June 03, 2018

A Tough Shell to Crack

When you buy mass-produced oranges, tangerines, and other citrus fruit of the ilk, they're pretty easy to peel.

But there's a reason for that: They've been bred that way.

Naturally, without human intervention, the peel and its pith are steadfast to protect the fruit and seeds inside—and thus, to ensure the survival of the species.

If it's too easy to eat in the wild, it won't have enough time to repopulate.

So its natural defenses are the strongest ones, and humankind's agricultural and bioengineering practices have weakened them, because the average human consumer is lazy and doesn't want to have to spend too much time—or waste both hands—peeling the rind away.

All we know is that the pith is bitter and annoying. We can't even be bothered to spit out the seeds.

The closest correlate in the animal kingdom is perhaps the incredible, edible egg.

Store-bought chicken eggs are incredibly easy to crack on the side of a mixing bowl or along the edge of a pan. When you soft- or hard-boil them, their shells might resist a little if you don't know where the one vulnerable spot is (that is, the one end of the egg with the air pocket).

Occasionally, the eggshell will flake off in little bits until you're able to pierce the two surprisingly strong membranes that separate the shell from the albumen (a.k.a. the egg white). And that's just a glimpse of how eggs were actually designed to protect the baby birds inside.

Of course, the eggs we eat haven't been fertilized—yet even so, when you get an egg that's been laid by some heritage breed hen who lives and roams on a real farm and not a factory farm, and who eats maggots or snails instead of grain- and soy-based poultry feed, its shell is a tough one to crack, even when you bang it on the griddle or skillet.

You might break the shell itself, but as eggs are built to survive being sat on, falling out of a nest, escaping the clutches of a predator, and an overzealous chick trying to pip out too early, you've still got to get through those protective membranes to get to the edible part of the egg.

It takes a little more effort, but it pays off with the richness (and nutritiousness) of those eggs.

And you know what else? The yolks are almost never broken in the process.

I can't crack a white chicken egg into a pan without feeling crestfallen over the slow seepage of yellow into the white part. And that means I cannot for the life of me poach an egg at home, relegating me to a life sentence of scrambled and hardboiled eggs, for which keeping the yolks intact is not even a factor.

But the eggs of snail-fed, pasture-raised ducks, for instance, resist attack with amazing resilience.

Why do I care? Well, I think I've spent too much time trying to intervene on what nature originally intended for me.

I built up walls to show how tough I was, but that just made me the toughest nut to crack of all. Then, I tore all those walls down to leave myself vulnerable and open to what life has to offer.

But there are predators out there who will take advantage of that vulnerability. And we all need something to take the force of the blow.

So, maybe the key is to stop messing with nature and let those natural protections fall into place without artificial modifications to make you more accessible or acceptable.

Because those that try to thin out your pith and peel back your zest do it just to eat you alive.

And they don't want you to do anything but submit to their pressing thumbs and yield to their voracious appetites.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Lambing Season at Apricot Lane Farms
Living With the Terror

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