A lot of people balk at the high prices at farmer’s markets, and sometimes I do too. Paying $10 per pound for fancy greens or $20 for a small cut of beef is simply not feasible for many people’s day-to-day grocery budget. I had to mourn a little when I saw the prohibitively high price of morels, which I had been looking forward to trying. But most vegetables at the market are highly affordable, even if they cost a bit more than in a chain supermarket. And some things, like eggs, I would argue are so cheap in an absolute sense, that they are an economical food source even at twice the price of a grocery store dozen. When I think about all the wonderful things you can do with an egg, not to mention the easy source of protein, $4 per dozen seems entirely reasonable.
True, it adds up over time, but as a person living alone it takes me quite a while to go through a dozen eggs. If I end up paying an extra $25 per year to buy local, free-range eggs instead of supermarket eggs, I don’t mind. Michael Pollan, of course, waxes rhapsodic about the difference:
If you’ve ever had eggs from chickens that got to eat grass in their life, it’s a completely different food: The yolks are bright orange, they’re much more flavorful, and as it turns out, they’re more nutritious. They have more beta carotene and more omega-3 fatty acids.
I love Pollan’s books, and yes, the differences in freshness and flavor and appearance are definitely there (see, for instance, this post showing yolks side by side). But these differences are subtler than I think Pollan and other purveyors of organic food porn make them out to be, especially for basics like scrambled eggs. I wonder if the hyperbole sometimes backfires, when people try out pastured eggs for the first time and discover that they are, in fact, still eggs.
Nonetheless, I think it’s worth it to support local farmers, get a little more nutrition, and ensure that the eggs really are from free-range chickens (thanks to loopholes, there is no guarantee that labels on mass-produced eggs are accurate). Quality assurance is a lot easier when you get to talk to the chicken farmer herself. And when you’re really trying to highlight that pure egg flavor – think poached or soft-boiled – the subtle flavor and texture differences do start to matter.