A Fresh Look At Island Eggs

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - January 23, 2008
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It comes as no surprise to anyone who reads this column regularly that our Island farmers and fishermen are close to my heart. Perhaps it’s because I grew up near farmland and right next to the ocean, or perhaps it’s because I see the value of the past so clearly in my children’s future.

It’s not easy to effect change when it comes to an entire agricultural industry. Hawaii’s farmers will always have their legislative, zoning and production issues, and as consumers we can do little to make a difference there. But on the issue of sustainability and supporting local business, we can make our voices heard. The easiest way is at the cash register of your local supermarket.

When I moved to Oahu in 1992 there were a dozen or so egg farmers producing fresh, beautiful Island eggs. Today there are just four. The reasons for the decrease in production are many, but critical issues are cost of feed and the battle to compete with inexpensive imported Mainland eggs.

It’s hard, I know, to stand in front of the egg display in your local supermarket and justify spending $4.39 or more for a dozen local eggs when, with a “buy-one-get-one-free” offer, you can often pick up twice as many for a little over $3. But when you look at the real cost, and what you’re eating, to me the choice is simple.

Island eggs, whether they’re farmed on the wild plains of Waianae or open fields in Wahiawa, are fresh - often as much as three to four weeks fresher than Mainland eggs.

Don’t believe that makes a difference? Then try this: Just take a Ka Lei, Blue Lotus or Peterson’s egg and crack it into a bowl. Crack a Mainland one next to it. The difference is stunning. Fresh eggs have a rich, bright-yellow appearance, like little bursts of sunshine on the plate, with the white of the egg appearing clear and shiny. An older egg has a pale-yellow, smaller yolk and a dull, grayish-looking albumen. There’s no comparison in taste.

It’s not just a mantra to support local farmers that I espouse. It’s a dedication, or at least an enthusiasm, to find the best possible food to eat. In the case of eggs, it’s clear-cut. Old eggs just don’t compare.

But while taste and the health-giving properties of good food are important - believe me, I wouldn’t be advocating local produce if it tasted bad - what really makes me stop and think is when I imagine children growing up in Hawaii who’ve never tasted a fresh egg, or the demise of more of our small, family-run businesses. The Shimabukuro sisters, Phyllis and Lois, who run Ka Lei, are part of three generations of egg and poultry farmers on the island. There’s no reason that they can’t continue for generations to come; the egg industry is one we all can help to save.

Greg Yee’s Blue Lotus free-range eggs (and sometimes his free-range chickens) are available Saturday mornings at the Kapiolani Community College farmer’s market, although they sell out extremely quickly. Get there early for some of the greatest-tasting eggs on the island. Ka Lei Eggs are available at most supermarkets and the Ka Lei store in Kaimuki, and Peterson’s Eggs are available fresh from the farm in Wahiawa.

Happy eating!

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