April 10, 2014

So, eggs are great, right? The Incredible Edible Egg? I do love eggs...

But sometimes - like last Sunday - I find myself at Hy-Vee by my house already hungry and needing to make a quiche or something ASAP and kicking myself for not planning well enough to have great eggs around.

"But there are local eggs in that 'natural' section right?"

The answer to that, is "Maybe". And it's not a simple one at that.

First off, Nebraska is kind-of the middle of farm country and right next to the #1 egg producing state in the country (Iowa). So 'local' isn't really enough of a qualifier for me.

Second, the whole grocery store feels like a trap sometimes. Make one wrong move, and you're being tricked into buying 'multigrain' instead of whole wheat! Let your guard down for a second, and you're eating xanthan gum and sorbitol! Grocery stores are filled with food-land-mines to navigate!

Yeah, yeah, back to eggs. Okay.

There are some brands at Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, TJ's, and whatever else that look a little more 'friendly' - depending on what your goals are. Here are the rough 'categories' of eggs you can get. This information isn't really easy to find in a concise manner, but the Humane Society's website does a decent job.
  1. Pasture-raised, Certified Organic. Hens are raised outdoors with room to perch, forage and act like birds. They are frequently moved on to fresh grass and their feed is USDA Certified Organic.  $4.50-5.50/ dozen.
  2. Pasture-raised, non-organic. Same as above, and feed is high-quality, vegetarian. But not organic. $3.50-4.50/dozen.
  3. Certified Organic. Hens are for the most part, raised indoors and should be given access to the outdoors (this does not always happen). Feed is USDA Certified Organic. While they have limited space, they are not caged and do eat a quality feed ration free from pesticides, herbicides and GMO-ingredients. $3.50-4.50/dozen.
  4. Cage Free / “free-range.” Hens are raised in a warehouse of up to 100,000 hens per house. They may never see natural light, breathe fresh air or see a blade of grass. Feed is non-organic and potentially 'yucky' stuff. $2.50/ dozen.
  5. Caged. Same as above, but hens are in cages. $1.50/ dozen.
Currently, there are approximately 180 egg-producing companies in the U.S. with flocks of 75,000 hens
or more. These companies represent about 95% of all the layers in the United States.

Hormones are never given to chicks or egg-laying hens. So when something is promoted as 'hormone free' - so are 100% of the eggs sold in the U.S. anyway. Similarly, terms like 'natural', ' antibiotic free' and 'cage free' don't mean anything.

When I'm thinking ahead, I prefer to get my eggs from the Nebraska Food Coop. Lots of good quality producers here. Read the descriptions. This is my preferred egg source and really one of the main reasons we have a coop membership (and meat). Here's what I'd consider a 5 on the scale above.

Common Good Farm - #2094 – Certified Organic Pasture-Based Eggs ($5.56/doz)
Our lovely brown eggs are certified organic, ranged on our certified Biodynamic pastures. We custom mix our own feed ration made from organic grains from other organic farmers in Nebraska. Our hens are on pasture in movable houses, working in a rotation with our small cattle herd, pigs and in the fallow vegetable fields post-season. They are an important part of our whole farm system. Eggs are packed nest run. Carton weight averages minimum of medium and usually closer towards large to extra large for total carton weight. We're sure you'll enjoy them...folks rave about them once they've tried them. A real farm favorite!
But if you're not into spending that much, there are plenty of other great options with prices ranging down to $2.60/doz (see below). Most if not all of the coop produces would qualify as a 4 on the chart above.

Prairie Pride Poultry - #5393 - Farm Fresh Pasture Raised Brown Eggs (Small)
Hello, and thank you for visiting! My name is Dan Hromas, and I am a military veteran living in York, NE. I started this small poultry farm - Prairie Pride Poultry - last year with a mission to provide high quality, locally sourced eggs. The farm raises Rhode Island Reds on pasture; its holistic core is the belief and practice of humane treatment of the flock...after all, HAPPY HENS LAY HEALTHY EGGS!
These free-range, cage-free eggs are GRADE A SMALL (1.5 - 1.75 ounces); they are perfect to hard boil and pickle, or use as a snack or in a salad. LAYER RATIONS DO NOT CONTAIN ANITBIOTICS, HORMONES, OR ANIMAL BY-PRODUCTS.
Nebraska egg/packing number is: N3815
Feel free to visit the farm on Facebook to see pictures and updates (transparency and connection to the consumer is important): www.facebook.com/prairiepridepoultry
I'm such a huge fan of the coop also because there are several delivery sites around town, so it's convenient for everyone. And there's always Tomato Tomato too if you're in the area of 156th & Center (I am not).

