Discover the truth behind the question 'Are eggs vegan?' as we explore the the ethical issues of eating eggs and show you the best vegan egg alternatives to eat instead...
Veganism is all about avoiding harm to animals by excluding animal products from various aspects of our lives, including our diets, our toiletries, or our wardrobes.
“But do all animal products cause harm to animals?’ some people ask. “Surely there are some things we can get from animals without hurting them? Like eggs?”
This is a common question, and it is technically true that not all animal products require slaughter. Some are regularly viewed as a natural by-product of an individual’s life; a natural resource that is replenished and renewed as the animal carries on with their life.
In the case of eggs, there are instances where hens can be very well cared for; treated as part of the family, and able to peacefully lay their eggs throughout a long, natural life span.
However, that’s not the case with the majority of animals, and even if it were, consuming their eggs may still not quite fit with what ‘vegan‘ really means.
Join us as we explore the nuances surrounding eggs and delve into why they may not be considered vegan.
While some may argue the existence of more ethical eggs, the overarching consensus is that eggs still have no place in a vegan lifestyle. Photo © Edwin Tan via Getty Images
Where do eggs come from?
Even in childhood we are taught all about eggs and where they come from, and it seems fairly simple on the surface – hens naturally lay eggs, which are taken by farmers and sold in shops to hungry humans. The hens are then left to carry on their lives, laying more eggs as they go.
But is that really how it is?
Unfortunately for the hens, human intervention and the sheer demand for eggs means that egg farming is far from the idyllic picture portrayed in colourful children’s books.
Fulfilling the high demand for eggs could not be done ethically. Photo © Sergey Ryzhov via Adobe Stock
Intensively farmed eggs are widely available to fulfil the large demand for eggs, and hens kept in these conditions are not well treated.
Even pampered rescue hens suffer as a result of humankind’s hunger for eggs, as across centuries of animal agriculture hens have been bred specifically to lay far more eggs than is natural for them.
When we compare the average of 12 eggs laid per year by their wild ancestors to the up to 300 eggs laid by today’s domesticated hens, it becomes evident how this excessive demand takes a toll on their health, no matter how the eggs are sourced.
Can eating eggs be ethical?
There are a range of options when buying eggs, from low-budget eggs from caged hens all the way through to organic, free-range eggs from small-scale local farms. Some of these choices can be perceived as ‘better’ or more ethical than others.
“Free-range” is often marketed to imply a better quality of life for egg-laying hens. However, the reality is far from idyllic.
The term “free-range eggs” can refer to a range of different living conditions for hens, and supermarket-bought eggs typically meet only the minimum requirements for chicken welfare.
"Free-range" chickens are often still kept in crowded, indoor conditions with only small windows to the outside world. Photo © A via Adobe Stock
Contrary to the cheerful images depicted in pro-egg media, the lives of most free-range hens are far from sunny.
While they may get a little more space and light than their caged counterparts, a free-range hen’s ‘access to outdoors’ might be limited to a small window high up on the wall. Tragically, due to overcrowding and territorial behaviour, many hens spend their entire lives far away from this glimpse of the outside world.
Even on smaller-scale farms, the main goal of egg production is almost always profit. This means that no matter how good the conditions for the hens is on the surface – yes, even if they have been given cutesy names – there will always be some aspect of exploitation involved in farming them.
Even with the best intentions farmers often face the pressure to cut costs, compromising the quality of care provided to the birds.
Ultimately, no eggs which are produced on the scale which can supply supermarkets, restaurants, or factories are likely to fit the description of ‘ethical’, let alone ‘vegan’.
Even small-scale organic, or backyard hens are not free from suffering. Photo © Jordan via Adobe Stocl
Can vegans eat eggs from rescued hens?
A common topic of debate revolves around whether vegans can ethically consume eggs from backyard hens they have rescued, or even from rescued hens belonging to a friend.
After all, the hens are well looked after, and the people who take care of them aren’t intentionally exploiting them for their eggs.
However, the opposing viewpoint maintains that all animal products should be strictly off-limits for vegans, even if sourced ethically. This perspective emphasises the importance of maintaining the integrity of veganism and avoiding potential confusion.
Allowing the consumption of eggs, even in limited circumstances, may also open the door to debates about the ethical acceptability of other animal-derived products, such as dairy, leather, or even fur. It is essential to consider the broader implications of such exceptions.
Supporters of consuming eggs from backyard hens primarily focus on the ethical treatment of the birds.
They argue that as long as hens receive proper care, live in a safe and comfortable environment, and are allowed to express their natural behaviours, consuming their unfertilised and unwanted eggs doesn’t necessarily contradict with vegan values.
Even the most well-cared for backyard hens are at risk of being exploited for their eggs. Photo © Ksenia Shestakova via Getty Images
Additionally, utilising home-laid eggs instead of supermarket alternatives can be seen as a way to minimise food and packaging waste, promoting an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.
It is crucial to acknowledge the potential slippery slope this practice presents, as those with an excess of eggs could share with friends and family, which could easily evolve to selling to neighbours and the wider community, eventually crossing that blurred line between benefiting from a companion animal and exploiting a living being for profit.
