary friction in the efficient production of an industrial commodity.   

While the prices of responsibly produced eggs is slightly higher, this price is an honest reflection of the work, care, and quality of the product.  Large factory farms benefit from what they refer to as "externalities".  This means that their "low price" only exists because they don't bother with the costs of environmental damage, healthcare costs of contaminated food (e.coli, salmonella, etc.), and the human and animal toll of their operation.  Often, these large corporations benefit from tax-payer subsidies which further reduces their costs and increases their profits.

Small-farms lack the lobbying clout to benefit from such subsidies and until we can create change at the top, we can enact change from the bottom up.  By eating more of our meals at home, and avoiding the lure of the drive-thru, we can more than make up for the cost of buying eggs that are from well cared for animals and well cared for land.  As more consumers "vote" with their shopping dollars, demand will increase for pastured eggs, meat, and other products and the farmers who choose to do the right thing rather than the easy thing will receive much-needed economic support.

In the end, we all win because pastured eggs taste better too!

To see what I did with my Vital Farms Pasture-raised eggs, check out this post:

To learn more about Vital Farms, visit their website at

For more information about pastured poultry, check out the appropriately named   

You can also see an organic egg "scorecard" by visiting The Cornucopia Institute page.

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About Unknown

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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