Looking back at the decade of my childhood, the egg is the most influential. While most people following my thread were still eggs themselves, I was a mousy, toe-head boy amped up on sugary cereal. He-Man, GI Joe, and Transformers were the go to cartoons. The Spielberg movie craze inspired every kid on my block to look for a treasure map from a one eyed pirate. We all had baskets attached to our Huffy dirt bikes, hoping to help an alien phone home. And in the midst of all that entertainment, came the sinister egg.
Most people have mixed feelings about the eighties. For a boy navigating the rules of marbles and kickball, it was another day in the life of Captain Crunch and Happy Meals. For others, it was Reaganomics, the Cold War, and the promise of a trickle down economy. The story of the egg is born.
And in all that decadence of the 80’s, health experts and policy makers scared the American public. It was the growing concern of fat, cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. The culprit. The egg. A silent killer was lurking in the homes of almost all American families. To be exact, their refrigerators. Overstated and over zealous studies showed that cholesterol in an egg could cause heart disease. It turned out, an American breakfast staple had been killing millions of Americans for years.
Now for a child whose only concern was sugar consumption, action figures and kickball games, news that my parents were poisoning their family every morning sent my fragile imagination over the edge. When the word egg became a taboo, the price for a dozen and a half dropped. My parents stocked up as if anticipating a shortage. Eggs in our house were no longer for breakfast, but now a standard with every meal.
Fried eggs in the mornings, followed by egg salad for lunch. Deviled eggs before dinner and so on. It was a running joke in our family that sooner or later one of us would sprout feathers and start laying our own eggs.
I remember a heated debate with my father on why he was not listening to the warnings about eggs. I was overruled in my argument each time and handed a hard-boiled egg for a snack. That was my father’s way of ending the argument. To not eat the egg would have been a cardinal sin in his eyes and strict marching orders to the firing squad.
The impact of these studies changed the landscape of food forever. What America considered a great source of protein was now in question. Whole diets came under the microscope. The long-standing nutritional guidelines were now being rewritten. It didn’t stop there. It was if gangbusters raided the dairy department at your local grocery store, looking to break the stranglehold it had on the American public. It started with the egg, but soon milk and cheese became the target.
I questioned everything on the dinner plate and wondered if my folks were trying to kill me. My family was too poor to be picky so my parents doubled down on dairy. They cleaned house on all the discounted yogurt, cheese, milk, and eggs. I remember my father calling people fools for thinking all this food should go to waste.
Fast forward twenty years and there are promotions of the “Incredible Edible Egg”. The previous studies were discarded, and the golden yolk of an egg became the secret formula to optimal health. Food in the U.S. was forever changed. I watched the Berlin Wall come crashing down. I saw Michael Jackson’s hair catching on fire during a concert, and the egg is what I remember. And to think, all this could have been avoided if the egg industry had better lobbyists in Washington.