Replacing egg? Why should we bother? Egg is a such a nutritious, versatile food. As long as we eat it moderately, up to one egg a day, there’s no problem, right?
It’s not that simple. Aside from the common health risks associated with eggs (though often debatable): cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, Salmonella contamination…and so on, eggs are problematic in many ways.
Then the plant-based “egg” appeared, with a plan to revolutionize the food industry and has already won hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.
We are talking about the first and only plant-based egg currently in China’s market: JUST Egg.
A liquid “egg” made primarily with protein abstracted from mung beans. It looks like the egg-white and yolk mixed together, and is cooked as an omelette, a scrambled egg, or myriad other ways. Most importantly, it even tastes good.
From ethical and health point of view, plant-based egg is a clear winner.
Do you pay attention to where your food comes from? If you don’t, you should.
Most commercially farmed eggs are not ethical products at all. Because hens laying eggs is generally a natural ‘process’, the cruelty behind how egg farms operate is often neglected by us: in most conventional egg farms hens are raised in small, crowded areas, so small that they can barely move. In fact, the space per hen is even smaller than a 10” iPad surface!
Further, hens are also often de-beaked when they’re fully conscious in order to prevent them from harming each other in their crowded living conditions. Infact, they are pretty miserable. We wouldn’t wish that to our worst enemy. There are countless documentaries that have highlighted these facts.
And if that was not enough, the killing of male chicks (‘chick culling’) makes the cruelty behind egg farming even worse. Since laying hen strains is different from meat production strains, the farms cannot commodify male chicks — neither can they lay eggs nor can they produce meat. So the most cost effective methods among egg farms to get rid of the male chicks is: kill them right after they are hatched.
To kill these baby chicks cheaply, egg farms usually don’t use anesthetics — the poor chicks are put into high-speed grinding machines. Others are electrocuted or suffocated to death.
Are free-range eggs ethical?
Due to the unclear regulations on what can be defined as “free-range”, the more expensive ‘free-range’ egg farming could simply be transporting hens from small cages to larger ones. Moreover, there’s often not enough land for fewer hens to meet the same egg demand from the market. The beak trimming and chick culling are still common practices even in free-range egg farms (perhaps some reference news link?).
Recently, scientists have developed new methods that can determine the gender of chicken eggs before male chicks are hatched, but even with that technology, as long as eggs are considered food, hens will always be a part of the food production process. Their sole purpose of existence is to produce as many eggs as possible. While generally, backyard hens can live for over five to ten years, the commercially raised ones only live for 1-2 years.
Even if we find it hard to empathize for the dinosaur-looking creatures whose intelligence are often dismissed, bear in mind the horrible and unhygienic condition also reflect on the quality of their eggs. Just because we do not see it, does not mean it does not exist.
Pressure on the Environment: Plant-based egg is better, but it’s not there yet
Since the impact on the environment is hard to measure and often depends largely on the location, for now we would need to generalize this and view it from a bigger picture.
Conventional eggs: Eggs are one of the more environmental-friendly animal protein sources. But as with most of intensive animal farming and food production systems, egg production still generates plenty of negative effects in nature: the contamination of soil and water, as well as an extensive amount of water and grains that goes toward feeding the hens. When it comes to greenhouse gas emission, egg production contributes more to the climate breakdown than fish and all plant-based protein source.
Common chemicals that go into chicken feeds such as antibiotics, insecticide, along with persistent organic pollutants (POPs) also leads to the further degradation of our land, and our health.
Plant-based eggs: In terms of production, most of the plant-based protein sources have lower cost and impact on the environment. However, JUST Egg is currently sourced in China (Inner Mongolia), manufactured in North America, and then shipped back to China. The company is also launching their products in Europe this year, too. The logistics make it less environmental-friendly than it should be.
This ambitious company has plans to produce it locally before the end of the year. But before that can happen, it leads to a consumer predicament: the shortening of their logistic process rely on sales.
Their plant egg also comes with a plastic bottle and a 7-day shelf life once it’s opened. Although there are quite a few egg brands on the market that also use plastic packaging, most of the eggs at supermarkets are packed in cartons made of cardboard. Moreover, egg shells can be composted and recycled more easily. So JUST Egg loses one point on this.
Do we need really need eggs?
As clueless consumers, we need to beware of the food industry that is driven by profit margins rather than health and compassion. When it comes to choosing what food to eat, a nutrient-oriented mindset isn’t benefit for us, instead, we have to consider the whole “package”
Whether it’s conventional eggs or plant-based egg, they often don’t come with an ideal “protein package”. Meaning that when we consume them for the protein, we also have a higher amount of fat and cholesterol intake. When we use egg to bake cakes, muffins, we also increase our sugar and simple carbohydrates intake.
Ideally, especially for those of us who live in a privileged society where there’s plenty of plant-based, whole food to choose from at supermarkets, we must consider shifting away from unethical or highly-processed foods to more nutritious, locally-produced food. After all, if its really about nutrition then there isn’t anything unique about eggs that we cannot obtain from other plant-based food.
Miss scrambled egg? Try cooking it with tofu.
This article was written by Green Initiatives contributing writer and volunteer Qian Jin. For any questions or feedback please connect with Jin directly through her email.