Yesterday, some friends of mine brought me some farm-fresh eggs. Over the winter, I've been buying organic, cage-free eggs at the store, but eggs never taste as good from the store. I've missed our farmer's market, so yesterday's gift of eggs was most welcome! The eggs were so beautiful, I had to take a picture of them.
They almost look as if they were colored for Easter: rich ivories, deep tans, and delicate mint greens. It is amazing to see the color variations in these fresh eggs when we consumers are so used to seeing sterile white eggs for years, or only whites and browns if we are buying organic. What a loss.
That variety is such a big part of what our food system has lost. According to the UK Biodiversity Coalition, "More than 90 per cent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers' fields" worldwide. When was the last time you ate orange cauliflower or a purple carrot? Did you know that corn used to have a very high protein content until the geneticists started messing with corn traits in order to improve yield and resistance to herbicides? Now, corn has very little protein and is primarily starch. (For more information, I recommend the enlightening and amusing documentary King Corn.)
When we lose varieties, we lose nutritional value. For example, orange cauliflower gets its color from a high level of carotenoids, from which our Vitamin A precursor, beta carotene, is derived. Purple carrots are purple due to the high levels of anthocyanins, also nutritionally valuable. When we lose these varieties, we lose the high nutritional values, the different flavors, the unique beauty of these varieties.
Some people fear that our loss of crop variety could lead to a food crisis. For instance, very few varieties of corn are grown commercially, and if a disease came along that those varieties were vulnerable to, our entire commercial corn crop could be decimated. It could happen easily; remember the Irish potato famine?
Back to eggs...most of today's commercially sold eggs are gathered from Leghorns, but so many more varieties of chickens for egg laying are available! (See Henderson's Handy Dandy Chicken Chart.) Additionally, store-bought eggs are typically less nutritious overall than farm-fresh eggs from farmers who pasture their chickens (in other words, allow them to either roam free or have a chicken tractor that moves the chickens from fresh pasture spot to fresh pasture spot). Why do we allow a few large corporations to determine the nutritional value and selection of what we eat instead of seeking out the largest variety and most nutritional options?
Buying eggs from a farmer might cost a little more...up front. But you'll increase diversity in the market and be healthier for it...meaning you might just pay a lot less on the back end to doctors for nutritional deficiency-caused illness and disease. I'd rather fork out a few extra dollars on the front end and enjoy the beauty of my fresh eggs!