This PBS 6 minute, short film sheds light on the truth behind terms such as “cage free” and “free range” for describing the conditions under which eggs are produced. Corporations have hijacked these terms, misleading consumers into believing that the chickens are being treated ethically.
“Cage free simply means, not raised in a cage. It doesn’t say anything about the environment they are in; it just says something about the environment they are now not in.”–David Evans, Marin Sun Farm
“Cage free” became “free range” and has now become “pasture raised”. Farmers are continually redefining and coming up with new terms “for understanding and transparency so that customers can better support the type of food production models that they want to, and that comes with the information.”–David Evans, Marin Sun Farm
“We’re small farmers in a new world where we don’t just farm, but we’re also educators and we’re also learning to be marketers so that we can hold onto the authenticity of words, and take it back from the big corporations.”–Alexis Koefed, Soul Food Farm
My roommates and I buy cage free eggs from Hornbachers grocery store in Moorhead, MN. There is a brand that we usually buy called Baer Family Farm, and sometimes we splurge on the more expensive, organic brand–Natural Harvest. The “Cage Free,” label and the affordability of Baer Family Farm eggs is why I have always bought them, but stumbling upon PBS’s video was surprising in that I never thought of “Cage Free” as being a misguided marketing tool. I assumed that, much like the speaker in the video, Alexis Koefed, that the term automatically implied that the chickens were being treated ethically. As the video points out, animals can still be subject to awful living conditions without being put in a cage. “Range Free” is not seen very often on the shelves of Moorhead’s grocery stores, and like “Cage Free,” I had tucked the term “Range Free” as being automatic grounds for an ethical purchase. Offering 5,000 chickens a small door in which to access an outside yard perhaps 1/20 the size of their indoor holding space hardly qualifies as being given the option of going outside, however.
It has made me think twice about my purchases. You might be thinking to yourself that, as many critics of the Slow Food Movement and buying organically point out, it is a movement of the affluent. This is not true. I believe in eating well and buying in such a way that will do the most good for the planet, and doing so is possible because I have placed the purchase of organic, local, and fresh foods high up on my priority list. And why wouldn’t you? Putting the environmental and the benefits for your local community aside, it is an investment in your health and living a life of quality, not just quality food, but a mentality directed towards quality. When you invest yourself in your purchases, in the research, the planning, the budgeting, and the preparation and consumption, one can derive so much more satisfaction from food than passively and mindlessly going through the drive-thru or throwing something pre-made into the microwave. By investing yourself in the things that you are doing, you come to appreciate them in new ways. This idea of quality is not just limited to our treatment of food. It can be applied to everything in life from our relationships to our education to motorcycle maintenance (just read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, a powerful introduction to philosophy as well as the idea of quality).
Invest yourself in what you are eating, and inform yourself of what it means for a product to be natural, organic, free-range, pasture raised, etc by familiarizing yourself with the discourse of sustainable practices.