Words: Shamim de Brún
In 2019, a photo of an ordinary egg broke Kylie Jenner’s record for the most-liked photo on Instagram. The internet banded together to help a food overthrow the problematic Kardashian-Jenners. Cute. Later, this was revealed to be a mental health PSA about likes not defining you.
Then eggs showed up in a viral makeup tutorial. Soon both Burberry and George R. R. Martin introduced their own eggs. Eggs were everywhere. This egg salad sandwich “drew eyes” on Instagram and the New York Times.
Today is National Egg Day so in celebration we did a deep dive to try and understand how the humble egg has come to be worthy of its own day.
In many ways, humanity has always been obsessed with eggs. Decorating them, making chocolate versions and searching for them on holidays, regulating women’s, even putting jade versions of them up our vaginas.
The egg has a pervasive presence, and part of that concerns how delightfully simple they are. We’re likely in part obsessed with eggs because we are obsessed with life, death and sex. Eggs are a symbol of life and reproduction. Christianity adopted eggs as a symbol of fertility, resurrection, and eternal life. From the outside, eggs appear stone cold, yet they nurture young life inside.
Just as a grave keeps life locked in, eggs stood for the tomb in Jerusalem, from which Christ rose from death ‘like a bird hatching from an egg’. In Jewish traditions, the egg represents rebirth.
A ‘good egg’ is a way to refer to a good or kind person. The expression initially came from its opposite: bad egg. This was British public school slang from the 1800s for someone who was not pleasant. Also, the word egg fits into a wealth of puns, and online culture loves a pun. Of course, the most recent is the now-immortal Succession phrase: “You can’t make a Tomelette without breaking some Greggs.” It’s an essential truth of its own.
Eating eggs isn’t new, or a trend, but people’s outward exuberance over eating eggs online at the moment makes it feel like it is. People aren’t just chowing down on eggs. They’re obsessing over them. Eggs now top everything from burgers and pizza to oatmeal.
On TikTok, you can go around the world in 80 eggs. In storytime videos, you can watch hundreds of people tell you how they are obsessed with eggs. Or you can watch fitness bros compete for who can eat the most. This is without even venturing into egg-inspired aesthetics such as ‘hard-boiled egg girl’
Instagram is littered with decorative pictures of eggs. #YolkPorn has nearly four hundred thousand posts and millions of view views, with egg-popping videos as popular as pimple poppers. Twitter, you can look at a litany of ways people profess to be egg obsessives in witty quips. These days, ‘just add an egg’ is so popular that hundreds of articles have written about how adding an egg makes everything better, makes everything breakfast, and has better macros.
Eggs have always been associated with fitness because they are a fast-diffusing source of protein. So when Arnold Swartzenager was on the bulk, what was he eating (or drinking raw) eggs. Then, as fitness culture took over, the mass consumption of eggs proliferated. Now that we’re in the age of the fitness influencer, it tracks that eggs are a massive part of their nutritional content output. This link is so old that there is a Mr Men book about Mr Strong, who eats gallons of eggs. Gaston eats dozens of eggs to become the brute he is in Beauty and the Beast.
Rarely do eggs in art ever only symbolize food. They’re used to talk about life, loss of innocence, and, in many cultures, they signify luck or wealth.
“The egg has a perfect shape, even if it’s laid from the ass,” the artist Bruno Munari quipped. Salvador Dalì was an Eggs-obsessed Surrealist artist – and his work includes them by the dozens, from small and pearl-like to runny and fried. He liked their duality between hard exterior and soft interior, their evocation of divinity, female perfection, love and birth.
In 1958, the Danish designer Arne Jacobsen created the Egg Chair as a commission for the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. It’s likely one of the most famous chairs ever and spawned millions of knockoffs.
Of course, no discussion of eggs would be complete without referencing Fabergé. In 1885, the House of Fabergé started to supply these ornate eggs to the Imperial Palace of Russia. Fabergé Eggs cost many millions of euros. These even have inspired their own whole series of pop culture references.
Eggs crop up everywhere, from kids’ cartoons to adult rom-coms. They are found in every era of pop culture. Eggs present the quintessential post-coital breakfast ‘How do you like your eggs in the morning?’. They are also often used as surreal comedy, like in Airplane! when the woman on the plane keeps expelling eggs from her mouth. Then there’s Cool Hand Luke (1967). Paul Newman, a legend by all accounts, makes a random bet that he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour while in prison.
Then, in the original Ghostbusters movie, Sigourney Weaver comes home after doing the big shop and puts the bags on her kitchen table. While putting some of the other stuff away, the egg container pops open, and the eggs start popping out of their shells before cooking on the countertop. In Runaway Bride, Harrison Ford uses eggs to demonstrate how chaotic Julia Roberts is, saying, ‘You’re so lost you don’t even know what kinda’ eggs you like’.
Eggs are often used throughout The Sopranos to represent death, injury, and endings. Ralph is making eggs when Tony comes to his house and kills him. While Bobby is making eggs, Junior mistakenly calls Tony B, ‘Tony Egg’ immediately before receiving the call that Carmine has died. Tony B. later dies in the series. Tony steps in a pile of broken eggs as he realises he has to kill Tony B. Chris mentions “sitting on an egg” to his new girlfriend Kelly in the scene before finding out Liz LeCerva tried to commit suicide. I think it’s worth pointing out that Junior mentions eggs more than any other character but never has any eggs. He requests and talks about them but never eats an egg on the show. Junior, unlike most of the gangster characters on the show, survives the entire series. Like I could go on for hours.
Moving to the internet, the most surreal example of egg proliferation is, of course: Can I Offer You a Nice Egg In This Trying Time? This is a quote from Frank Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Online, the phrase has been used as a snowclone. A snowclone is the technical term for a meme template where you sub-in words to a well known phrase. The screenshot from the Always Sunny scene has been an exploitable meme template since.
Elsewhere, on Reddit there is an entire egg meme subthread and there’s a r/WeirdEggs subreddit with 47,700 subscribers and counting—where people post the strangest eggs they encounter. What counts as a weird egg? The reasonably standard abnormal double-yolked eggs. One has no yolk at all. Another post shows an egg that has two layers of shell. So, eggs are as diverse as people, making them a perfect metaphor for the human condition.
Part of their success as relevant in pop culture and memes is that every culture worldwide has eggs. They know what they are and can relate to the memes, jokes, and references. There are a lot of differences globally in food culture, especially in meat and plants that are grown. Every area has its preferred carb. But everyone eats eggs. And because everyone eats them, they can convey infinite parts of the human experience.
Most sentient human beings enjoy eggs. Their versatility, price, and foolproof cooking properties make them a cracking staple. It’s a testament to the humble chicken that we are obsessed with their eggs. You go, ladies.
Elsewhere on Char: What Are We So Obsessed with the Lidl Protein Yoghurts