Marian Bull’s writing proves that you can make any topic fascinating just by how you write about it. For Eater, Bull surveys the history of our love-and-sometimes-hate relationship with egg yolks to arrive at the latest craze in eggs: “shockingly orange yolks” and how—sadly—this vibrancy is brought to us mostly by virtue signalling, meant to help us feel better about our egg-buying choices.
Last spring, my boyfriend brought a dozen of these eggs into my kitchen. They seemed harmless at first, but when he scrambled them, I found myself eating a plate of eggs closer in color to Bugs Bunny’s carrot than a simple French omelette. Later, I fried one next to my last CSA (community-supported agriculture) egg, laid in the Catskills by a pasture-raised hen. Once transferred to a bowl of rice, they looked like a clone experiment gone wrong. The CSA yolk was a deep goldenrod, fat and happy-looking. The Happy Egg yolk was such an aggressive reddish orange it looked like a pustule.
And as the last decade’s farm-to-table and locavore movements (and, importantly, their aesthetics) have gone mainstream, the “farm egg” has become ubiquitous, its yolk an object of our undivided attention. We want it jammy, that sludgy midway between soft- and medium-boiled. We want it over easy, its yolk sploojing across the plate. And we want its color to convince us that it was not hatched in some animal welfare hellscape.
Egg carton marketing, which is at best opaque and at worst a pernicious lie, would have us believe that the hens who imparted these eggs to the bourgeois grocery shopping class are twirling through pastoral fields like Maria in The Sound of Music.
If you walk the aisles of Mr. Mango or just about any feel-good grocery store, a binary narrative might appear in your brain. There are the bad farms — styrofoam carton, diseased hens shitting on each other — and then there are the good ones, whose hens are happy and free to roam, and lay eggs abundant with nutrients and vibrant color.
In reality, that binary is a spectrum, and a muddy one. Yes, factory farms wreak environmental and ethical havoc. And it is possible to buy eggs from hens who have lived a much more humane and carefree life than you have. (The easiest way to do this is to buy directly from a small farm whose practices you’ve researched or asked them about.) But the middle ground between those places is far wider, and more common, than egg labels would like us to think. And where the question of flavor is concerned, the equation becomes even jammier.