With nearly 550 million eggs being pulled off grocery shelves nationwide during one of the largest egg recalls ever, and with thousands of people infected with salmonella after eating contaminated eggs, the idea of eating eggs can seem a little daunting. But not all eggs are created equal. The eggs involved in the recall are from just two large-scale factories in Iowa, whereas “if you look at a regional food system, you don’t have that same kind of impact,” says Eat Real festival director Susan Coss. This is a point that she and the other organizers of this weekend’s festival hope to make at the second annual three-day event that will showcase locally produced foods, including eggs.
The festival kicks off on Friday in Oakland at Jack London Square, where approximately 90 food vendors will sell their specialties, ranging from Jamaican jerk chicken to lobster rolls to Guittard chocolate crème brulee. There will also be a beer shed with 30 breweries, a wine barn, cooking demonstrations on topics like how to fillet a fish, and jamming, pickling and brewing contests.
But more than just showing off gourmet fare, the Eat Real organizers’ broader goal is to show people that good food is locally accessible, healthy and affordable. “Having these major food recalls this week drives home why we love doing what we’re doing at Eat Real,” says Coss. “Ultimately what we would like to do is reinforce this idea of why regional food systems are important.”
Part of the idea behind Eat Real is to introduce people to locals who are growing produce, raising animals and brewing beer on a small scale. One of the farmers on hand at the festival to talk about small-scale chicken farms will be Eric Koefoed. He and his wife, Alexis Koefoed, own Soul Food Farm, where they tend to 1,200 laying chickens—which produce 600 to 900 eggs a day—and 6,000 meat chickens. Their chickens do not live in coops and are free to roam all over the property, which is located in Vacaville. “We’re a small diversified farm and our chickens are outside all day long doing what chickens do, which is chasing bugs and eating grass,” says Alexis Koefoed. “As small farmers, we are trying to create a better model and cleaner food, by animals that are treated better and are living in better conditions.”
Additionally, Wooly Egg Ranch, which is based in Mill Valley, will have live chickens for sale along with a chicken-raising starter kit and tips on chicken keeping. Right next door, a “Good Egg” booth will be set up with local egg farmers, including Koefoed, available to talk about the egg recall, egg safety and how small-scale production is different than factories like those in Iowa.
In the large-scale factories, up to 1 million chickens can share one facility, with six or seven chickens living in one cage under artificial light, eating feed laced with the hormones and antibiotics that gets them to produce two to three eggs a day. “When you have a large density of animals in the hundreds of thousands, you’re going have constant outbreaks of disease,” says Alexis Koefoed, “because you’re not going to be able to meet health and food safety standards.”
Alexis Koefoed says that what happens in factories also changes the nutritional and flavor components of eggs. “All of those things that are happening in an industrial model—with chemicals and an aggressive laying cycle—all of that stuff ends up in their eggs,” she says. “It’s a sad reflection of what an egg should be.” When her chickens lay eggs, she says, it’s on their own time frame. What is produced, she says, is a “completely different version of an egg.”
Both Coss and Koefoed believe that the egg recall is creating the perfect opportunity to talk about the industrial food system. “It’s shining a spotlight on industry farms and how the system needs to be re-hauled and re-imagined,” says Koefoed. “I’m excited to think that this might turn millions of people towards their farmers markets.” Coss agrees, and points out that when eggs are produced and sold on a local scale, the possible spread of any disease is minimized. “That’s not to say salmonella doesn’t exist on these small farms—it does—but you’re not recalling millions of eggs,” she says.
At Eat Real, the farmers in the “Good Egg” booth will talk to people about handling eggs when they’re preparing food, along with egg safety and how to take care of eggs. They will also have different types of eggs on display and information on how to buy local, pasture-raised eggs from small-scale farms. “We as a society have drifted so far from where food comes from that we do not have any relationship with it,” says Coss. “It’s exciting to do a event that’s all about that.”
The Eat Real festival runs from Friday, August 27 to Sunday, August 29. For more information on the vendors, schedule and activities through the course of the festival, visit their website.