Bacon and Eggs Footprint

Bacon and Egg Breakfast

BaconEggs5Bacon and eggs for breakfast has been a fairly regular go-to meal in my home, at least once a week. While I was preparing this I thought this would be a great meal to have a deeper look at and understand what this very common breakfast has for an environmental footprint. In this report I’m going to focus more on the eggs than the bacon or potatoes since I found more information that anticipated. Bacon in-depth to follow in another post.

Recipe:
2 eggs
3 strips of bacon
1 small Yukon potato
1 tsp. fat from bacon
Serves one

Directions:
Wash and scrub potato to remove eyes and any dirt. I like the peel on so I don’t peel organic potatoes. Boil potato until fork can easily penetrate the center.
Fry bacon on low in a frying pan.
As the bacon fat starts to render (melt) add the cooked potato grated, cubed, diced or cut in any shape you prefer to the pan, browning on all sides.
In a separate pan on medium melt butter. When butter has finished frothing spread around frying pan and break eggs into the center. I like my egg yolks runny and flip them once the white is set around yolk. For hard yolks flip eggs over until set.
For crispy bacon, turn occasionally and drain away excess fat as it renders.
I lean the bacon pan half on and off the burner so it is tipped on an angle. Push the bacon and potatoes at the top of the pan and let the fat drain to the lower half of pan away from bacon.
Plate.

Egg quality
There is a definite quality difference in the egg that is very fresh or not.

I poach eggs a lot and a fresh egg does not spread when placed in hot water but holds a symmetrical shape well. Vinegar is added to the water for stale or older eggs. The vinegar stops the whites from spreading as much as they would. I personally don’t like the sharp taste of vinegar or the tough skin that forms in my poached eggs, and it’s unnecessary when using fresh eggs.
The fresher the egg the harder to peel so I let fresh eggs sit for a week or two if I want them for deviled eggs,or buy them ‘fresh’ at the supermarket.
Even the eggs I buy at the farmers market are not as fresh as I think they should be but small flock and backyard eggs have consistently been amazing.

How to tell if an egg is fresh.

Fresh Egg
Fresh eggs sink to the bottom

To test an egg for freshness before cooking gently an egg in a glass of room temperature water. If it floats to the top it is old and if it sinks to the bottom of the glass it is fresh.

The reason for this is, as the egg ages the egg whites and membranes deteriorate and an air pocket forms. The older the egg the larger the air pocket. Fresh eggs are hard to peel after boiling, because the membrane is firmly attached to the shell and the white fills the shell. Go here for more information.
Go here to learn how to read an egg carton
Environmental Footprint

Water Footprint
1 Egg = 50 gallons of water to feed and raise the chicken x 2 eggs = 100 gallons
Bacon x 3 slices = 119 gallons
Small potato = 3.6 gallons
Minimum Total = approx. 223 gallons of water to grow this breakfast

Carbon Footprint – Travel what I used to calculate

Carbon comparison of protein sources – Chicken or Cheese

Eggs
The eggs were bought locally from Schwartz Farms in Quincy, MI. Quincy is further than I thought, about 78 miles one way. = Approx: 695 kg CO2

I also buy eggs from a friend who bring their eggs to work. These travel about 20 milles each way. Approx.= 36 kg. CO2

Potatos
Potatoes came from Tantre Farms, 28 miles one way. = 250 kg. CO2

Bacon
Bacon from my local butcher comes from Smith’s Meat Packing in Port Huron.
99 miles away from the meat packers, unclear how far the pork came from,and where it was slaughtered. = 882 kg CO2
I can’t find a bacon source exactly but there are references to local pork and union membership.

Minimum Total = 1827 kg CO2

This is not an accurate measurement the carbon footprint for this meal starts at .5 metric tons of CO2e one way (measurement will vary with make a model of vehicle, gas mileage, vehicle efficiency and many other variables.

Animals – a new element to measure

Animals, meat, dairy, poultry and fish all add many more elements of scrutiny to the analysis of recipes beyond their environmental footprint. What are my comfort levels for their raising, lifespan and slaughter? Animal products in recipes involve more than measuring carbon, water and environmental footprints. There is a humane element that I consider as well.
More and more our meat food systems are being hidden from the public. For those of us that are interested in knowing the food system in detail governmental policies, legal restrictions, health codes aside from industry choices make it difficult to truly make choices as individuals.

All these areas are concerns of mine. I don’t expect anyone else to make the same choices as myself. I am a carnivore, actually an omnivore. I love dairy, cheese, eggs, fish along with fruits, vegetable and nuts but I believe there has to be a better way to treat our land, soil and animals than we are today.
Other reading.
What a farmer had to say, go here.

Eggs: I buy from two sources.

The first is locally grown eggs from farmers at the farmers market. I can ask the farmers what they feed the eggs, and how they house them.I believe the farmers and they answer frankly. Most of the chickens are fed corn, and yes much of the corn is GMO. One farmer I talked to at the market said he can’t get organic. I’m not sure he tried because others can. On some farms chickens can roam some can’t, so I choose who I want to support. Generally the bigger the farm the less I’ll buy from them.
This is a great link to learn how to read egg cartons and understand the life of large factory farm laying hens.

