egg aisleThe following is a guest post by Bonnie Azab Powell, co-founder of the food-politics blog The Ethicurean who started the Bay Area’s first Community-Supported Agriculture program for meat, BAMCSA, in 2006. She now manages the CSA programs for Clark Summit and Soul Food farms. She eats two runny eggs nearly every day. The opinions expressed are her own.

Reading about the recall of 550 million possibly salmonella-tainted U.S. eggs, laid and packed in just a handful of massive Iowa factories made me think about the egg aisle of a Sainsbury’s supermarket I visited in England, near Brighton, two years ago.

I was so struck by the store signage, which read not only “Organic” and “Free Range” — familiar terms — but also “Barn” and “Caged,” that I took several pictures with my iPhone. My English host practically had to drag me away from reading all the explanatory text included on the cartons: barn eggs are “laid by hens free to nest, perch, and roam in spacious barns,” while “Woodland organic free-range” eggs are “from hens free to roam in a natural environment with trees.”

Not only are the cartons informatively labeled, each egg is stamped with a simple code that tells what kind of system produced it.

It sounded so … pleasant. I didn’t see how anyone with a heart could pass over these visions of happy nesting, perching, tree-scratching chickens – despite being more expensive — for the grim “from caged hens.” And yet as I watched, plenty of shoppers opted to save the pound or more per dozen.