The same flock of chickens, even the same breed, lays fascinatingly diverse eggs. But chances are you’ve never seen them.
In part, that’s because hens in a commercial operation don’t live out their natural lifespan, so the rippled, dimpled, and bumpy-shelled eggs they’re more likely to lay as they get older don’t happen. And in part because non-standard eggs never make it to the grocery store carton — tossed out or relegated to “egg product” uses.
I put the most interesting eggs in our cartons with joy, sure the people who buy them will be delighted. I’m startled when people say they don’t want “odd” eggs, some even ask if they’re okay to use, as if an unusual shell implies the contents are flawed.
Food that is standardized in appearance and flavor is very new to our species. But now, even so-called single ingredient products like orange juice consistently taste the same.
Manufacturers strip oxygen from freshly squeezed orange juice so they can easily store it for a year or more before bottling. Problem is, removing the oxygen also removes the flavor. So they’ve formulated “flavor packs” to add to the juice to make it taste fresh and, well, orange-y. That’s why your brand of orange juice always tastes the same. The ingredients added? The citrus industry says it’s “orange aroma, orange oil from the peel, and pulp.” Technically this can include chemically similar ingredients like ethyl butyrate. Consistent taste is one way corporations seek your brand loyalty (Tropicana is owned by PepsiCo, Minute Maid and Simply Orange are owned by Coca-Cola.)
Unvarying sameness is in direct opposition to the way food naturally tastes, although the word “natural” is so over-used by advertisers that it’s essentially meaningless. For all the years we raised cows, we grew to understand that milk tastes different depending on what cows ate as they grazed and the season itself. We could tell, day to day, if our cow had a hankering for a particular weed in the pasture. We could tell what spring milk tasted like in contrast to summer, fall, or winter milk. Everything we made from it — cheese, yogurt, kefir, butter —tasted of that season as well.
I can’t help but wonder if the standardization of commercial food, in taste and appearance, contributes to our cultural obsession with surface appeal. Appearance is perceived as much more desirable than substance, or at least more Instagrammable.
And I can’t help but wonder if our cultural discomfort with diversity stems in part from a corporatized food culture that prizes sameness of taste and experience in everything from packaged foods to restaurant franchises.
The egg that’s mottled, bumpy, or rippled is as nourishing as any other egg. When we see it at a farmer’s market or at a roadside stand, it’s also likely to have come from a hen living an uncaged, non-standardized existence.
We’re nourished in far deeper ways when we welcome diversity in people.