So, what should be done with the eggs from rescued hens? Many choose to feed the eggs back to the chickens, providing them with nourishment after the physically demanding process of egg-laying.
Including the shells from the eggs in the chicken feed can also be beneficial as they contain plenty of calcium which is essential for the hens’ well-being.
What do vegans eat instead of eggs?
Navigating a vegan lifestyle is becoming easier and easier as a wide array of plant-based egg alternatives become readily available in supermarkets. However, even without relying on branded “egg replacers,” there are plenty of creative ways to substitute eggs in your cooking adventures.
Besan chilla, or chickpea pancakes, make a tasty and nutritious alternative to omelettes. Photo © Jogy Abraham via Getty Images
The best ingredient for the job largely depends on whether eggs contribute to the dish’s flavour, structure, or nutritional content.
To choose ingredients for vegan egg substitutes when baking, it’s best to consider structure. If the eggs provide a lift to the baked goods, aquafaba may be a good option, as this can be whipped up like egg whites to aerate vegan cakes, mousses, and meringues.
When eggs are acting as a binding agent, chia seed or flaxseed eggs make an ideal alternative. When soaked in water, these seeds take on a glue-like consistency, much like raw, beaten egg and are ideal for cookies, pancakes, and waffles.
In savoury dishes, both tofu and chickpea flour are popular options to replace eggs. Seasoned and cooked tofu can replicate the texture and flavour of scrambled eggs or serve as a base for a delectable vegan quiche filling.
A 'chia egg', made with chia seeds soaked in water, is an ideal egg-replacement in baking. Photo © fascinadora via Adobe Stock
Meanwhile, chickpea flour is a go-to ingredient for vegan omelettes. It’s nutritionally dense, and provides a pleasant, eggy texture when made into a batter and cooked. Fill the batter with an array of tasty fillings before cooking, and you’ll savour a satisfying and cruelty-free brunch alternative.
But what about replicating that distinctive “eggy” flavour? Fear not, for Kala Namak, also known as black salt, comes to the rescue.
This popular ingredient adds an unmistakable eggy essence to meals, enabling egg fans to relish familiar flavours without compromising on their vegan values.
Are vegan eggs healthier than chicken eggs?
For individuals conscious about their health, eggs often find their way onto the breakfast plate. They are hailed as a nutrient-packed food and are favoured by many, including ovo-vegetarians, sometimes affectionately referred to as “veggans.” But are eggs really good for you?
Chicken eggs contain saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and strokes. Eggs are also a source of choline, which is great for us in small amounts, but can contribute to the build-up of arterial plaques in those who consume eggs regularly.
Scrambled tofu is a healthy alternative to eggs, especially when served with healthy fats and veggies for a nutritional boost. Photo © Michael Dolicke via Getty Images
While eggs are often considered to be an easy protein source, it’s important to note that comparable vegan protein sources are readily available. Breakfasting vegans can easily opt for peanut butter, scrambled tofu, or beans on toast to meet their protein needs.
In terms of micronutrients, eggs are recognised for their contribution of vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, and vitamin D. However, these nutrients can also be sourced from plant-based alternatives. Soya, peanuts, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are excellent plant-based sources of choline, in artery-friendly amounts.
Some individuals may turn to the branded vegan egg alternatives available in stores. While these alternatives may be lower in protein and may not contain all the vitamins and minerals present in eggs, it is important to remember that a well-balanced vegan diet can compensate for these differences by sourcing these nutrients from other foods, meaning these alternatives can be a perfectly healthy addition to a well-balanced vegan diet.
Tofu makes for a great, healthy alternative to eggs, as it is a complete source of protein, and contains iron, choline, and other nutrients. In addition, tofu is devoid of the cholesterol present in eggs and generally lower in saturated fat.
There are plenty of options for healthy, nutritious plant-based alternatives to eggs. Tofu is great for flavour, texture, vitamins, and protein! Photo © anaumenko via Adobe Stock
Conclusion: Are eggs vegan?
When questioning if eggs can be considered vegan, the answer lies in examining our values and the impact of our choices on the animals we share this world with.
While some may argue for the existence of more ethical eggs, its clear that consuming eggs does not meet the definition of veganism and that eggs shouldn’t be consumed as part of a vegan diet.
We can explore alternative ways of sourcing eggs, such as taking them from our own beloved backyard chickens. However, it’s crucial to tread carefully, as taking eggs from these animals can be seen as exploiting them for personal gain, particularly when we consider that the hens themselves can benefit greatly from consuming their own unfertilised eggs.
It’s worth noting that while some omnivorous dieters consider eggs a ‘health food’, a well-planned vegan diet can easily replicate any perceived nutritional advantages of chicken’s eggs.
By sourcing the necessary nutrients from plant-based alternatives, we can ensure a balanced and compassionate diet without the need for eggs.
Are vegan eggs healthy? Check out our ultimate guide to vegan eggs to get the lowdown on plant-based alternatives
Featured photo © Apiwat via Adobe Stock