Claire, Alpine Goat, Autumn 2011
I didn’t intend to write this second installment more than 4 months after the first, but as I alluded to in the first installment, there would be some heavy topics to discuss in part 2, and so I found myself really needing to sit on it for a while. There were many times I thought about writing this second piece but didn’t feel ready. There are some strong feelings associated with this topic, and I even lost a friend over the issue. So this is not easy stuff, but it is important and I want to open some discussion on it, especially with my fellow Vermonters.
WHY AN ANIMAL LOVER RAISES MEAT?
Raising animals for food is not something that we went into lightly. It was essentially forced upon us. The quality of food in this country, especially as it pertains to animals products is getting more dismal by the day. Just this year, one meat company Cargill had two recalls due to salmonella contamination. Plus, it has come to light that many of American meat companies treat meat with ammonia in order to kill e.coli bacteria found in so much of the conventional meat supply. But yet when you see how hard the government cracks down on something like raw milk , you begin to see how Big Ag really is another form of the mafia, forcing you to eat their poison or pay for it dearly.
So what is a sane person, who doesn’t want to become a vegetarian to do in a world like this? Yes, you can shop locally and buy directly from farmers that you trust, and we certainly do support our local farmers and love them, yet the economy and regulations have been affecting many farmers ability to farm and actually feed people, so in order to really be stable, I think it is good practice to begin raising as much of our own food as possible. It is a good skill to have and really helps to foster a relationship between food and its place of origin. Most people are so out of touch with the reality of food and how it is grown, whether animal or vegetable. For me, my own meat consumption and how I source it over the years has become a very personal and spiritual act for me.
Inga, Shetland Sheep, Autumn 2011
See, I was a vegetarian for over a decade, because I love animals. In my naivety I thought if I didn’t consume meat, there would be no blood on my hands. Now, I know this is fallacy. If you want to learn more about it, I suggest Lierre Keith’s book The Vegetarian Myth. There are things in the book that I do not agree with, personally, mostly politically speaking, but Lierre’s journey stems from the same place as mine. She loves animals, and wanted to opt out of the savage and merciless killing of animals that occurs every day on the large feedlots and slaughterhouses of industrial America. But not eating meat, even animal products and vegetables for that matter doesn’t keep you from the cycle of life and death. As a human on this planet, that is one thing you just can’t escape.
I guess for me the biggest surprise came when I began thinking about becoming a cheesemaker. Naivety struck again. I make no bones about my lack of practical knowledge when it comes to farming. I learn stuff every day that makes me laugh at myself and what I don’t know! But, once I started thinking about raising sheep and goats for milk, I began to wonder…now that I know in order to produce milk for cheesemaking, sheep and goats must become pregnant, I began to realize I had to open up Pandora ’s Box. In order for me to have milk to make cheese, my animals must become pregnant, and have babies…what in the world am I supposed to do with these babies? At this point, all naivety is stripped away, and as an animal lover you are faced with nothing but heart-breaking solutions: 1) Sell the babies as pets (how much of a market is there for this in my small rural community, that can be sustained year after year before it gets saturated? When the state of Vermont alone has 6,000 male goat bucklings to find a place for every year) 2) Raise the babies for meat and then kill and eat the babies or sell the meat to someone else to eat 3) Sell the babies to someone else to raise for meat.
UGH. So here I am faced with such a daunting task. So I start to research it…what do other goat farmers do with their offspring? Lamb is easy to market, but I don’t see much goat meat out there, so maybe goat farmers are doing something else. There are so many new goat dairies cropping up all over the place, other farmers must have found a solution. Female offspring are easy to sell, live, or to keep continuing your breeding stock, males, not so much. It is not hard to google “male bucklings, goat dairy” to see how many farmers choose to solve the issue. This “solution” is definitely not an option for me.
If I am to be a truly sustainable farm, it means I find a place in the system for all the animals that come under my care. If I can’t, then I have to keep my herd small enough so that I can find a place. It means I am invested in the animals produced on my farm and must find practical solutions where I can see them through to the end of their journey, whatever that may be by making respectful decisions about their fate. All animals, especially those providing nourishing food for us deserve respect and good care and the forethought necessary to make the best decisions possible before getting in over one’s head and making a reactionary decision.
