Is that a contradiction in terms? You bet. But these meat-and dairy-eschewing vegetarians have four major justifications for making an occasional exception for eggs.
1. Not all eggs are bad eggs.
Even PETA, which condemns the use of animals for any reason, gives eating the eggs of your pet chicken a pass: "[W]e would not oppose eating eggs from chickens treated as companions if the birds receive excellent care and are not purchased from hatcheries," the group states on their website.
The distinction between home-raised chickens and commercially farmed ones is significant, no matter what your dietary preferences are. The vast majority of the eggs eaten by Americans come from chickens that are raised without access to sunlight or pasture and with floor space the size of an iPad, as explained in a 2015 report in TIME — not enough room to flap their wings or roost.
But if eating eggs from chickens raised on a small scale and under humane circumstances is something that's important to you and something that you can afford, it is possible to find them. Unlike dairy cows, who are routinely impregnated via artificial insemination so that they continue to produce milk, many healthy young hens can do their thing without human intervention, and lay up to an egg a day.
Research your local egg farmers online, or talk to one in person at a farmers market; depending on where you draw the line when it comes to the treatment of hens, you may or may not feel comfortable purchasing their hens' eggs.
2. It's still possible to avoid hormones and antibiotics.
If you're a non-vegan who regularly consumes chicken or turkey, you may be concerned about your poultry being treated with antibiotics that can be harmful to your own health. And rightly so: According to a report that ran last year in Mother Jones, livestock accounts for 70 percent of the use of "medically important" antibiotics used in the United States.
You may naturally want to avoid buying into a business that perpetuates the use and abuse of antibiotics, and some commercial egg producers will tout the absence of hormones and antibiotics right on the carton. Yay! But as it turns out, you may be paying a premium to avoid something you were unlikely to encounter in the first place.
Curiously, even certified-organic chickens can legally receive injections of antibiotics in the egg before they even hatch, but unfertilized eggs made for consumption do not. And the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association states that even eggs from conventionally raised hens (read: treated with antibiotics) do not contain residues of those antibiotics — although according to U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, a mandatory withdrawal period after the administration of antibiotics keeps antibiotic residue (not antibiotic-resistant bacteria) to a minimum in meat and dairy, too.
To sum up, no egg-laying hens are given hormones, U.S. Poultry says. This means, veggans who don't eat chickens can still eat eggs and stay antibiotic- and hormone-free.
3. It's a quick way to get some essential nutrients.
The jury's still out on how much cholesterol — a vital substance often associated with egg consumption, villainized as a leading cause of heart disease beginning in the 1970s — is okay. But there's plenty to be said for humble protein, which contains fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as lecithin, a compound known as an emulsifier and taken pharmaceutically to preserve cognitive as well as liver and gallbladder functioning.
Strict vegans need to rely on supplements and fortified foods to get enough vitamin B12 to ensure optimal functioning of the brain and nervous system, since B12 isn't found naturally in any plant-based foods. But it's found in eggs! Which is good, considering a B12 deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, permanent damage to the nervous system, and more.
4. It's a good way to convert curious but cautious almost-vegans.
The days of hearing "I would go vegan, but I could never give up cheese" are far from over. But for those willing to make the sacrifice and to drop a little money on dairy-free cheeses and "alternative" meats, these days, you've got some decent options.
Not so with the inimitable egg. While binding agents can facilitate vegan baking, eggless eggs haven't enjoyed quite the same measure of success. There's just no replicating a sunny-side up with tofu or agar powder — yet.
Are you a veggan? Tell us why in the comments!