Why Aren't We Eating More Goat?
As a cultural anthropology undergraduate major, I have always been fascinated by cultural choices. One area of choices I am particularly interested in is food. Having grown up in a state of dietary want in the post-depression/WWII era I have been willing to eat anything my entire life. My grandfather, uncles, and father introduced me to fried grasshoppers and ants, rattlesnake, squirrel, venison, frog legs, pheasant, dove, catfish, the “Easter Bunny,” and wild plants as early as memory serves me.
My grandfather desperately wanted to introduce me to skunk and raccoon meat but was taken by cancer before we could schedule the hunt. Carp eyes, kimchee and other Asian delicacies dominated my early twenties. Insect fare, particularly mealworms, is my next interest because it may present a way to feed humans and animals with minimal impact on our fragile planet.
But I digress. My point is, how does a culture decide what is edible? And more specifically, why have Americans not accepted goat meat as a common protein alternative? Americans are notorious for embracing foreign foods. Italian, Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese foods are embedded in the American diet. African, Asian, and Mid-Eastern cultures consume large amounts of goat meat. Assimilation of these cultures into the American fabric has not created the same interest in their cultural cuisine. Goat meat is absent from the American diet. Why?
The Case for Goat
As a meat, goat is one of the leanest. Only 19 percent of the calories in goat meat are derived from fat, while 35 percent of the calories in lean, 5 percent fat ground beef are derived from fat! Only bison, turkey breast, and codfish are lower in fat calories per serving than goat.
The taste of goat meat is comparable to veal or venison. Because it is so lean, cooking methods that don’t preserve moisture tend to render goat meat tough, especially when cooked at high temperatures. Stewing, baking, grilling, barbecuing, and frying are the many ways goat is prepared. Spice selection is, of course, culturally determined, so the ultimate taste can differ significantly.
Goat milk enjoys more popularity in America than goat meat does. Although a small, eclectic group swear by the miracles of goat milk, it still represents a small portion of total American milk consumption. Interestingly, goat milk contains small fat globules and maintains an even distribution of fat in the milk.
In contrast, the fat in cow milk readily rises to the top. To distribute the fat more evenly, cow milk must be homogenized. Goat milk can be turned into cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream without the need for homogenization.
My experience with goat milk and cheese has been that it is heavily scented. Milk goats that are not separated from the buck, or male, produce milk that has a distinctive goat smell and taste. Many find that scent offensive. With my upbringing that has not proven to be a problem.
Lower Carbon Foot Print
Unlike cows and sheep that graze, goats are browsers. They are capable of turning more woody and broad leafed plants into adequate nutrition. This means that they require less intensive production practices than what is necessary to feed cattle and sheep the hay, alfalfa, corn, and silage they need to stay healthy. Because woody plants are much easier to grow and require less water and fertilization, goat is a “greener” alternative meat source.
Presently, goat meat availability is restricted to tight cultural market sources and may command higher prices than other meat cuts. As interest and consumption become more common these irregularities in the market will self-correct. I include recipes for goat meat in my homemade diets and suggest that you consider this alternative meat source for yourself, and for your pet.
Dr. Ken Tudor