Eggs from a friend's pet chickensWhile having a 2 a.m. meal with friends, one of our writers faced the question, “Why are you eating an egg if you are a vegetarian?” She didn’t consider an unfertilized egg to be meat, and said so, but that got us thinking. Why would some people consider eggs meat, and others not? They are on the food pyramid under the meat group, but so are dried beans and nuts, which aren’t even animal related. Should we reconsider our position on eggs?

Being the curious people we are, and never satisfied with a “because I said so” kind of answer, we put out a couple of questions online and started asking everyone we encountered if eggs are meat. The mixed yes and no responses ranged in origin from philosophy to science, so we did a little research. We are not vegans, although we do love the food, and some of us aren’t even vegetarians, but the consensus among VICC Project contributors is that unfertilized eggs are not meat.

Why not? Meat has protein, and eggs have protein, so shouldn’t they be in the same category? Logically, no. While all meat has protein, not all protein comes from meat. Soy protein, for example, comes from soybeans. Nuts, too, have protein, and while many people call their kernels the “meat” of a nut, we are using the term in very different way. So the protein argument is lopsided.

How about cholesterol? All animal fats have cholesterol, so that makes eggs meat, right? Well, milk has cholesterol, too, and nobody is arguing milk’s place among the meat ranks. However, the animal fat argument brings in a good vegan point: eggs, like milk, are animal products. So, obviously, vegans don’t eat eggs. But that doesn’t make them meat. If, however, you are a vegetarian for ethical reasons, maybe stick to free range and cruelty-free eggs. (We recommend reading “Vegan Freak” by Bob and Jenna Torres or visiting Mercy for Animals for more information about the ugly underside of the animal byproducts industry.)

Maybe if we look at what constitutes meat, the connection will be more clear.
1942 Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary Meat Definition
In 1942 Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary (the one that still had a “fur bearing animals” section) described meat as anything that nourishes the body, or the edible part of anything, specifying the flesh of an animal or the meat of an egg (also the meat of discourse). So the meat of an egg was the edible part, like the meat of an apple.

1988 World Book Meat DefinitionBy 1988 the The World Book described meat as “animal flesh that is eaten as food.” Actual flesh that requires death or amputation to turn into food. If a cow could hand over a flank steak with no harm to itself, like a chicken can an egg, we might think differently.

More recently we see that dictionary.com uses the old flesh of animals definition and according to Wikipedia, meat comprises animal flesh, whether skeletal muscle, fat or organs, that is eaten as food.

So, since at least the 1940s, “authorities” have defined meat as actual flesh. That’s settled. But we’ve heard arguments that eggs are “potential meat” because they have a molecular structure similar to meat, contain animal proteins, or could become flesh. In a fertilized egg, we’ll buy that. If the fertilized egg is kept at an optimal temperature and the mother doesn’t step on it, or squirrels don’t knock it out of the nest, the miracle of life could actually begin. We’re not so dedicated to eating eggs as to eat balut or call that vegetarian friendly. To us, even the carnivorous among us, that dish is far too much to take. When a duck is formed, it’s a duck, whether it is in or out of the shell. But those eggs are fertilized and therefore able to grow a duckling. Commercially available eggs in the U.S. are generally unfertilized, refrigerated, and have no possibility of becoming chickens. Hens will lay whether they mate or not, it’s just what they do. So these eggs are the female’s contribution to the reproductive process, but lack any male contributory material to allow a chick to develop from the germinal disk.

If there is no potential to become meat, and there is no flesh formed or trying to form, we have trouble calling eggs meat. In fact, the anatomy of an egg is such that the contents are not even the potential hatchling, but rather are food for a growing embryo. So when we eat an egg from the grocery store, we’re eating what the hypothetical (if the egg had been fertilized in the first place) chick would have eaten as it grew inside the shell. We’re OK with that.

Given what we’ve discussed and discovered, we will stick to our original thoughts that the commercially available eggs in the United States are their own entity, neither meat, vegetable nor dairy, and are acceptable for an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet, but we respect dietary decisions either way. As always, we are here to pass along information, not judgement, so as long as you are living in or moving toward your bliss, that’s what matters.

Until next we meet, enjoy great food and keep a happy heart.

Come back next Sunday for another ride through cattle country.