Dan Murphy: Getting One’s Goat

July 30, 2018 10:01 AM
 
A mass movement is neither plausible nor imminent, but a new book touting the benefits and value of eating goat meat just might nudge a few consumers into trying a goat meat recipe.

Virtually every week, a new book about meat and meat-eating hits the market. Unfortunately, they’re almost always either detailing the horrors of consuming beef, pork or poultry or touting the wonders to come of factory foods, such as the wave of alt-meat alternatives.

Until now.

A recently published book from British chef-author James Whetlor is all about adding a red meat choice to foodservice and household menus — only it’s a choice most Americans would instinctively resist.

That’s because the meat we’re talking about is goat — and that’s not an acronym for “Greatest of All Time.”

As the Amazon.com review of Whetlor’s aptly titled book, “Goat: Cooking and Eating,” explained, goat meat is “sustainable, ethical, highly nutritious and low in calories” (relatively speaking).

But that full-throated endorsement begs the obvious question: Why does goat meat remain so underused and so unpopular?

As a one-time and future keeper of a pair of dairy goats myself, I can answer that: Because most people have a ridiculously warped misunderstanding of the animals.

Years ago, when I had two beautiful Nubian dairy goats roaming around my little rented farmstead in western Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I wouldn’t have been able to count on both hands and feet the number of people who asked me, “Hey, do your goats eat tin cans?”

No, they don’t, although as voracious browsers, goats will “sample” most anything to determine its edibility, and they can devour a six-foot length of blackberry vines — thorns and all — in a matter of moments without blinking an eye.

But despite the fact that goats are among the most popular animals at petting zoos and on tourist farms, most people believe they’re smelly, obnoxious and certainly unsuited as dinner table fare. Plus, in the minds of Americans, goat meat is unfairly relegated to the category of “ethnic food,” meaning, “Food eaten by other people — not us.”

Sheep 1, Goats 0
Another issue with the goat’s backseat place in the roll call of food animals traces to history. As a review of “Goat” on Thrillist.com noted, “This book tells the story of how food and farming culture developed in the west [meaning Western Hemisphere] without the help of this staple of global agriculture.”

Back in medieval times, according to Whetlor’s research, England developed a thriving wool export trade with the rest of Europe and as a result, focused on sheep farming, which left out goats as a preferred ruminant.

Yet goats have admirable traits that ought to make them highly valuable as both farm and food animals. For one, they’re extremely hardy and self-reliant. Second, most commercial breeds can thrive in a variety of climates, habitats and food sources, and in fact, in many countries where goats remain a prominent grazing animal, they can be maintained in areas or on pastures incapable of supporting cattle or sheep.

So far, there’s no groundswell among foodies for more goat meat on the menu, nor any widely available source of product. In 2017, the U.S. imported $270 million worth of goat meat, according to USDA data, but that’s only a sampling, a mere hors d’oeuvre to beef and pork’s ownership of the middle of the plate.

Whetlor, who founded an organization called Cabrito (from the Spanish for “kid,” or young goat) to promote foodservice applications for goat meat, included in his book a number of recipes for goat dishes from several high-profile chefs — which is fine for marketing one’s cookbook, but hardly a pathway for masses of consumers to begin adding goat meat to their dinner plans.

Goat milk? Maybe. Goat cheese? Certainly. Beyond that, it’s questionable whether nutritional benefits and global sustainability will override unfamiliarity and bias against meat from the world’s most misunderstood food animal.

The Amazon.com review for “Goat” concludes by stating that the book is “essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in food and the way we eat today, and set to be the definitive guide on the subject for years to come.”

Only one problem with such a powerful shout out. On Amazon.com, authors write their own reviews.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.

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