A generation ago, a century ago, young Minnie Rose grew impatient waiting for the Titanic to sail and took another boat instead. She settled on Bainbridge Island, married, and in 1975 published a slim volume called Recipe for Raising Chickens with a prophetic subtitle: "The main thing is to keep them happy."
So let's just leap over the question of whether chickens have enough sense (or self-awareness) to be "happy." Rather, let's look at this from an animal rights and animal welfare perspective. Man has a very limited view of Gallus gallus domesticus. Aside from a few chooks kept as pets, there are two kinds of chickens: those we eat (broilers), and those whose eggs we eat (laying hens). It's a short life, six weeks for broilers, no more than two years for hens.
The exploitation of these birds in much of the poultry industry demonstrates the worst of human indifference. Chickens may appear to be dumb farm animals but they're as social as puppies. A typical "egg factory" crams tens of thousands of live animals into a henhouse. Even if their eggs are labelled free-range, the hens don't have more than two square feet of space.
Into this desultory state of affairs come Matt O'Hayer and Jason Jones with a concept called pasture-raised: hens that aren't raised exclusively on industrial soy and corn but, rather, allowed to eat whatever they can forage: bugs, grass, worms. No pesticides, no hormones, no antibiotics. The company they run, based in Austin, Texas, is called Vital Farms; they market eggs from over 60 farms in states from California to Georgia. The "girls" are turned out from their coops in the morning and spend their days outdoors with an average of 108 square feet of pasture per bird. (In California, the law mandates 110 square inches per bird.) Hence the name: Alfresco Eggs.
Vital's director of communications, Dan Brooks, teamed up with chef Jason Stoneburner for a brunch featuring Alfresco eggs this weekend: richer yolks, more omega 3s, less saturated fat, less cholesterol. So far, Alfresco's been in specialty markets like Whole Foods; now they're going more mainstream (QFC, Fred Meyer). Seattle's a test market of sorts: a similar demographic to Austin's of people who care about what they eat, and aren't averse to spending an extra couple of bucks at the store to buy better eggs.
It's not the extra money, but I'm still not convinced about the distance those eggs have to travel to get to Seattle. Industrial "quality control" requires that all supermarket eggs in the US be washed, destroying their protective cuticle, which in turns means they must be refrigerated. If I buy eggs in Paris, the date the damn things were laid is stamped on the box. Here? Nah.