Who’s Making the Frittata? And the Ethics of Eggs

“Are you going to make the frittata for dinner?” I ask Wayne. What I mean is, When are you going to start making dinner? I just assume he is going to make the frittata, which is one of his dishes. Is it the same in every household? He is responsible for certain meals; I’m in charge of the others.

“No,” I’m not cooking tonight, he says, draping a heating pad over his shoulder.

“Okay,” I say. My mind spins to other dishes in my own repertoire that I might conjure out of the contents of our refrigerator. Maybe there is pasta in the cupboard.

As if reading my intention he says, “You’re the one who taught me how to make the frittata.”

Can that be true? I cannot remember ever making one. Frittata-preparation seems like it’s always been his purview.

Wayne’s meals are characterized by simplicity, small variations and short preparation time. Mine tend to involve numerous ingredients; the dirtying of multiple blending devices, bowls and pots; extensive improvisation; and tardiness in reaching the table.

I guess it’s safe to say I could learn something from Wayne’s approach. In that spirit, I set to work making the one-pan, one-bowl, no-fuss dish, that might best be described as an unfolded omelet.

Wait, you say. Eggs? Isn’t this a vegetarian blog?

Thanks for asking! Yes, lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning yes to eggs. As a vegetarian, eggs provide nutrients and protein that I don’t get from meats. Not only that, studies suggest that eggs, which used to be blamed as a high cholesterol culprit, turn out to have a cholesterol lowering effect.

But it makes all the difference in the world how the eggs were produced. I generally try not to be preachy about eating choices, but consuming factory-farmed eggs is just as problematic as industrially produced meat, perhaps even worse.

Taste

If you’ve never tasted fresh eggs—the kind that come with a stray feather and a story attached—you don’t know what you’re missing. We were shocked the first time we used farmer’s market eggs (instead of store-bought organic eggs)—the fresh eggs produced a fluffier, tastier frittata (and omelet). We had no idea there would be such a difference.

Health

Some studies suggest free range eggs might have more omega 3 fatty acids and other health benefits than conventionally produced because the chickens are allowed to wander around and feast on a varied diet.

Food Safety

Factory farmed eggs are more likely to be tainted with Salmonella and other diseases because the hens live in a confined area in contact with feces and dead animals. Even the poultry industry has been forced to face the fact that Salmonella thrives in cage housing. (Remember the huge egg recall?) Even if you know about conditions in these CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), the diet of industrially produced animals may surprise (and horrify) you.

Environmental Aspects

CAFOs are the biggest polluters of surface waters and their production methods create other serious environmental impacts. Small farms offer not only a difference in scale, but with so many fewer animals per acre of land, the byproducts can be safely reused as fertilizers rather running off as pollutants. I like to think that every time I pay my local farmer for eggs, I’m a part of the solution. Search for local produce and eggs near you.

Animal Cruelty

It probably goes without saying (though, it looks like I’m saying it anyway) that if you are concerned with animal cruelty, you don’t want to support factory farming: hens crammed in cages, debeaked, living in horrifyingly unsanitary conditions where they are unable to perform the natural behaviors they need to stay healthy. They are pumped full of an unnatural diet including antibiotics and hormones and then starved to increase their production. Here is just one of many descriptions of laying hens at factory farms.

Other Options

If you are going to consume eggs, the optimal choice is to know exactly where your eggs are coming from and the environment in which they were produced. We love buying from local farmers at our farmer’s market. Search for local produce and eggs near you.

If you can’t get local eggs, free-range organic eggs from your grocery store may be a decent alternative in terms of health and environmental impact, though some eggs labeled as organic may in fact come from factory farms. See what the labels mean and check out your brand.

Economics

For a family living on the brink of poverty, the prospect of finding a local producer or paying a dollar or even two dollars extra for each dozen eggs is not be practical, but this is partly because we as a society are subsidizing the unhealthy agricultural practices of CAFOs. When we go to the grocery store, we often ignore the hidden costs of industrial agriculture in favor of convenience and price. For most Americans, however, that extra cost would not make a huge dent in our total budgets—fifty or one hundred dollars in a year to provide our families with better food and prevent destruction of our environment and animal cruelty? The decision comes down to priorities. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Spinach, Mushroom, Onion Frittata

(Makes two huge dinner servings or four breakfast/lunch-sized portions. You can use any veggies that you happen to have hanging around your fridge.)

  • 1 TBS olive oil or butter
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 5 or so small mushrooms, sliced (any kind–optional)
  • ¼ or ½  bag of fresh baby spinach leaves (optional)
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 6 large whole eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup (or to taste) your favorite kind of cheese, shredded
  1. In a large oven-proof frying pan, sauté the onions in olive oil or butter over medium heat until they are translucent.
  2. Add the mushrooms, spinach, and garlic and sauté until the spinach wilts.
  3. Scrape the veggies to one side of the pan and spray the bottom with the cooking spray, making sure the pan is well coated to avoid egg stickage.
  4. Spread the veggies evenly over the whole pan.
  5. Pour the egg slowly in an even layer and cook on medium low until the disk of eggs and veggies begins to solidify—test gingerly with a scraper.
  6. Place the whole pan into your oven, broiling at 400 degrees (no need to preheat) until the cheese turns golden brown. Careful: use a potholder to retrieve the pan—the handle will be hot!
  7. Ta-da!

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