When it Comes to Meat, Consider Goat

It's delicious, abundant, and far more environmentally friendly. Americans need to eat the world's favorite meat. They’ve cleaned up brush on a...

It's delicious, abundant, and far more environmentally friendly. Americans need to eat the world's favorite meat.

They’ve cleaned up brush on a Vanderbilt estate in New York and bushwhacked through Druid Hill Park in Baltimore. Google hired a herd to graze their headquarters and Yahoo! followed suit. They’ve taken down invasive blackberries along the Appalachian Trail, cleared kudzu in the Carolinas, and chowed down on ivy behind Seattle’s Metro bus depot. Goats have been running up and down the fire-prone hillsides of Los Angeles for at least two decades. There’s a smorgasbord for goats almost anywhere—railroad easements, leftover produce, and overgrown lots. That might mean good news for meat lovers concerned about the industrial production of their food.

“Goats are a good ecological alternative to mowing and they’re used all over California for grazing. It’s much less resource intensive than pulling weeds by hand or using pesticides,” says Nicolette Niman, the author of Righteous Pork Chop, who has been developing a goat herd with a cooperative of ranchers over the last two years. “And you can end up with meat, too. I don’t know how many people are producing goat meat this way, but that’s not to say they couldn’t.”

There’s good reason to reconsider the future of red meat, with its heavy environmental tolls. So maybe it’s time to consider eating goat meat. Last month, Grub Street pointed out a proliferation of goat stews and roasts have snuck on to menus at white linen restaurants, with chefs like Chris Cosentino and Zakary Pelaccio giving goat a go. And as the increased popularity of goat cheese, yogurts, and milk climbed over the last decade, it’s resulted in a surfeit of goat meat. As Brad Kessler writes in Goat Song, “You can’t eat an ice cream or drink a latte without killing animals. All those unwanted boy calves, lambs, and kids inevitably end up butchered.” If we’re not eating them, that meat goes to waste.

Although goats first arrived in North America 400 years ago, their meat has hardly become a staple, except in certain ethnic neighborhoods where you might find cabrito, roti, or maraq. Much of this goat meat comes from overseas and many state agriculture officials have been encouraging ranchers to diversify to meet local demand. When I asked Ray Mobley, an organizer of a recent national conference on goat meat, if he thought it was the new beef, he said, “It’s not new. To call it the new beef is simply not true. It’s just the U.S. has not been a leading consumer. Globally, there is more goat meat consumed than any other red meat."

And despite the stereotype, goats don’t really eat garbage, they just graze on marginal land. Carla Brauer at City Grazing in San Francisco, which is owned by Waste Solutions Group and uses goats to clear vegetation around the city, told me they don’t offer kids for sale—in part because meat processing legislation favors feedlots over small producers. “And I don’t know how my boss would feel about slaughtering workshops. He tends to think of goats as pets. At the same time, it’s a really productive thing to raise your own goats for meat.”

If small urban producers can overcome these processing-related hurdles, goats seem well adapted for urban farming. Bill Niman, a pioneer in good meats, and others are now showing that goats can be raised for ecological purposes and for high-quality meat. Goat meat packs all the protein of red meats and, as Mike Canaday at California Grazing told me, “There’s no antibiotics. That’s not the way goats are raised. They’re ninety-eight percent free range. They’re not like chickens or beef, where you can have a huge feedlot.” When he put his on the side of the freeway, they didn’t get sick or eat waste. They did pose another problem—traffic slowed to a standstill from all the rubbernecking.

It might be time to look into goats, the so-called "soccer of meats." As much of the world knows, it can be delicious. “I’m a beef guy,” Canaday says. “But I like goat. A good piece, slow and seasoned—it’s as good as anything else. Sometimes I’ll serve it to friends and they’ll just rave about it. Sometimes I don’t even mention it’s not beef.”

Illustration by Junyi Wu

via Alan Levine / Flickr

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