Which came first, The Birds or the eggs?
Alfred Hitchcock, whose father sold poultry, dreaded eggs throughout his life. "I'm frightened of eggs, worse than frightened - they revolt me," said the master of cinematic terror. "That round white thing without any holes - have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid?" In The Birds, Hitchcock filled the skies with malevolent egg-layers. In To Catch a Thief, he had Jessie Royce Landis stub out a cigarette in a fancy plate of eggs. When Hitchcock struggles with ovophobia, the yolk is on the viewer.
Even when fried, scrambled, shirred, deviled, coddled, or boiled, all eggs on the menu are poached eggs, filched from the creatures that laid them. Making an omelet means raiding a nest. To a vegan, a pure vegetarian who refuses complicity in the exploitation of any animal, the only kind of egg that is kosher for consumption is eggplant, aubergine. While most people who call themselves vegetarian are really ovolactovegetarian, counting eggs and dairy as part of their diet, a consistent concern for the suffering of others precludes eating eggs. It takes a great deal of pain to produce those round white things without any holes that perch in chilly styrofoam at H-E-B. "Let them eat cake!" exclaimed Marie Antoinette, to assuage the famished masses. But cakes are usually made with egg, and, though it might soothe hunger pangs, eating egg should prick the conscience.
The majority of eggs sold in cartons and within muffins, mayonnaise, noodles, custards, marshmallows, quiches, crepes, and paints, are produced by huge industrial plants that foul their pastoral neighborhoods with tons of toxic waste. Old MacDonald had a farm, but Rudolf Höss, the impresario of Auschwitz, would be more adept at running these rural factories that cram 50,000-125,000 hens into a single warehouse. Each of the feathered egg machines is allotted approximately 48 square inches of caged living space, which, given the high mortality rate caused by the stress, is more like dying space. It is the last vestige of the little-ease, the medieval torture chamber that was neither high enough to stand up in nor wide enough to lie down in. In order to prevent the cannibalism induced by congestion, the beaks of hens are guillotined. Once their productivity slackens, the birds are slaughtered, making even vegetarian egg-eaters accessories to the meat industry.
About 5.5 billion eggs are produced each year in the United States. The number of hens that lay them, 240 million, is a little bit smaller than the human population. Yet few Americans come into contact with live chickens; exposed to the stench and squawks of those oviparous avian slaves, how could anyone with empathy enjoy a frittata? It is possible, though expensive, to purchase eggs produced on farms where hens are allowed to roam in the fresh air. But since even these fowl usually end up slaughtered and sold for pot pies and consommé, eating free-range eggs still means collusion with butchery. "The only fit food for a man," declared Franz Kafka, "is half a lemon." Not lemon meringue. •