Thursday, August 18, 2016

E.B. White on White & Brown Eggs

Thursday, August 18, 2016
Loretta reports:

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


Regencyresearcher said...

Funny about Priestly thinking we despise brown eggs. Perhaps they did then in urban spaces. Now one pays a premium in many places to buy brown eggs. Some even believe that brown eggs have more nutrients. Priestly isn't wrong about how some people consider white eggs-- for they still do. Both men are correct for we can find people supporting both sides -- without the reference to the ghetto.

Lucy said...

Wonderful little piece

Lil said...

It's always fun to hear what other people say about Americans, especially since America is so varied. I was always amused the English mysteries having Americans say "reckon," a word I never heard outside of cowboy movies.
But white eggs do have one virtue. They are better for dying Easter eggs.

Reina M. Williams said...

Thanks for sharing this. What a lighthearted way to start my day. Though I now feel an urge to chuck my current reading list in favor of White's essays...but it will have to take its place in the queue. Hope you have a wonderful time in Maine!

G. Thomas Fitzpatrick said...

Since I grew up in the Boston area, the jingle "Brown eggs are local eggs, and local eggs are fresh!" is engraved in my memory!

Isobel Carr said...

Never thought about it really. All my girls lay brown though, including my flightly leghorn (smallest chook; lsrgest egg).

Karen Anne said...

That's like British movies, in my youth anyway, where any American had a southern accent.

I think a lot of Europeans have no idea of the size of the U.S. either, at least in my experience.

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