Besides some national brands that seem more reputable (Organic Valley, Vital Farms) the closest thing I could find at Hy-Vee that looked like my Coop eggs were these (which had a stamp on the side that said "Wes & Julie's Family Farm":

But what does this mean? Nothing really. Except they're apparently from Nebraska. Just not enough information...  

Here's another little anecdote. Did you know why other countries don't need to refrigerate their eggs? Yep, we clean and sanitize them so well the natural coating that protects the eggs is also cleaned right off, leaving opportunity for contamination if the eggs aren't refrigerated. Where in Europe, they do exactly the opposite. Their rates of salmonella are apparently on decline, and ours are on the rise. Hmm.

So finally... when buying eggs, if you can't find a local farm or backyard chicken coop you know and trust, look for some of these things on the label - Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, Pasture-Raised, Organic-Pasture-Raised, or Food Alliance Certified are all decent options.

Other label items, no matter how nice they might sound, may not mean anything. If you care about what you're buying - for health, humane treatment of the animals, local economy, whatever... it pays to also care enough to do a bit of research. (Or in my case, a lot.)

Where do your eggs come from? Do you care?

April 06, 2014

Okay, that's not entirely accurate.

Though I'm not going out of my way to get them, it does make me feel pretty special when a new one pops up on my Yelp mobile app. Here's a running tally of what I've 'earned' and the reasons.

Because, while I certainly don't need them, I do love those stinking badges.
True Yelper - You check-in and you write reviews about those places. You're a True Yelper, and we're proud of you.
This badge was for checking in and then reviewing at least 10 places. No sweat.

