Eating eggs is often the topic of controversy within the vegan community. There are some vegans that say it’s ethical to eat ‘cruelty-free eggs’ from hens in a backyard setting, calling themselves “veggans”. While other vegans are quick to say it strictly breaks the vegan code.
But strictly speaking, eggs are an animal product so it’s hard for most vegans to justify eating them. Even if they do come from hens that are not being kept for commercial purposes.
So, vegan or not - which side are you on?
I’ll say off the top, I’m not writing this post to judge you either way.
I find the argument fascinating, as I do veganism. So, I’m going to explore both sides and (hopefully) add some clarity and understanding to the debate.
What It Means to Be Vegan
The definition of vegan as so eloquently and precisely defined by Viva.org is as follows:
Vegans don’t eat, wear or use anything from animals — whether from land animals (meat, dairy, eggs, honey, shellac, leather, fur etc) or from water animals (fish, prawns, crab, lobster etc). Vegans also exclude, as far as is practicable, all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty.
That makes it pretty clear what it means to be a vegan, right?
So, Why Do Some Vegans Eat Eggs?
I know what you’re wondering; if being vegan means not eating anything produced by an animal, why do some vegans eat eggs?
More so, how are those “veggans”, as they call themselves able to justify it?
First of all, let’s look at why some vegans choose to eat eggs. While I can’t speak on behalf of all vegans, I can point out the obvious - it can be hard getting a balanced diet as a vegan.
There is a lot of good and important nutrition that comes from animal products. Certain nutrients like vitamins D and B12, as well as minerals like calcium, iron, and iron, are easy to come by when eating animal products.
They’re not so easy to come by when eating a vegan diet, however. At least, not without going out of your way to plan your meals accordingly.
Eating eggs is one of the best and quickest ways to bridge this nutritional gap.
Eggs contain all of those vitamins and minerals, as well as a host of other good nutritional content.
Whatever your views are on whether or not it’s ethical to eat eggs, there is no doubt eggs are nutritional powerhouses.
The second point is a question of ethics. First of all, it’s important to be aware that hens naturally produce eggs due to a combination of sunlight, good living conditions, and good nutrition.
They do not need a rooster to produce eggs. If a rooster is present in the flock, the only difference will be that the eggs may be fertilized.
In a commercial setting, I totally understand the ethical problems, especially in a battery hen setting. I don’t know anyone who would disagree keeping hens in cages is cruel, we should all avoid consuming eggs from battery hens.
On the other end of the spectrum are free-range and backyard chickens. Veggans advocate consuming eggs from ethically raised hens in a backyard setting as they’re living happy and healthy lives.
If you raise backyard chickens, they’re going to lay eggs. That’s just a fact.
Some vegans are happy to eat the eggs from their own chickens because they know exactly how they’ve been treated.
These eggs are from free-range chickens, they may even be fed an organic diet. If you keep backyard chickens and you don’t want the eggs, you can’t stop hens from laying them.
So, it does raise the question of what you’re going to do with those eggs if you don’t want to use them.
Related - Do hens have periods?
What Do Vegan Chicken Owners Do With the Eggs?
It’s fairly common for vegans to adopt ex-commercial hens or raise backyard chickens from chicks.
Adopting ex-commercial hens, in particular, is a noble thing as they would have otherwise almost certainly been killed.
However, even when commercial hens are no longer useful in a commercial setting from a profitable standpoint, they will still lay eggs.
Unless they are in the final year or so of their lives that is. Hens do produce fewer eggs as they age, eventually coming to a halt in their twilight years.
From researching what vegans do with eggs produced by their own hens, I get three different answers:
- They eat some or all of the eggs - As discussed, veggans have taken the view that it’s ok for them to eat eggs from chickens they are raising ethically themselves.
- They give away or sell the eggs - Most vegans give the eggs away. There is a stance that they shouldn’t be taken, but leaving them to pile up causes problems. It attracts predators, hens go broody and sit on them, and it can cause a mess as chickens will break some.
- They feed them back to the chickens - I’ve read some accounts that some vegans would rather feed them back to the hens than take them away. It’s fine for chickens to eat eggs, and they provide some good nutrition. Personally, I don’t see this as a sustainable option though.
Is It Ethical to Eat Eggs From Your Own Chickens?
The answer to this question is going to come down to individual beliefs. For me personally, however, I see it as the most ethical way to produce and consume eggs.
It’s really the only way to know how the hens laying the eggs you’re eating are being treated - because you’re the one raising them.
You know exactly what your hens eat, how much time and freedom they have to roam free-range, and what their living conditions are.
Even “free-range” or “organic” eggs you buy in the supermarket come with a caveat. It comes as a pretty big surprise every time I tell someone this, but commercially-labeled free-range hens don’t have to have the freedom to free-range all day.
In fact, the USDA’s definition of free-range is as follows:
Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
They don’t even have to prove that the hens go outside….
To eat cruelty-free eggs, or not to eat them; that is the ethical dilemma a lot of vegans have to face.
This is a tough call, and it’s really going to come down to your own personal beliefs. There is no doubting the fact that eggs provide a lot of the essential nutrients we need in our diets when looking at that side of the debate.
I'll end by reaffirming that I'm totally non-judgemental on this topic. I can see the arguement from both sides, and both make sense to me.
Image credits - Header photo by Tengyart on Unsplash
Definition of veganism - viva.org.uk
Do vegans eat eggs? - Healthline