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OK to eat eggs? 10/07/10

Is it ok to eat eggs and still call yourself a vegetarian?

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With today being World Egg Day, I thought I’d ask all the questions I never voice. Like, is it ok as a vegetarian to eat eggs? Is it possible to totally cut eggs out of one’s diet if you are a strict veggie? What does it really mean to eat eggs and what are the choices?

First off, let me start by saying that I love eggs. I like them scrambled, I like them on toast and I love them boiled. The yellow must be blue and so hard it can bounce. Don’t give me “wet” scrambled eggs. Don’t give me runny eggs. I will not dip my toast in them and will not even attempt to eat these slimey things.

If, like me, you are an ovo-vegetarian (veggies that eat eggs in case you missed that one), you have probably been asked on more than one occasion by a smirking carnivore-human, why you don’t see eggs as baby chickens. The debate however, is a lot more complicated than simply saying “I don’t think eggs are animals.”

Living in the world
I love teatime – from cupcakes to quaint cucumber-mayo sandwiches and mini quiches. But, in all of these, you will find egg. And to cut these from your plate, you often find yourself having to make social sacrifices.

I find it incredibly off-putting for everyone to decline a social invite purely because of my lifestyle choice. I also find it very awkward to be invited to someone’s house for dinner who is new to vegetarianism and say, “I don’t eat meat or chicken and I don’t eat quiche, and I won’t eat any pudding that has egg in it either.” What miracle dish are they going to whip up in a hurry?

I’d like to show people that being a vegetarian is easy, not scary. For me, eating eggs indirectly through these food stuffs, allows me a healthy and easy relationship with food and society.

When you can control the environment and you have a choice as to your own cooking, it gets a little stickier. I don’t eat animals for ethical reasons, understanding that meat is served on a plate after immense and unnecessary suffering, so too, my reasons for eating eggs should follow. While I don’t believe that an unfertilised egg can feel pain, I do know that most eggs come from battery-farmed hens that live in excruciatingly painful and uncomfortable conditions.

So is it okay if one eats the eggs but not the hen?
I choose to eat eggs that are produced naturally, with as little artificial processes and environments as possible. This means I choose organic eggs, rather than free range and yes, there is a difference!

As per Wiki’s definition, “Organic egg production is the production of eggs through organic means. In this process, the poultry are fed organic feed. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, organic means that the laying hens must have access to the outdoors and cannot be raised in cages. Organic egg producers cannot use antibiotics except during an infectious outbreak. Only natural molting can occur within the flock; forced molting is not allowed. Organic certification also requires maintenance of basic animal welfare standards.”

In South Africa, according to the NSCPA , organic is taken to mean “without chemicals or pesticides in any form in producing (…) and feeding its farm animals”.
Where animal welfare is concerned, it is argued that organic is the lesser of the two evils.

In South Africa, there is no formal free range standard, but generally free range is accepted to mean that chickens can have access to the outdoors. Often there is only a small door, much like a cat-flap, in the enclosed area where chickens are kept that is occasionally opened to theoretically allow the chickens out. Similarly, so called “vegetarian eggs” , which refer to chickens that are fed a vegetarian diet, do not necessarily mean that the chickens live in good conditions.

Where to find organic eggs
Naturally to find suppliers that only sell organic eggs is a problem. And you have to be prepared to pay the price once you find the elusive Old Mac Donald. Ideally, you can only really know if what you are eating if you are raising it yourself, but let’s be honest, it’s not practical rearing chickens in our urban environments.

As far as possible, whether in restaurants or at home, I try to ensure I am eating “happy” eggs by being practical. It is a small effort to ask what type of eggs the restaurant uses, but it’s not always possible to eat organic eggs – especially if you are travelling to far and quaint places which don’t often have these luxuries.

In these instances, I compromise and eat whatever-is-served eggs, rather than going on a starvation campaign. At home I cook, as far as possible, with organic eggs. For me, I try to balance what fits my lifestyle and my conscious.

Starting small
If you are making sacrifices, start small by doing something that is practical and that you feel comfortable doing in order to lead a happy and healthy vegetarian diet. At the end of the day, you are the one who will have to be happy with your choices and when someone asks you to explain your lifestyle choice, feel comfortable enough not to end up with egg on your face.

Some stockists for organic eggs:
If you know of a trader in organic eggs in your area, please let us know so that we can update this list!
If you buy from Woolies, you can generally be satisfied that their free range means their hens do go outside. But, their ready-made meals all use battery-farmed eggs and do not use the free-range kind.
• Organic Shop in Constantia +27 (0) 21 794 1888
• Ingrid, a happy lady selling “happy” eggs on her small-holding in Cape Town +27 (0)21 794 1888
• Wellness Warehouses, especially the one in Kloof St.
• Farm markets generally all sell organic eggs. Try the ones in Tokai, Elgin and Biscuit Mill all on Saturdays
• You can get organic eggs online from the Ethical Co-Op at
• Camphill Farm +27 (0)28 313 8200 in Hermanus whose eggs are available on Saturdays at Christian Community Centre, Timour Hall Road, Plumstead.

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3 Responses to this article

Pieter Bosch October 11, 2010 Reply

I guess it is a lifestyle choice you make, but dont be fooled between clever marketing and advertising campaigns which is designed to trick you into a false sense of security when in reality the true facts could dictate very different. Take the bottled water case of purity, when actual facts sometimes are vastly different. Otherwise life healthy and enjoy!!!

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editor October 11, 2010 Reply

I think you make a good point regarding marketing. One local example is Fair Cape, who launched a Fair Cape Free Range milk initiative some time ago.
Another local blog I came across actually visited the Fair Cape farm to see for themselves whether their cows are as ‘happy’ as they advertise them to be.
While they are certainly not lying, the real-life conditions can be quite different to what you expect. You can read their article here.

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Laura.Cooke October 13, 2010 Reply

A friend gave me the details of a Stellenbosch retailer”:
Tel: 021 886 9373

But, I think that it is worth compiling a much more comprehensive list as we go along.

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