We restocked ourselves with chicks this Spring. By late August they still had not produced any eggs so we went out and had a chat with them about fried chicken. The very next day we had our first egg and they have been busy ever since. Except for some Araucanas which produce blue eggs, all the eggs we are getting are brown.
That reminded me of an essay E.B. White wrote in response to the English writer and humorist J.B. Priestley. Priestley had published a piece explaining America to his British readers by decrying America’s preference for white chicken eggs over brown ones. Here is Mr. White:
Why is it, do you suppose, that an Englishman is unhappy until he has explained America? Mr. Priestley finds the key to this country in its preference for white eggs — a discovery, he says, that will move him into the “vast invisible realm where our lives are shaped.” It’s a great idea, but one seldom meets an American who is all tensed up because he has yet to explain England.
Mr. Priestley writes that “the weakness of American civilization. . .is that it is so curiously abstract.” In America, he says, “brown eggs are despised, sold off cheaply, perhaps sometimes thrown away.” Well, now. In New England, where I live and which is part of America, the brown egg, far from being despised, is king. . . “The Americans [writes Mr. Priestley] despise brown eggs because they seen closer to nature. White eggs are much better, especially if they are to be given to precious children, because their very whiteness suggests hygiene and purity.” My goodness. Granting that an Englishman is entitled to his reflective moments, . . . I suspect there is a more plausible explanation for the popularity of the white egg in America. I ascribe the whole business to a busy little female — the White Leghorn hen. She is nervous, she is flighty, she is the greatest egg-machine on two legs, and it just happens that she lays a white egg. She’s never too distracted to do her job. A Leghorn hen, if she were on her way to a fire, would pause long enough to lay an egg. This endears her to the poultrymen of America, who are out to produce the greatest number of eggs for the least money paid out for feed. Result: much of America, apart from New England, is flooded with white eggs.
“The English prefer the brown egg,” writes Mr. Priestley, “because it belongs to the enduring dream of the English, who always hope sooner or later to move into the country.” Here I understand what he is talking about: the brown egg is, indeed, because of its pigmentation, more suggestive of country living — a more “natural” egg, if you wish, although there is no such thing as an unnatural egg. . . .
So, you may be wondering, where does that pigmentation come from and how does it get on those eggs? How and why do birds go to the trouble of coloring their eggs? We’ll attempt an answer, but first I’m off to fry myself an egg: a brown one. Although completely irrational, we agree that a brown egg seems closer to nature.