Story of an Egg: Farming, Marketing, and the Meaning of Words

Story of an Egg

How much do words matter when it comes to what’s on our plates? Two poultry farmers talk about chicken-raising and how their understanding of words has changed over time.

In six minutes, “The Lexicon of Sustainability” looks at the evolution of words. People who raise their chickens outdoors, with access to fresh air, insects, seeds, and room to roam have “cage-free” chickens. But does cage-free actually mean that?

Cage-free simply means that the chicken lives outside the cage and nothing more. The chickens can be packed into a small room that gives them no more individual space than they would have in a cage.

For a few years, farmers who raised their chickens humanely used cage-free to denote their model. However, it didn’t take long for factory farms to take the label and apply it to their thousands of chickens crammed into a small room.

The farmers then have to find a new word to describe what they’re doing, so that consumers know what we’re getting. Marketers for the large corporations inevitably find a way to use the new labels.

It’s an interesting look at how these farmers’ view of what they’re doing and how others see them develops.

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