It started with Brioche.
Brioche is our cat, and the first animal I’ve gotten to know on that close, daily basis. It’s kind of like having a roommate, where you’re used to seeing each other go to the bathroom and eat things you probably shouldn’t be eating late at night. Her name was randomly chosen from a cookbook and doesn’t have any relation to how she looks. As you can see, she’s black and white and probably should have a name like Tuxedo (I also tried to rename her Little Shadow after the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song but it never stuck). We adopted her when we first got married, and it’s been such a revelation to have a relationship with an animal.
A couple of years earlier, I started reading Michael Pollan’s books, learning about the industrial agri-food system, and like many people circa 2008, getting appalled at the way our food is produced. Meat never had that big of an appeal to me, and I decided that cutting back on meat and seeking out ethically-sourced, naturally-raised would be my first step. Years later, I can say that it is still a struggle sometimes to go to the grocery store, and choose ethical meat over conventional despite its price difference. But I couldn’t unsee the needless suffering of animals in the farming and production process, and dissociate it from intelligent, sentient animals – who could’ve been a Brioche to someone else. I don’t meant to sentimentalize every pork chop we eat, but to respect it as coming from an animal and a life.
I want to zero in on eggs though, because it was that something small that we let slip in our grocery trips. In an effort to save money we got into the habit of buying conventional eggs. This past winter I was at the dismal big box grocery store near our house, looking at an enormous display of eggs. I could get the cheapest ones and be on my way, or I could get everything from “free-range” to “nest-laid” to organic. At that moment I had so little willpower to honour my conscience that I had to force myself to do an online search on my phone of how chickens can be treated in the production of eggs. And it can be really bad, some of which you’ve probably heard of and if not, this site has some great reasons to at least buy cage-free eggs (with sources! Grad students rejoice). If you’re not familiar with the subject at all, you may want to start at this site instead, run by the Vancouver Humane Society. They talk about the problem specifically in Canada, explaining the development of battery cages and how 95% of Canadian farms treat egg-laying chickens more like machines than living animals.
Since then, it’s been great to discover more sources of ethically-sourced eggs, and the different flavours and even colours the eggs can come in. If you’re in Montreal, I’ve been referring to this thread on the Quebec Chowhound. My favourite discovery has been heritage eggs, from hens that naturally lay hued eggs ranging from brown to green to blue (like in the photo above). And for those trying to respect their grocery budget, PA Nature in Montreal has been putting their blue heritage eggs on sale for $5 a dozen – a steal in terms of ethical eggs. Heritage eggs are from heritage breeds of hens, rarer ones that are less productive but have greater genetic diversity and are generally free-range/pastured and ethical. I’ve also found that heritage eggs have a darker-colour yolk that’s just a bit richer in flavour. Finally, they are a lot of fun to have around – I’ve even saved some shells as decorations, reminding me of the marvelous beauty of nature.