The vast Iowa egg recall is terrifying. So far, half a billion eggs are involved. Who knows how many we have already eaten? Our health authorities say about 1,300 Americans have gotten salmonella from them so far.
I spend a lot of time cooking for my two preschoolers and coaxing them to eat. They have eggs several times a week. I’m getting a tiny bit of relief from this harrowing news from the fact that I mostly buy my family’s eggs at our favorite farmers’ market. When I don’t buy our eggs there, I’ve been trying my best to only get the “certified humane” kind. Sure, this means paying four times as much as the eggs produced by Jack DeCoster and his ilk, but it’s safer for my family and other than the potential that they come from hens that have had their beaks sliced off, it’s also likely that these chickens are treated better than 99 percent of their peers in this country.
Supposedly the factory-farm methods that contributed to this crisis are on the verge of becoming more humane, at least if you believe this New York Times article. Yet most of the coverage I’m finding about the recall focuses on the superficial aspects of it, such as advice for consumers to lay off runny yolks for a while. This should be a wakeup call for consumers as well as American agribusiness.
Dirt-cheap protein is a fine ideal that it isn’t worth risking our lives. And the way we’ve abused animals to get them to become cogs in our increasingly automated food chain is downright immoral. As is the systematic abuse of underpaid farmworkers. Hens deserve enough room to roost, food that they can peck from the ground, and the right to retain their beaks. Raising animals in conditions that make them sick while injuring the workers who slaughter them is immoral. The animals’ illnesses and the antibiotics pumped into them for prevention and treatment it are too risky for consumers. I’m reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals at the moment, which makes a lot of these points in vivid–and uncomfortable–detail.