In the piece I wrote last month about the dairy industry, I described how when I went vegetarian as a 15-year-old for reasons of compassion, I thought that cutting out meat was all I needed to do to remove my support of the food industry’s brutal treatment of animals. For 13 years, I labored under the mistaken belief that obtaining an animal’s flesh was the only cruelty inflicted on them through agribusiness. As I read more and learned more, and, thankfully, was exposed to more people who educated me about the reality of what happens behind the scenes to bring animal by-products to the plate, my misconceptions were shattered, one after the next. The industries that bring dairy, eggs and other by-products to market not only buttress and make animal agribusiness profitable, they are themselves very cruel institutions, yet many well-intentioned people don’t realize this.
As with dairy, the egg industry also benefits from this false narrative of benign, bountiful fecundity, the notion that eggs, like dairy, “just happens” so we might as well put good use to it. Like milk, the egg is also laden with mythology from cultures around the world and ingrained notions that can make it difficult to separate fact from fiction.
If milk symbolizes the nectar of life, the egg represents the pulsing potentiality of it, ever-ready to crack and offer vibrant new life from her protective shell. The cosmic egg, or world egg, is a widespread origin story stitched across many world cultures as represented by the fertilized ovum from which civilization emerges, often hatching first a primordial god, like Ra, as the Ancient Egyptians believed, or Brahma emerging from a golden egg in Vedic mythology. Phanes, the primeval deity who created the other Greek gods, was said to have hatched out of the Orphic egg. Even today, the egg — elegant, simple, universal and full of possibility — remains an elemental symbol of life around the world.
In the United States, with our tendency to romanticize a more pastoral and bygone era, the mother hen with her clutch of eggs or fuzzy, peeping chicks going every which way is an enduring (and…