My second source of eggs is from friends or coworkers who either raise or have backyard chickens and have more eggs than they can use. These chickens are able to wander gardens and grass at will. They eat plants, insects, grubs, vegetable scraps, some supplemental chicken feed made from wheat or corn, sometimes organic. I visit these friends and can see how the chickens are treated. It is very peaceful to be in a garden in the summer with chickens around you just being chickens. Some backyard chickens are raised in ignorance and suffer but it is not my experience so far.

New Insights:
As I look into eggs, and what is required to grow and sell them, I found a few new pieces of information I was unaware of and one that seriously made me consider if I will eat eggs again.

1. Cleaning egg shells.

The shells of eggs have different compliance codes for cleaning the shells depending on where they are sold. Code for eggs sold at farmers markets are different than those sold in grocery stores. Newly laid shells may have ground soil, nest dirt, feathers and feces. Eggs at the grocery store are required to be cleaned in a weak bleach bath. Bleach has a very high water and environmental footprint as well as toxicity and I’m sure I don’t want my eggs run through a bleach bath as required by Michigan regulations. There seems to me better non-toxic, environmentally friendly ways to clean egg shells if necessary. How do they clean the egg shells? This link says it all, clean chicken pens have clean eggs that do not need further cleaning. Industrial eggs are cleaned. Eggs sold at farmers markets in Michigan do not have to be cleaned.

2. Source of egg laying hens – the Hatchery.

A hatchery is the first step in the egg industry. The hatchery is a breeder facility that lays and fertilizes the eggs. It usually take about 21 days to incubate and hatch a chick. These chicks are usually a single breed of optimal layers according to industry standards.

The most disturbing thing that was new to me was the awareness that laying hens are all females. Of course this is not news, females lay the eggs. Eggs for consumption  are usually sold unfertilized so there is little need for males hatched to egg hatcheries.

Simple genetics makes it clear that it is a 50/50% chance that a fetus maybe born male or female. Millions of egg laying hens are hatched and sold every year to egg farmers including the backyard chickens. What happens to the millions of males males hatched every year? Historically the cockerels (male chickens) were raised for meat.

Backyard chickens are often from clean happy hens carefully managed by neighbors,friends and family. They are usually bought from breeders and hatcheries. Ann Arbor does not allow roosters among backyard chickens and I understand their reasoning. Roosters are noisy and can be aggressive to other roosters, which may disturb the neighbors. My experience with roosters in a sleepy Mexican town is that they don’t just crow at dawn, they crow throughout the night constantly or when ever they feel like it.

The farmers at the farmers market grow chickens in much greater numbers and many of them buy their hens as chicks from hatcheries. Some hatch their own eggs in breeder barns. Still the fact remains that only females lay eggs, where do the male chicks go?

Sadly most of the millions of male chicks hatched every year don’t see the second day of life. On their first day they are sexed and separated from the females and either tossed into large garbage bags to be smothered, gassed or thrown into a grinder live and used for pet food. These are approved methods by the American Veterinarian Association.

This information threw me into a funk for weeks. Every egg I broke for recipes upset me knowing that there was a male chick that died for every chicken raised to lay eggs. There are a few small breeders that do not kill the males and raise them for meat but they are very small and rare.

Link to a chicken farmer discussing his view on the topic.

One Purdue chicken farmer speaks out:

The big egg industry states that males from laying hens do not grow as big and as fast as meat bred chickens, so are too expensive and time consuming to raise profitably. The American Veterinarian Association believes the grinders are humane and approved for the disposal of male chicks.

Possible Solution
1. GMO companies are working on a solution. fluorescent genetic markers from jellyfish are added to the DNA of laying hens. Eggs with male DNA that turn the male egg fluorescent, identifying it under black lights, after it is laid. This would save the industry time and money because they don’t have to take the 21 days it takes to incubate and hatch the chicks. The industry would also save money not having to pay specially trained sexers, as well as removing the bad press of euthanasia of the chicks. I’m not comfortable with fluorescent fish DNA in my eggs or my laying hens. Especially since GMO products are not labelled in the USA. Does that mean all eggs, laid to these laying chickens, for consumption (male or female) also carry the genetic marker but only visibly fluorescent in male DNA egg?

My Solution

Either purchase eggs from a backyard chicken homeowner or from a small chicken farm that breeds and raises dual breed chickens. Dual breed chickens are able to produce both meat and eggs. Eggs are fewer than a genetically bred egg chicken and the meat takes longer to grow and will not have the excessive sized breasts bred into meat chickens. How ethical are your eggs? Article

Conclusion:

I thought I was doing the right things in my choices of meat products and food sources but I can do better.

What I am doing right? Why is this important to me?

I like having the following questions to ask farmers directly. The purpose of the questions is to understand the sources of my diet and not make the farmers uncomfortable.

