Friday, April 30, 2010

Eggs in Europe

Travelers from the United States may be quite surprised when they are shopping at markets and in stores in Europe to find that eggs are often not refrigerated. In fact they are often not even in cartons, but available for the picking into your own container.

At the markets in Spain you will find stacks of eggs at egg stands - brown, white, ecologico, conventional. In France, Germany and Switzerland the same holds true. Once the eggs are purchased, most people store them in their refrigerators at home, but some will leave them in a cool spot if they will be using them within a few days.

Part of the problem in the United States is that the food is often subjected to what I refer to as "shelf-life syndrome" where the focus is not on nutritional value or freshness but rather on how long the products will last on the shelves minimizing waste for manufacturers, grocers and big-box stores. As consumers, we loose, of course, since we not only get food altered to last far longer than nature intended, but we also miss out on the vitality, the richness and the beauty that fresh, local food offers.

I am afraid that eggs in the United States meet with the same fate, unless you are lucky enough to live where there are small farms, so hence they are refrigerated to help them last a long time.

When egg shopping I would err on the side of organic especially when buying room-temperature eggs since studies have shown that while all eggs run the risk of Salmonella, only about one quarter of organic and free range have the Salmonella contamination found more readily in conventional eggs, with the bonus that organic eggs have been found to contain more Vitamin E, beta-carotene and omega-3 fats with up to  a third less cholesterol than industrial-produced eggs.

Having spent time on a farm when I was a kid and later having had my own homestead-scale farm, I am familiar with the practice of storing eggs on a cool, shaded shelf especially when they will be used quickly.  I think this was, and is, customary for truly farm-fresh eggs. So don't be alarmed or put off by the piles of open-air eggs while you are traveling and be thankful for the culture of fresh.

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