A Product With Egg On Its Face

It's amazing how a food as simple as an egg can be so confusing. Is it good for you (protein) or bad for you (cholesterol)? What's the best variety to buy? What about salmonella? Can chickens that never see the light of day produce a healthy product?

It sounds like a product that's in need of a good PR campaign, in fact. "What about "The Incredible Edible Egg," you say? Well, that's a memorable turn of phrase along the lines of "two, four, six, eight/who do we appreciate?" but it sounds better than it means:

Incredible, adj. So implausible as to elicit disbelief.

Edible, adj. Fit to be eaten, especially by humans.

So I'm supposed to be turned on by something that's implausibly fit to be eaten? And, unlike a rolling stone, the tagline has gathered some crust. Campbell Mithun cooked it up for the American Egg Board way back in 1977.

I got to thinking about this when my son, who is in his last semester as a kinesiology major at SUNY Cortland, came back from the gym the other day and did what he usually does after a heavy workout. He threw three whole eggs into some boiling water until they were hard, ran them under cool water, shelled them, extricated the yolks (leaving yellow crumbs all over the floor and counter) and gulped the solidified whites down while standing at the kitchen sink.

Another young man watched all this and reminisced about his days as a high school football player. No, not about breaking a couple of tackles for a winning score. About downing raw eggs before practices and games.

"I saw Rocky do it, so I figured it had to be good for you," he said. And he's not the only one to have been inspired by that well-credentialed nutritionist, Sly Stallone, as these YouTube videos attest.

He'd gotten into bad habits at breakfast, he mused, and thought that he should probably substitute a bacon, cheese and fried egg sandwich on a roll for his customary regular coffee and Black and Mild cigar. I honestly couldn't tell him which option is more likely to kill him first. But some preliminary poking around the web certainly yielded some myth-busting results (if they are to be believed).

First, my son really doesn't need to be going to all that trouble creating yellow crumbs, according to John Berardi, Ph.D., whose doctorate is in the area of exercise biology and nutrient biochemistry. In a video for the website Competitor.com, he "debunks the myth that eggs and high levels of cholesterol are directly related."

As for whether raw eggs are healthier to eat? Not really, says Matt, "The Fitness Nerd," in about as much as you'll ever want to read on the topic. But they do add protein to your diet the same way cooked ones do and, it could be argued, it's easier to just slurp them down than it is to prepare them.

I don't have the time or space this morning to get into all the variants that confront us in the dairy case -- natural, organic, free-range, brown, white extra large, Omega 3-enhanced, steroid deprived. Then there's the stuff that comes in milk cartons. And what the heck is an Eggo anyway?

Like many of you, I bet, I usually just grab something that says organic and hope for the best. But a study that came out a few months ago concluded that the only material difference between factory eggs and free-range ones was the price, as Time's Jeffrey Kluger reports.

"We found no meaningful differences at all," says food technologist Deana Jones, who led the research. "We sampled eggs from a number of stores and kept getting the same results over and over. For shoppers, the decision comes down to your ethical and moral choices."

What's more, other research shows that chickens that get all that fresh air pecking around the barnyard often have higher levels of PCBs because their diet is less controlled.

The environment site Grist is currently conducting a poll of readers to determine the "Scariest Food of 2010." Is it hamburgers with pink slime? Gulf seafood? Alcoholic energy drinks? There are seven others to choose from, including eggs which, in fact, lead the story.

"This past August, half a billion eggs potentially tainted with salmonella invaded American kitchens," it says. "If you weren't among the estimated 2,000 people who got sick, there was other stuff to scare you: check out what horrors the FDA found when it finally got around to inspecting those factories, and consider that the chick magnate behind the recall had already established himself as a 'habitual violator' of environmental, labor, and animal-welfare good practices ... and is still probably the largest U.S. producer of eggs."

But as of last night, only 3.8% of the 902 voters said that eggs were the food they were "most afraid to put in their mouth," putting it in the eighth spot on the list ahead of bluefin tuna (3.3%) and raw milk and cheese (1.8%). (Hamburgers (20.6%), corn syrup (20.2%) and genetically engineered salmon (15.7%) topped the list.)

The American Egg Board's consumer site has a video with celebrity chef and spokesperson Jeffrey Saad that addresses the issue. The message is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, "thoroughly cooked eggs are thoroughly safe eggs." And as for the history of egg production, you might want to check out the nine upbeat videos -- "Eggs Facts 101" -- on the trade association's site for producers, buyers and retailers. Might.

So who out there is going to convince the American Egg Board that it needs a fresh, sunny-side-up PR campaign to get the message across that eggs are more than they're cracked up to be? Surely you can do better than that. And be a little bit fresher than "The Incredible Edible Egg," which is ready to retire right next to "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking."

Tags: food, health
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2 comments about "A Product With Egg On Its Face ".
  1. Lubin Bisson from Qzedia Media Inc , December 30, 2010 at 11:32 a.m.

    In "Marketing Daily", the email subject line for this column was "Forbes and The Egg." I really thought it was going to be about Egg, the magazine started by Malcolm Forbes. Ha, ha.

    Still a great column to finish out the year.

    Cheers.

  2. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications , December 30, 2010 at 5:26 p.m.

    Lubin, I wrote that subject line. Anything that draws 'em in is my motto! Glad you enjoyed Thom's column. Happy New Year to you!