A lot of people talk about “eating free range” as a healthier, more eco-conscious decision. But what does that mean and should you eat free range too?
The term “free range” almost always refers to chickens, more specifically, the way chickens are raised, bred, housed, etc. — basically their quality of life. Chickens that are not free range are forced into tiny coops with less than ideal living conditions and are just alive to be mass produced and killed when the time comes. Free range is seen as the more humane way to breed chickens, even if you are eventually going to kill and sell them. Free range chickens have more room to run, are fed natural products, and generally live like any other wild chicken until the day they die.
Because of this, their eggs and meat are generally more healthy, but also more expensive. It’s far cheaper to store 10 chickens in one tiny coop that just one chicken per coop. Giving your livestock a place to roam is also costly. We’ll go through the details a little more, but essentially the decision comes down to: is your health and conscious worth saving a few dollars?
A published report in Mother Earth News compared nutritional data between free range eggs and commercial eggs. Their study found that free range eggs had on average:
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta-carotene
So clearly there are health benefits to eating free range eggs. A lot of people also claim that free range eggs and meat taste better. I don’t think what tastes better could ever be a definitive fact, and some of these people might just have a bit self-confirming bias, but nevertheless, the benefits are not necessarily only health related.
Next time you go to the grocery store, notice the price difference between the commercial white eggs and the eggs that are labeled as “cage free,” “free range,” or “organic.” They’re usually around a dollar or two more than the commercial eggs. That’s really all it comes down to. Is a dollar or two more for a dozen eggs worth it to you to know that you’re getting a healthier and potentially better tasting product, as well as knowing what you’re eating lived in a humane way.
For me, it is worth it. For you, it may not be. Budgets are tight and we need to cut costs whenever we can. No one will fault you for that. But if you do have the luxury of choosing a superior product for a little more money, next time you’re at the store, buy free range.