07 December 2008

Got goat?

I am curious about everything. I have an insatiable urge to know “who” and “why” and “where” and “when” and “what” and “how” and the most important one, “why not”. The other day I was poking around on the Internet to see what else is new and I stumbled upon yet another thing that I didn't know. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I read that goat meat is the most widely consumed meat in the world. That's right, goat meat! Approximately sixty-three percent of the world’s total meat consumption can be credited to goat meat and it is estimated that eighty percent of the world’s population eats goat as a staple in their diet. How about that? When I read about this it really humbled me. How come I didn't know this? It is probably because like many Americans I have lived the majority of my life in a bubble. I always thought that beef was king and that “Where's the beef?” was the cry of the masses. Now I find out that worldwide, more people eat the meat and drink the milk of goats than any other type of animal and that three-fourths of all the goats in the world are located in developing countries. I have seen estimates that the total world population of goats is now around 765 million animals and that less than ten percent of that number are in North America. I really don't know how they come by that number though. I wasn't aware that there is a goat census and I would think that goats move around a lot making them hard to count. Nevertheless, the fact is that there are a lot of goats.

I knew from experience that goat is eaten quite a bit in Mexico in a number of forms. We have “cabrito al pastor” in which the whole carcass is opened flat and impaled on a metal spit and set over a fire. Then we have "cabrito al horno" or oven-roasted cabrito. Then there is "cabrito en salsa" in which the animal is cut into portions, browned in oil and braised in a tomato-based sauce with onions, garlic and green chilies, and other seasonings. We also have "cabrito en sangre" or cabrito in blood sauce where the blood of the animal is collected when it is slaughtered and it becomes the basis for the sauce that the goat is braised in. Another thing we have is “birria de cabrito” which is the meat from a young goat that is steamed. Last, but not least we have “barbacoa de cabrito” where the goat is wrapped in leaves and cooked in a pit barbecue. I didn't really know much about how goats are used in other countries but I am quickly learning that eating goat meat is a pretty big deal. Goats were one of the very first animals to be domesticated by humans, some 10,000 years ago and goats are mentioned many times in the Bible and they are also mentioned in the Quran and there are few, if any, religious taboos that prohibit people from eating goats.

There are many reasons why goats have become such an important source of meat. First of all, goats thrive in poor conditions where cattle and other types of livestock would likely starve. Goats are good foragers and cost about half as much to feed as other livestock. This is because goats prefer plants that are undesirable to other livestock. Goats prefer shrubs and broad leaf weeds over grass. The result is more grass for the other livestock. Goats can also be raised on land that is unsuitable for other purposes. It takes seven or eight goats to eat as much as one cow. The goat pregnancy period is fairly short. A female goat normally gives birth between 145 - 155 days after mommy goat and daddy goat rub noses (or whatever it is that they do). Goats usually give birth to twins but on rare occasions can give birth to four or five. Goats are very prolific. A female goat reaches puberty early, usually at about twelve months for her first mating and can give birth after subsequent matings at least three times every two years. Finally, there is one other good reason why goats are popular for meat. A single small goat will feed a large family unit without the need for subsequent refrigeration, or in other words the whole goat is consumed at one meal. This is in contrast for the need to preserve the meat from larger animals after they are slaughtered. For the diet conscious, a three ounce serving of goat meat represents about 122 calories and provides three grams of fat while the same size portion of beef represents about 245 calories and provides 16 grams of fat. Goat has about the same caloric content as chicken but has lower cholesterol content than chicken, beef, pork, or lamb.

