Each week we have a box of organic produce and two dozen local free-range eggs delivered to our door. It makes me happy. The business is run by a good friend of ours, and it's a more affordable way to obtain organic produce than paying grocery store prices. But a couple of weeks ago I noticed something weird about the eggs. I called him and said, "For about half of them, it's like they've been hit briefly with an inside-the-eggshell scrambler. I'm wondering if they're fertile eggs that are starting to develop or something." He said, "Yeah, these small farmers aren't candling their eggs."
Now I don't mind eating an occasional fertile egg. But this morning I cracked an egg into a little dish instead of directly into the skillet, so I could get a good look at it. Alas, it looked back. There was a little embryo in my dish, apparently about 4 days along. It had a tiny beak.
I don't want any beaks in my breakfast, thanks.
I like supporting small local farmers, and I've mostly been delighted with the quality of their products. When we do occasionally buy mass-produced eggs, the difference is clear. But something has gone wrong with their quality control in the past few weeks, and I am feeling very squeamish. If the embryos are incubating for four days before the eggs are collected, what about the bacteria on the shell?
Part of the issue is food safety-- one reason I've been willing to pay the price for these eggs is that I thought they were less likely to be contaminated with salmonella and other nasties. Now I'm not so sure. Part of the issue, though, is first-world detachment from the reality of food production. Guess what, Jamie? Eggs come out of chicken butts. (You can call it a cloaca if you want, but we all know it's really a butt.) The chicken you eat so blithely and so often originated in an egg, with a tiny beak and an outsized eye just like the ones that put in an unwelcome appearance this morning.
When I was 15 I met a Native American man who commented on our unwillingness to see the story behind meat. "In my culture," he said, "at the table we say 'Pass the dead cow, please.' It's our way of acknowledging that the cow gave its life for us to have food." It made me so uncomfortable that I burst out laughing. I thought I'd grown up a bit since then, but maybe not.
We might have tofu for dinner. With some nice oat milk on the side.