Master - Would you feel this iron grip handshake!  Now that's the thumb-strength of a bona fide check-in Master!  The question remains though: do you have what it takes to conquer the elusive and exclusive next level?  Few do.  Good luck, my friend, and may the Yelp be with you.
This level is for having 200+ check-ins. Next up is Yelpus Maximus for 1,000+. Somewhat shocking that I'm not there yet, but someday...
Baccus - You earned the Bacchus badge!  In vino veritas.  You certainty know your pinots.
While I wouldn't say I know my wines, I do like a pinot from time to time. More importantly, I like the places that serve them. Lot 2, Moonstruck Meadery and my many, many, check-ins at Fox Hollow all contributed to this great achievement. 
Barfly - Proust, compadre! You just earned the Barfly badge. Whether it's a highball or bottom shelf, you know just how to uncork this town. Now if you'll stop photo bombing the background of people's pictures, they'd appreciate it.
Just check into 4 bars. No problem.
Big Night - You know how you have those epic nights filled with good food and drink and assorted revelry?  You're having one.
7+ check-ins in a single evening. I used to remember the specific night this was, but have since forgotten because there have been several epic nights in recent years. Good times.
Brewed Awakening - You earned the Brewed Awakening badge!  Having a steaming cup of java before 8am makes you quite the coffee achiever!
Epic Big Night badges necessitate Brewed Awakenings. 
Carrot Top - Veggin' out never felt so good! Be it earthen or oceanic, your diet sans animalia deserves proper d├ęcor. We hope you brought your best molars and bicuspids, brothers and sisters. It's time to pump up the yams.
I do remember when this was earned, because ironically it was for multiple check-ins at Block 16, more than anything else. Don't have to be ordering vegetarian items to earn this badge... just frequent places that have good options. 
Conehead - Woo!  You earned the Conehead badge!  You clearly scream for ice cream.
This was for multiple check-ins at Ted & Wally's one summer when we had friends visiting and we ended up binging on ice cream several times, then going back to pick up free tickets to roller derby (and obviously getting MORE ice cream).
Maverick - Because ratings are overrated, because you go your own way - and because you'll never lose that lovin' feeling for your city's rugged good looks. You're dangerous. Yeah, dangerous... and there's a badge for that.
The Maverick badge is basically for checking in at places that have low average Yelp ratings. My favorite lower-than-average locations are DJ's Dugout and Mixed.
High Roller - Feeling spendy, Yelpy Warbucks! We present to you a badge to celebrate your wealth of fiscal accomplishments. And a congratulatory dinner in your honor, you request? Alright, but you're buying.
Desipte my many check-ins at TGP, the last three check-ins that led up to this were V. Mertz, 801 Chophouse and... wait for it... The Apple Store. LOL!
Meathead - Congratulations, carnivorous commando of this fair city. You've earned the Meathead badge! No bones about it. You kick it at the top of the food chain, where you don't have any neighbors... anymore.
I don't think of myself as frequenting steakhouses, but those check-ins do add up over the years. Place at Perry's (TX), The Strip Club (MN), The Drover (NE), JJ's (MO), St. Elmo Steak House (IN) and more. 
Mexi-Can - You earned the Mexi-Can Badge!  Just an FYI: a burrito is not a food group.
I love mexican, and Omaha has tons of good options. The annual Taco Tour alone nearly qualifies to earn this badge. 
Sharing is Caring - We know they lack your local knowledge, but you let your friends tag along and check-in with you. Sharing choice picks out of your black book of recommendations earns you massive karma points and this badge!
It's something like the Instigator, but 
the actions that lead to this badge are a secret.
Mobile Streaker - Oh dear, we are so scandalized... by your unwavering commitment to check-in every day! You should know this badge isn't big enough to conceal your well-endowed list of check-ins.
The description of this one cracks me up. It's apparently for checking in every day for a week.
Statesman - Whether by land, sea, air or quantum leap, you don't just get there; you arrive. You check in no matter your state (of mind). East Coast? West Coast? It's all the Best Coast.
Something having to do with checking in in multiple states. 
Soused - Wow!  You earned the Soused Badge!  Hope you've got your drinkin' pants on.  Even the most seasoned revelers would have trouble keeping up with you after 4 bar check-ins in one night!
I do remember when I earned this badge (ironically). It was St. Paddy's day 2012, I believe, and we were doing the Leavenworth crawl.  
Nighthawk - Cheers to a seasoned professional of all things nocturnal (AM's the new PM anyway, right?)  So, congratulations, sport! You're now clutching the Nighthawk badge.
Traveling late (and early) as well as visiting Localmotive contributed to this wonder.
Sushi Sensei - Bansai! You just earned the Sushi Sensei badge for recently checking in to 6 sushi restaurants. Just go easy on the wasabi.
Checking in at multiple sushi restaurants. They also changed the graphics of this recently. I definitely prefer the fish.
Crosstown Magic - Wow, from one 'hood to the next all in one day, you sure know how to get around!
I first earned crosstown magic for checking in at multiple places all over Denver. Thanks public transportation!
Instigator - You've just earned the Instigator badge! Ain't no bull (horn) about it, when you check-in somewhere, your friends follow.
This was for a couple of our original Yelp Omaha events, back before we were fancy with our own CM. Taqueria el Paisa and Saigon Surface.
Domestic - What some see as a chore, you see as a score!  Need it be laundered or grocered, gassed up, packed up or bought.  You get it done.  And for that kind of foxy moxy a badge... we dub thee: Domestic!
Funny, I don't feel too domestic most days. But there are times I go to multiple grocery stores in a single day. WF, TJ's, Wohlners and Hy-Vee.
Globetrotter - You earned the Globetrotter badge!  Your yelping knows no boundaries!
Airport check-ins. OMA, DIA, DFW, ORD, GRB, and MDW. 
Gym Junkie - Pump.  Stretch.  Sweat.  Must.  Not.  Miss.  A.  Workout.  All these check-ins definitely earned you a Gym Junkie badge.
Check-ins at 4+ gym locations. In my case, Farrell's eXtreme Bodyshaping locations in multiple cities. Got to work off that food somehow.
Geek - Brains will always be greater than brawn. Just because you can't crush a beer can between your powerful intellect and vast imagination doesn't mean we won't make a spectacle of you and your taped-up glasses. Wear this Geek badge proudly - perhaps coterminous to your vintage Batman backpack patch?
I knew this one was only a matter of time.
Global Domination - Whether it's coq au vin, pad see ew, bratwurst or some other worldly vittle, your taste buds are ready to conquer them!
This one also... only a matter of time. 6+ check-ins at restaurants with different international cuisines. Espana, Vietnamese Asian, Lalibela Ethopian, Hiro 88, Marrakech Gourmet, Ablerado's, Jaipur, Sultan's Kite, Three Happiness... I love them all. 
Happy Hour Power - There's a time in everyone's life when they achieve what no one can take from them... and that time is usually around quittin' time. You, like all savvy locals, know this isn't budget boozin'. It's a celebration - because life is aolid with liquid revelry.
Hey, it's 5'o'clock somewhere.
Glamorama - You earned the Glamorama badge! Looking this good is not just an art, it is an extension of your personality.
Not a badge I'd really plan on earning, since nobody I know would ever describe me as a Glamorama. But, you see, pedicures and hair appointments do add up.