How to Look at an Eggshell

© Copyright 2018 Kris Dionio, Ryerson University.

Jonnie Nord. “Freerange eggs.” Eggs in a carton on top of hay. © Wikimedia Commons.

To those who eat chicken eggs, the interest lies in what they are after they have been cooked – scrambled, boiled, poached, sunny-side up – unless you’re Rocky Balboa and you feel like knocking back a glass of them raw. But no one cares about nature’s packaging: the eggshell. They’re discarded carelessly, the cook’s attention geared towards the slime that it houses.

When you think about it, that’s what eggshells are meant to be – temporary calcium-walled houses. Evolution hadn’t considered that humans would one day forcefully breed and exploit chickens to satisfy their own dietary needs. The eggshell is there to house the chicken embryo until it is ready to hatch. But the food industry has worked around the inconvenience of a chicken fertilizing an egg.

What do you see when you take the time and effort to study the average chicken eggshell?  It’s easy to sift through a biology textbook or type into a search query ‘eggshell structure’ and see the parts all nicely labelled, but such an experience lacks dimension – relying solely on these two-dimensional diagrams reduces the experience of seeing an eggshell, and flattens it (both literally and metaphorically).

“Inside the egg.” Egg diagram. © Pennsylvania State University.

Diagrams are keen to illustrate and label the distinction between the shell membrane and the hard calcium shell, but they fail to fully encapsulate the physical qualities of the membrane. The image on the plane surface cannot show its reader how the membrane can be stretched and peeled off the shell if you’re careful enough.

When it comes to chicken eggs, the shells are generally white or a light shade of brown. They don’t reflect light really well, which is a good idea because if they did have a reflective surface, it would make them an noticeable target for predators (but not like that got in humankind’s way of harvesting eggs).

They’re not completely smooth, so if you run your finger over the surface, you are likely to find a few small bumps throughout, and you can see these bumps if you look at the shell really closely. In proper lighting, you can see the tiny shadows they cast onto the smoother parts of the shell.

“Boiled Egg shell in extreme close up stock footage. A hard boiled Egg shell against a white backdrop in macro close up with a sliding camera move.” Still from a closeup video of an egg. © CH Digital Media.

To look at an eggshell is a visual-tactile experience, insofar as it is something that deserves to be felt just as much as it is seen. There are variances of colour and texture regarding eggshells, and an image only captures a very specific kind of egg that’s a specific shade of white and has a specific amount of bumps. An image of the membrane being stretched only shows it being stretched in that one, specific way, but if it’s in your hand you can see it stretch and twist in a variety of angles – you can even dangle the eggshell by the membrane and bob it up and down like a boring yo-yo variant.

This isn’t to discard the kind of knowledge diagrams can give to readers, as they capture some things that we fail to see in an everyday eggshell experience, like the eggshell’s pores and the complex protein structures (“The Parts of the Egg”). But taking the time to look at an eggshell shifts it from being just the hard white part of the egg to an array of visual and physical textures.


Works Cited

CH Digital Media. “Boiled Egg shell in extreme close up stock footage. A hard boiled Egg shell against a white backdrop in macro close up with a sliding camera move.” Shuttershock.

Elkins, James. How to Use Your EyesRoutledge, 2000.

Nord. Jonnie. “Freerange eggs.” Wikimedia Commons.

Rocky, directed by John G. Avildsen, Chartoff-Winkler Productions, 3 December 1976.

“The Parts of the Egg.” Penn State University,