Wednesday, June 02, 2010

the problem with eggs

After our 30 mile bike ride two weekends ago, one of the owners of the Bike Shop gave away a few dozen eggs. She has 15 backyard chickens, and they were laying so many eggs that her family couldn't keep up. Even though I'm vegan, Nathan eats eggs for breakfast every morning, so we accepted a carton on his behalf. Later that morning, I decided to take a photo of the eggs, partly because they were so pretty, and partly because they got me thinking about veganism.

My number one reason for not eating animal products is because I believe killing animals for our consumption is cruel and unnecessary. Health benefits, environmental impact, adorable baby cows, pleasant feeling of moral superiority - those are all bonuses. However, I also believe no issue is black and white and recognize that I have the education, the means, and the resources to choose what I will and will not consume. Let's face it - millions of people in the world are lucky if they get to eat at all, nevermind asking the waiter if there's lard in the black beans.

I've read a bit about "ethical meat" - animals that are raised and slaughtered humanly, that get to live a good, fulfilling life before they end up on your dinner plate. I don't buy it. You're still raising and killing an animal for your personal consumption, and I don't know if there's really a nice way to snap a chicken's neck. I also see no difference between dogs and cats, and pigs and cows. If it's wrong to torture a dog, or gross to prepare a kitten for dinner, then why is it okay to slaughter a farm animal?

Which brings me to the eggs. I'm a vegan, but one day I'd like to raise some backyard chickens, and I am sure I would eat the eggs they laid because I'd know exactly how they were treated and raised. I also know my friends at the Farmers' Market who sell eggs; I know the owner of the Bike Shop who can't keep up with her chickens' output. Logically, I should be able to eat these eggs with a clear conscience. But I'm not there yet.

Emotionally, I know eating the eggs - even if they are cruelty free - would mean I'm no longer a vegan. I don't know why I like that label, why I cling to that identity, but I do. It's not like I would go to Sonic and order a breakfast burrito, or start purchasing uniform white eggs in Styrofoam cartons on sale at Kroger - my theoretic egg consumption would be on a case-by-case basis, and only when I am absolutely certain about the origin and treatment of the animals involved. Still, something about eggs - even fresh eggs from a neighbor's yard - does not sit right with me. And until it does, I'm fine with choosing something else for breakfast.


  1. This was really interesting to read because as a vegetarian I've never been able to understand the issue vegans have with consuming eggs and milk from happy home farms. Chickens need to lay eggs, cows should be milked regularly, and as long as the animals are happy and the eggs and milk are being produced in a positive way - ie, not a battery farm, or an unknown situation that the consumer could never truly be sure about - then I simply don't understand the reluctance.

    I definitely understand the attachment to labels, but would be really interested to hear about your progression with this. :)

  2. I'm not on the fence about dairy. My body has made it pretty clear that it does not appreciate dairy products, and with the high occurrence of lactose intolerance among the human race, I think it's pretty clear that we're not meant to consume dairy products.

    Eggs, on the other hand. Hm. I would hate to think that my ethics and morals boil down to a label, and I know that in reality, they do not. What it boils down to is whether I think it's okay to exploit another creature for my own use. Then again, if I felt humans should not keep any animals, I'd have to give away Seamus. And I know I'm not exploiting my dog by letting him sleep on the couch and giving him a comfortable and happy life!

    I think for now, I'll continue abstaining from eggs until I'm able to raise my own chickens. I would feel better about egg consumption if I was the one personally caring for the chickens. It would be more of a relationship, where I give care and security in exchange for eggs, instead of just taking eggs given to me, which I do not necessarily deserve. Also, my friends might have happy chickens, but do they plan on slaughtering them at a certain age and eating them? How can I be sure? I can't, until I have my own chickens!

    Does that make sense? I hope so. I'm still working this out myself, so I appreciate your questions!

  3. labels are tricky. i used to like them, now i find them limiting. it took me a while to get over the whole non-vegan = non-compassionate thing.

  4. Finn, you are so right. I love the way you think about your diet and let it evolve along with your beliefs. I definitely don't think vegan automatically equals compassion or even sustainability - just look at the local food movement, which is very sustainable but not necessarily vegan, or the palm oil controversy, which is vegan but causes a lot of animal and environmental harm. There are no easy answers, which makes thinking through things and doing the best you can even more important!

  5. I eat eggs and I still call myself vegan. Other people need the label more than I do. Because I don't eat anything that has egg products in the ingredients, and I don't just buy or eat any eggs. But try explaining to someone that you're vegan except that in some instances you eat eggs. They just won't "get it" and they'll expect that you'll eat stuff that they make with eggs in it. Makes it awkward when you have to turn their food down. So it's easier for me to just tell everyone I'm a total vegan.

  6. Sigh. I'd like to raise some chickens some day...