If you lived during the 1950s and ’60s, you had more to worry about than getting to your fallout shelter in time. You had the “Big Egg Scare.”
By 1959, each American was consuming about 371 eggs per year. My family was doing all it could do to keep up.
On the first Sunday of every month, my uncle drove 50 miles to the town of Rochester for fresh eggs. Back then, eggs were the foundation of every meal. We ate scrambled eggs for breakfast, deviled-egg sandwiches for lunch and egg-tuna casseroles for dinner.
On weekends, mothers prepared and families consumed eggs over easy, egg-noodle salads and eggs hard-boiled and sprinkled with salt — lots of salt. We put eggs in cakes, eggs in Fu Yung, and pickled eggs in a bowl by themselves.
America was drunk on eggs.
Then came the 1960s, nutritionists and the egg crisis. Like other powerful moments in history, I remember exactly where I was when it all came down.
I was in the bathroom, thumbing through the latest Reader’s Digest.
Of bathroom reading material, the Reader’s Digest was second only to the Almanac. Before gracing its pages, an item was pretty well vetted. If it was written by a member of the science community, it was cast in stone. This article was a reprint from a medical journal. Its title escapes me, but the panic it sent through me still lingers.
If you ate eggs regularly, it warned, you were eating your way to a heart attack. Eggs had cholesterol, and cholesterol was a recipe for plaque-clogged arteries.
Having nearly consumed my 371 eggs already that year, I checked my pulse, then presented the apocalyptic news to my parents. Mom and Dad yawned, then went back to eating their eggs on toast.
“But, we’re all gonna die!” I cried, eyeballing their plates and my orphaned future.
“How would I make a cake without eggs?” Mom giggled.
“Or waffles?” Dad chimed in.
“What would we decorate for Easter? Potatoes?” my big sister snickered.
All good questions, I thought. Just how would we get along without eggs?
In spite of my family’s apathy, the anti-egg movement grew louder. Nutritionists became household names, disbursing volumes of advice for healthy living. Adelle Davis wrote volumes of advice for healthy living, while writing under a pseudonym about her experience with LSD. It was all very confusing.
When the American Heart Association joined the cause, Mom surrendered, Dad begrudgingly. Eggs moved to the back of the refrigerator. We choked down mush for breakfast and liverwurst sandwiches at lunch. Dinner became bland ingredients thrown together without the palatable epoxy of yolks and whites.
Easter egg hunts became halfhearted searches for spongy, marshmallow bunnies and plastic eggs filled with small change.
The egg scare had gotten out of hand, but how could I complain? I had helped nudge Humpty Dumpty off the wall. By 1990, yearly consumption had plummeted to 235 eggs per person.
I never forgot my part in the big egg scare. Out of guilt, I recently did to the egg what Mom never did. I “Googled” it and discovered the egg had made a comeback.
After studies of more than 100,000 men and women, Harvard Medical School concluded that an egg a day showed no pronounced effect on the hearts of healthy individuals. The American Heart Association now suggests eating yolks in moderation, whites to your heart’s content.
Some say it’s just a matter of “moderation.” I say, it’s philosophical. When I think of having eggs, I turn to Aristotle, who must have known the wonders of whites and yokes when he said, “It is better to rise from life as from a banquet — neither thirsty nor drunken.”