1. Buying from small farms. I want to know the farmer directly.
2. Talking to the farmer asking them:

a. What are the chickens fed, GMO, nonGMO or organic, insects, vegetables?

b. Are the chicks debeaked? In cramped cages and barns where the chickens don’t have enough room to flap wings or turn around they will harm each other, so they are debeaked. Beaks are stunted with heat in first few days of hatching.

c. Are the chicks purchased sexed from hatcheries or breeders or raised on the farm?

d. Were the chicks immunized? In a healthy environment with plenty of room and fresh air immunization is not always necessary.

e. How do they clean the egg shells? This link says it all, clean chicken pens have clean eggs that do not need further cleaning. Industrial eggs are cleaned.

f. Are the chickens dual or single purpose breeds? Dual breed is raised for both meat and eggs. They take longer to raise but no male culling is necessary.

g. Were the chickens shipped to be slaughtered or farm slaughtered? I understand that a chicken farm with less than 3,000 chickens can slaughter their own chickens for market in Michigan. every state has their own regulations.

h. Are they pasture raised? Pasture raised allows the chickens to live and behave a chickens during their short life.

i. Can I visit the farm? Transparency is the key to improving conditions for animal welfare. I sympathize with farmers who do not want people intruding on their lifestyles, especially city people, and farmers doing the hard work have a right to farm the way they choose. I also have the right to decide if my hard earned dollars is buying the food that I put on my table comes from a safe and humane environment of my preference.

Some of the answers I get from farmers is not what I was expecting. The chicken farmer I thought had the most ethical practise was not aware of what the hatcheries he purchased from did with the males and when I told him he said it was one of those ‘harsh realities’ of farming and shrugged it off.
I am no longer going to purchase:
1. Any chicken products that come from single purpose chickens (meat vs. egg layers) and preferably only from pasture raised dual breed, heritage chickens, where the males are allowed to live past the first week until slaughter.
2. Chicks purchased from hatcheries instead of from heritage breeders.

BUT THE BIGGEST DECIDING FACTORS ARE:
1. Are the birds debeaked? If chickens are debeaked they are not given enough room to live as a chicken during their short lifespan. I believe true free range chicken has no need for debeaking, only chickens that are crowded and bored and strangers can be a danger to each other.
2. If I can’t visit the farm at any time I don’t feel the farmer can be trusted. I understand bio-security concerns but there are ways to visit a farm without hurting the animals.
3.Any farm or slaughterhouse that fines the public for trespassing without providing open house hours, and has no visibility, is in my mind, hiding something. I’m sure the slaughterhouse is not a happy place but without accountability and transparency I believe the animals are not treated with the same consideration as they would be with an open transparent system.
Bio-security link: go here.

Print this chicken farmer .pdf spreadsheet questionnaire. EggSupplierFarmer_Checklist

Source of the food:

Bacon:

I typically buy my bacon at the local butchers Sparrow Meats in Kerrytown.LINK  I asked Bob where the Michigan bacon is sourced from and he said Port Huron. This is the same bacon he has sold since he was 14 in a family shop.He trusts this company because they have been producing the same quality product for over 40 years. Bob’s bacon from my local butcher comes from Smith’s Meat Packing in Port Huron.
I can’t find their bacon source exactly but there are references to local pork and union membership.  there is no reference to heritage breeds although they are trying to be sustainable. Their definition of sustainability is unclear from my web research. I may have to rethink this purchase and stick to my other sources.

A second source of bacon is from a local farmer who raises heritage pork locally.LINK http://blackoakpork.com/  Bob likes to work with farmers who have a history and is cautious purchasing from new farmers. For me transparency is the deciding factor. Farms with no farm tours and no public accountability raise concerns about how the animals are treated.
I especially support farmers and slaughterhouses that don’t hide from the public. Black Oak was able to answer all my questions right down to how pigs go to slaughter, where and how they are treated there. I trust these farmers.

A third source I would love to be apart of is the meat CSA at Old Pine Farms but I have not gotten together the funds or storage space to purchase a bulk order, plus they have a heavy emphasis on beef. I don’t eat much beef and would like more assortment in my CSA. They to me are the best in humane animal care and slaughter that I can find. http://oldpinefarm.com/

Potato: Plenty of potatoes (organic and conventional) are grown in Michigan and finding a variety at the farmers market over winter is easy.

Minimum Totals
Carbon Footprint = .5 CO2e (travel of food only considered, not energy to cook or water used from tap to clean)
Water Footprint = 223 gallons (not considering fats used to fry)
Humane treatment of meat products = could do better

Insights – What I learned

Pork
I have visited designer public education farms that raise pork and still witnessed foaming at the mouth, chewing behavior and cannibalism. Pigs are curious, intelligent and social animals. Good farmers keep birth breeds together because they have already established a peaking order and animals will hurt each other to reestablish an order, but on large farms pigs are still under stimulated, crowded and bored and living in unnatural conditions. I need to visit Old Pine Farms to see how they raise their pork. Traveling the world I saw pigs roaming farmland and woods freely that seemed perfectly happy.
About chickens LINK:

Other Links:

From egg to plate article.

History of the chicken industry in America article.

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