I’m writing this while up in Blue Hill, Maine, in a local library, where works of E.B. White, who lived not far from where I'm hanging out on a cloudy day, stand on shelves in a lovely room focused on the area and its many talented residents and long-time visitors.
The essay, written in 1971, touches on something we history nerds constantly encounter in our research: attempts by visitors to explain the natives. Just because the writer is highly regarded, well-read, and observant, doesn’t mean he/she has a clue.
In this excerpt from a slightly longer essay, "Riposte" (which I highly recommend), Mr. White takes up the Englishman J.B. Priestley’s comments in the New York Times about eggs in the U.S.
In America [Priestley] 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 Boston market is a brown-egg market.
“The Americans, well outside the ghettos,” writes Mr. Priestley, “despise brown eggs just because they do seem 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, and being myself well outside the ghettos, 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 fro the least money paid out for feed. Result: much of America, apart from New England, is flooded with white eggs.
Image: White Leghorns, courtesy Wikipedia