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3 Compelling Reasons to Rethink How You Use Eggs

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Springtime practices for decreasing health risks and increasing spiritual connections.

Tis’ the season when eggs are on many minds—from humans decorating homes for Easter to birds constructing nests in hidden roof eaves and budding tree branches for their soon-to-hatch babies. And, yet, when was the last time you really contemplated your relationship to birds and their eggs?

For over six million years, we four-leggeds have been swiping eggs from our feathered neighbors. Our distant ancestors grabbed them straight from wild bird nests to eat raw. Eventually, humans “domesticated” some of the feathered folks so that eggs would be more easily accessible—and a breakfast standard. These days, Americans, on average, eat 297 chicken eggs a year. That’s 97 billion nationwide from over 325 million hens—most of whom live in less-than-stellar environments and receive questionable treatment. So, there are many compelling reasons for reducing or replacing our egg intake with healthier, more compassionate options. Here are three.

1. For your own health.

    Eggs—and dietary cholesterol in general—have been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and increased risks for developing colon, rectal, and prostate cancer. Moderate egg consumption can triple the risk for bladder cancer. People who consume more than three eggs a week have a higher risk for diabetes. Eating over five eggs a week can significantly increase the risk of breast cancer.

    With a growing list of egg-cellent replacement options—for breakfast and baking—why exactly are we risking these health problems?

    Practice: Meditate or journal on these thought-starting questions:

    • Do I know the health risks of the food I eat?
    • How often do I research what I put in my body?
    • Where do my beliefs about what I should eat come from?
    • What prevents me from trying new alternatives to risky foods?

    2. For the health of other species we share the planet with.

    Beyond human health risks, the cost of taking eggs from birds is even more troubling because it doesn’t just increase the risk of an adverse outcome for us. The processes that help eggs get to our tables consistently create stress, health problems, and a surprising amount of death for other sentient beings.

    [Also read: “Going Vegan After 50.”]

    This should give us pause. Food companies go to great lengths to hide the dark side of what happens behind slickly marketed, supposedly healthy, free-range birds. So, unless you are getting your eggs from your backyard, here are a few more numbers you ought to know:

    • 95 percent of all eggs are created in factory farms, not in the picturesque farm scenes printed on egg cartons.
    • Organic does not mean good welfare for animals.
    • Virtually all egg companies kill every male bird born—about 50 percent of the baby chickens—because they can’t lay eggs. (#sexism!) So, they put the little feathered dudes in grinders, gas them, or electrocute them. While they are living. Yep, without anesthesia.
    • Mama chickens are frequently starved—for 7 to 14 days—to increase their production of eggs. And they usually never see their babies.

    Ok, enough of the gory details, I promise.

    You can learn more about how to decipher what egg carton labels like “cage-free” or “free-range” really mean in this easy chart from the Humane Society. And find out what practices are used by popular egg brands with detailed, easy-to-read scorecards from the Cornucopia Institute.

    Practice: Mindfully research cruelty-free options for your favorite egg-inclusive foods.

    • Breakfast eggs: JUST makes unbelievably delicious plant-based “eggs” that you can scramble.
    • Mayo: Plant-based recipes abound online, and you can now get egg-free mayos such as Veganaise in most grocery stores.
    • Baking cookies: S&H’s Kalia Kelmenson swears by replacing eggs with soaked chia seeds in her cookie recipes. To replace one egg, whisk together one tablespoon of ground chia into three tablespoons of water until they are fully absorbed and thicken.
    • Making cakes: I’m partial to replacing eggs with applesauce or bananas—1/4 cup of either replaces one egg.
    • Better brownies: Replace each egg called for in your recipe with three tablespoons of creamy peanut butter. Yum.
    • Use your tech: Download the “gonutss—Vegan Translator” app for your phone. Then click on “Baking Calculator” to get instant ratios for popular egg replacements.

    3. Because we value spirituality.

    Most of our spiritual traditions include some version of the Golden Rule, suggesting if there was anything close to a Global Spiritual Ethic that would be it. Vedic tradition suggests, “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you”(Mahabharata 5:1517). Judaism concurs, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”(Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Buddhism follows suit, “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”(The Buddha Udana-Varga 5:18).

    On and on, we find this sentiment. As spiritual people, we need to heed this universal wisdom: Avoid treating other sentient beings in ways we wouldn’t want to be treated.

    Our distant ancestors thought birds were just dumb creatures without feelings, here to pop out eggs for us hungry humans. And yet, scientists tell us otherwise. For example, we know chickens communicate with their babies while they are still in the eggs. Moms cluck, and babies chirp back from within their shells. A recent study suggests that adult female birds demonstrate empathy for their chicks. What’s more, chickens are social animals with distinct language who develop complex social structures and look out for others in their group. Further, they can count and have impressive cognitive abilities⎯some more advanced than cats, dogs, and some primates.

    Practice: Increase your compassion for animals by reading about them and then reflecting on their lives. Start with AnimalKind: Remarkable Discoveries about Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion by Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone or Experiencing Animal Minds: An Anthology of Animal-Human Encounters edited by Julie A. Smith and Robert W. Mitchell.

    Read more: “Finding Your Purpose Through Animal Rescue.”