Free-range, pasture-raised, cage free, organic, brown, white...umm what?! With so many diet philosophies out there, figuring out the right foods to eat feels complicated enough before thinking about how it got to your plate. Complicated, yes, but if you care about animal welfare it's important to understand what these different terms mean. And in case being humane is not at the top of your list, these terms also influence how nutritious eggs are, so read on.
Cage Free: Unfortunately cage-free does not mean hens basking in the sun in free flowing space. It simply means chickens aren't in cages (but are still often indoors, with about a square foot of space each, never seeing a ray of sunlight).
Free-range: Ugh, not much better here. Hens must have "access" to outdoors, but the actual regulations on how often are loose at best so it's not necessarily different than cage free.
Pasture-raised: Okay, we are getting somewhere! This actually means what you think it means. Hens have real access to grass and their natural diet of bugs (yep, that's a good thing). With that said, unless it's also labelled "certified organic" they aren't inspected. Bringing us to the next label...
Certified Organic: Hens have a diet free of antibiotics and hormones - which means you don't eat that crap.
Okay, I'm more confused now - what am I supposed to buy? Pasture-raised, certified organic eggs. Ideally from a local farm where you can trust the living environment. If possible, head to a farmer's market and talk to the sellers.
I don't care about the hen's living environment, can I just buy organic? Actually no, you should still buy pasture raised. First of all, just crack a regular egg next to one of these jewels and you will see the difference, in color, size, taste. They also have significantly higher amounts of vitamins (A, D, E, B-12, calcium, omega fatty acids, and the list goes on) - we are talking 2-3 times the amount.
Conclusion: Keep buying eggs. Each time you purchase from these smaller, responsible sellers, you are casting a vote for quality food. Nutritionally, eggs are an absolute superfood, if you buy right!