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Organic, conventional or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos? Let’s not judge our food choices

Eggs
Last weekend, I decided to swing by Hy-Vee in Ames for a grocery run on my way home from visiting my sister and two adorable nieces.

It was after 8 p.m., and as expected, most of the grocery shoppers were college students buying snacks to watch the March Madness games. The kid behind me in the checkout line only had two items in his basket: a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and an energy drink.

I was worn out from literally chasing my 2-year-old niece in circles, so I was trying to get out of the store as fast as I could. I have to admit, I was annoyed when I got to the egg case and a young woman was obliviously blocking the cooler.

She stood there for a good minute, staring at the egg cartons with a shopping basket in her hand. Then she walked away, without taking any eggs.

It seemed odd, because the eggs were on super sale for Easter weekend. They were such a good deal that the Hy-Vee sign read, “Limit 2 cartons.”

A couple aisles later, I wheeled my cart to the Health Market section, looking for my husband’s favorite almond milk. As I was standing there, the same young women reached into the cooler next to me and grabbed a carton of organic eggs.

I wanted to stop and ask why she ended up choosing the organic eggs, which cost more than twice that of the conventional eggs on sale.

I wanted to explain to her that studies show there isn’t a difference nutritionally or food-safety wise between organic and conventional eggs ( http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2002334,00.html ).

The biggest difference is how the hens are raised. On certified organic farms, the hens are fed organic grains, raised without cages and have access to the outdoors, although that doesn’t mean the hens necessarily go outside.

A recent study by the Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supple ( http://feedstuffsfoodlink.com/story-study-compares-laying-hen-housing-systems-71-125467 ), which included researchers from Iowa State University, just a few blocks from the grocery store, found that both cage-free and traditional hen housing have benefits and drawbacks.

In summary, the study found that hens have better “skeletal integrity” in cage-free systems, yet death loss is higher without cages protecting the hens from each other. (The “pecking order” is real; hens will peck to death their weaker flock mates.)

I wanted to share all of this knowledge that can’t fit on an egg carton label. But then I realized that she has a right to buy whatever eggs she prefers.

Sure, my priority is to find a good deal on eggs. However, maybe she doesn’t eat a whole carton of eggs each week like my husband and I do, and she’s OK with buying organic eggs every once and a while.

I shouldn’t judge her food choices, and I hope she doesn’t judge mine. Yet I also hope that my fellow grocery shoppers aren’t making food choices based on guilt and misinformation.

We need to protect our food choices, especially for those who can’t afford to make a choice.

After all, if we’re leaving the grocery store with healthy, nutritious eggs – whether organic or conventional, then we’re making a better choice than the college student with the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Although, I probably shouldn’t judge his choices either.

To learn more about the importance of protecting food choices, visit the  Choose 2 Choose  website at www.choose2choose.com .

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.