Eggs are a pretty important part of our household diet, as my partner and I are both pescatarians. I’m a bulky guy, and I cycle a little, so I like my protein. My partner is a petite woman who can only stomach so much fish in a day, and who suffers a complete anxiety breakdown every time we get down to less than three jars of peanut butter in the apartment. We need our eggs.
On one egg issue, however, we are an apartment divided. She checks every grocery store product to ensure that it is wild-caught, free range, GMO-free, gluten-free, cage-free, free-range, dolphin safe, all-natural, organic, free-trade, holistic, handmade, PETA-approved, chemical free, MSG-free, pesticide free, hydroponic, community-grown, eco-friendly, and sustainable. It makes grocery shopping an expensive marathon (which are also surprisingly expensive to participate in, by the way).
I, on the other hand, choose groceries like a penny-pinching billy goat on diet cheat day. Back in the glory days of ultra-couponing, I was like a man possessed. I stockpiled enough bathroom products to last my family of four for 2.5 years without spending a dime. I had a savings average per trip of around 96%, and my ex-wife had to restrain me from buying a truckload of drastically discounted Dentu Creme that I thought we might use 50 years later. I’m a bargain shopper through and through; quality and brand names be damned!
These two clashing approaches to grocery procurement mean that my girlfriend and I engage in a philosophical standoff every time we buy a dozen eggs, which is like twice a week. I’m convinced she’s been emotionally scarred by some “shockumentary” she saw years ago, and she thinks I’m the heartless product of American consumerism.
Our existing options aside, at the most basic level, we both want the same thing: eggs from healthy, happy chickens at a reasonable price. The egg industry, however, plays us against each other, implying that these two conditions cannot simultaneously exist. But why not? Why exactly do cage-free eggs have to cost $4.00 to $5.00 per dozen while eggs without that designation almost always cost less than $1.00 per dozen?
How can it cost 4 to 5 times as much to not keep a chicken in a cage? I’ve been over it a million times, and I can’t figure it out. There are plenty of other humanely-minded designations to be discussed, but even if we just focus on only the cage-free designation, we somehow see a rise in cost to over 400%.
You can’t imagine the amount of time I’ve committed to thinking about this, and, to be honest, I’d be terribly embarrassed if you could. Don’t worry, though, I did it for both of us. To save you the shame of wasting the same amount of time and mental energy, I’ve created a list of possible explanations:
- The cage-free farmers are spending the extra money on buying up and immediately discarding four times as many chicken cages just to make sure no one else can use them.
- Cage-free chickens require expensive survival training in order to survive in their free range environments.
- The extra money goes toward paying the excessive ransoms for the chickens being held in cages by the evil farms.
- Because the eggs are scattered about all willy nilly over the countryside, the cage-free farms have to hire four times as many people to find them.
- The cage-free chickens are goofing off; it’s a lot harder to enforce productivity when your chickens aren’t captive sweatshop workers.
- More cage-free chickens are taking advantage of their freedom to pursue careers and are waiting until later in life to nest.
- Cage-free chicken eggs are unguarded/unprotected, so a much greater number are lost to free range coyotes and cage-free snakes.
- Evil chicken caging farms are also charging their own chickens rent for their cages, effectively defraying the cost of egg farming.
- I lived in Hawaii for years and never saw a caged chicken there. Maybe the cage-free eggs are coming from all the wandering Hawaiian island chickens and the increased cost accounts for transportation overhead.
- A disproportionate number of cage-free chicken farms sit on steep slopes, and, without the impediment of the cages to stop them, 80% of the eggs simply roll away.
In all seriousness, there is a real moral debate to be had here. My girlfriend refuses to knowingly contribute a single dime to farms that don’t treat their animals humanely, and I support and admire that. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that what’s happening on the less glaringly brutal side of the proverbial fence isn’t at least as sinister.
There may indeed be some additional overhead involved in cage-free farming; I’m willing to accept that without proof or debate. I am not, however, willing to accept that it costs 4 to 5 times as much. And here’s what really disturbs and frustrates me: That means that these cage-free farms, who claim to be ruled by conscience and humanity, are taking advantage of the people who are so compassionate, so empathetic, and so conscientious that they’ll do nearly anything to support what they believe in.
That may not be as repugnant as “shockumentary” film footage of mass livestock farms, but it is shameful in its own way. There ought to be a special place in hell for anyone using a kind-hearted human being’s compassion as the primary means for ripping them off.