I found it very interesting that the goat market is very diverse and that it has a lot to do with ethnic and religious preferences. For example, the Muslim people observe a day called Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice ) which this year is celebrated on Monday, December 8th. 2008 in conjunction with the mass assembly of Hajj pilgrims around Mount Arafat, just outside Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The festival commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. Muslims who can afford it, sacrifice an animal (usually a goat or a sheep) as a reminder of Abraham's obedience to God. According to Muslim law, the animal must be at least a year old. You can tell this by looking at a goat's teeth because goats get their adult teeth at about one year of age. The sacrificed animal has to be a male also. The animal must be humanely treated prior to slaughter, have its head turned to the east, toward Mecca, and a prayer spoken while a very sharp knife is used to cut its throat. The slaughtering ritual is somewhat similar to that used by the Jewish people.When a Jewish rabbi says a prayer called the “bracha” (or “brachot” ) over the “shechita” (slaughter) right before killing the animal The intention is the same as when you say a blessing before you eat to acknowledge that God is the source of all life. I remember reading that the American Indian does the same thing before killing wild game. I wonder why Christians don't do the same before killing things. Hmmm, perhaps McDonalds and Burger King do that for us. There is one other thing that I wonder about. Although goat is the most consumed meat throughout the world, the USDA only lists milk, broilers, cattle, hogs, calves, eggs and turkeys on its agricultural commodities roster. Maybe if the U.S. Government learned a bit more about goats it would learn a bit more about Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mexicans, Indonesians, Filipinos, Chinese, and the people of India and South America, etcetera, and the world might be a better place. It's just an idea...


Anonymous said...

One of the problems with goats is brucellosis or malta fever...which goats can spread to humans or cattle. I met a guy a few years ago with malta fever and it slowly weakens your system sometimes over several years until you die.
I avoid goat cheese because of that. maybe I'm wrong but the USDA is very strict about transporting goats across state lines .

GlorV1 said...

Strange that you should write about this today. My husband and I were watching Bobby Flay cook this morning and he used goat cheese, but made the comment that a lot of people don't eat goat cheese so that if you didn't want to use it, another cheese could be used. My husband asked me if I had ever tasted goat cheese and I can't remember ever eating it, nor my husband. Now I don't think I will. I will stick to Fontina cheese. As far as goat, I only ate it once when I was small. My dad and uncles cooked it. I think it was kind of sweetish. I'm not sure. Bob, I don't like goat meat.:) Your post was brilliant though, and a learning experience. Thank you very much. Have a great week.

YayaOrchid said...

Wow! This is one very fine post! You did make me laugh again with the mention of a goat census though, lOL!

I've had cabrito asado and once the 'machitos' those meat bundles. It was a long time ago, when I was a kid. I remember thinking it didn't taste bad, just not as good as beef.

But you do bring out an interesting point about the religious significance of the food.
I love cheese, but now after hearing about that fever, I'll be hesitant to eat goat cheese. Maybe only if it's American in origin? Definitely if it's Kosher!

Steve Cotton said...

Bob -- Goat cheese can be found in any American cheese counter. And I would be surprised is most Americans have not tasted, Most likely as feta or a soft goat cheese. Brucellosis is a disesase that can be contracted from drinking unpasteurized milk or eating cheese made from unpasteurized milk -- usyally, goats, but unpasteurized cow, buffalo, or sheep milk can also pass the disease. As for goat merat, I had quite a bit when I lived in Laredo in the early 70s. I am open to try it again.

YayaOrchid said...

Mr. Cotton, small world! So you lived in Laredo at one time? Wow!

jennifer rose said...

There is a saying, "Where the goat begins, the culture ends." Imagine a Mason-Dixon line across the country, and observe which side has culture and which has widespread goat consumption.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,
Fascinating article. In Canada, goats are fairly common at least here on the "Wet" Coast. Goat meat can be purchased in just about any major grocery store and goat cheese is consumed at an almost unheard of rate. Although goat can taste somewhat "gamey" the trick is to marinate it and put a couple of cut onions into the bag. This neutralizes the gaminess and turns out a truly flavorful product. Pasteurized is the key. As another aside, those people who have dairly alergies can often consume goat milk without incident.

GlorV1 said...

YooHoo Bob. Everything okay? We haven't heard from you in a while. Hope everything is okay.

1st Mate said...

You always put so much into your posts, I always learn a lot.

The Capt's favorite caramel candy is made with goat's milk. Cajeta, I think it's called. A version is also made with cow's milk, but the flavor of the goat milk makes it a lot more interesting, even though the one time I tasted goat milk itself I didn't like it. We also like goat cheese though I can't find it in Mexico.

http://texas-chef.blogspot.com/ said...

I live close to Mexico and all the Mexican people, both in US and in Mexico cook goat and goat parts.


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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.