After months of researching various options, like a “hire-a-goat” service to do lawn and landscape care (where city ordinance laws come into place and basically scraps that idea), the only sustainable option that I came up, that wouldn’t cost me money, was to start getting used to eating goat meat. Sounds sensible, right? I eat meat every day, this shouldn’t bother me. Perhaps if I had grown up on a farm, or even as a hunter (which I do), my deep seated emotions over this would be different, but where I sit now, I don’t care how rational and sustainable it all is, or how much sense it makes, it is hard for me and I don’t see that changing. Yes, when I look at my goats, it feels terrible to imagine killing their future babies. This is not something I fantasize about or take pleasure in, nor do I take it lightly. But it is a responsibility I must recognize and act upon since I decided to homestead and raise animals. The two go hand in hand and cannot be separated from each other, and no wishing on my part is going to change that. So when I said to my friend who also has goats as pets, that my priority as a budding cheesemaker at the time was to figure out this dilemma and raise awareness on how to get goat meat on the market and on the table, she wished me the best of luck with “killing goats”. Not the same thing.
Iona, Shetland Sheep, Autumn 2011
This journey into homesteading and raising animals has been a spiritual journey, as every dark night of the soul is. I was fortunate enough, many years ago to have the experience living on the Dine (Navajo) reservation for 6 months. I lived with two elders, and they lived off the land, raising sheep and goats. I learned to care for these animals, and came to see the reciprocal and symbiotic relationship between herder and animal. Those animals were well cared for and deeply respected. They gave continued life to “grandma” and “grandpa”, and that knowledge and understanding seeped into everything they did with those animals. Part of my duties, besides herding was to help in the slaughter process, and yes, I admit, the first time we butchered an animal, I got physically ill. But then I had to eat that animal if I wanted to nourish myself because there weren’t a lot of options when it came to food out there. After that process and experiencing it more than once, I felt like I had the experience and some of the understanding that came with the responsibility of eating meat, and I stopped being a vegetarian. I then vowed that one day I would raise my own animals for meat, so they could have the best life possible being cared for by one who had the deepest respect for their sacrifice. So I always look back on that when faced with some of these hard choices.
Astrid, Alpine Goat, Autumn 2011
So what does this mean? This does not mean we stop eating goat cheese, drinking goat milk or start shunning goat dairy products (one Ag expert I spoke to said, if I brought these topics up, it would make people shun dairy goat products). It means we find ways to celebrate the goat and its healthy, delicious and nourishing meat. Did you know that goat meat is the #1 most consumed meat in the world? It is just not very popular in the USA…yet. But I believe it will begin to become popular, as the byproduct of all these new goat dairy operations begins to find a necessary place in the meat market and on American tables.
Some people are already doing something about awareness for these byproducts of the dairy industry. A book recently came out called simply, Goat*Meat*Milk*Cheese by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. They “make goat sexy and entertaining”. Yes, goats are certainly entertaining, but sexy? The book contains more than 100 recipes inspired by cuisines that are no stranger to this meat like various curries, tagines, moles and skewered goat, to American classics, like Chicken Fried Goat with Gravy, burgers, meatloaf and goat chili. How about Pan Roasted Chops with Blackberries and Sage? That sounds like a gourmet dinner to me!
A close friend of mine recently bought some goat chops from a local farm, and paid more for it than he would have had he bought lamb chops. Which just goes to show that goat meat is set up to be sold as a gourmet meat, a great business venture for anyone who could fill this gap needed by the goat dairy industry. I would love to see local restaurants participate in a month of delicious goaty goodness, creating menus based on this delicious meat to introduce it to more consumers, combined with local area festivals celebrating the goat. This is what I would love to see in Vermont. Vermonters, can we get this going!?
There is also No Goat Left Behind to look to for inspiration. It is a program developed by Heritage Foods USA in Brooklyn, NY and directed by Erin Fairbanks whose mission is “intended to introduce goat as a viable meat product in the United States, while simultaneously aiding dairy farms that have little need for male goats”. Watch this video to understand how intricately meat and cheese production are connected and why it is so important to create awareness around this issue.
The video makes perfect sense and many of the dairy farms they partner with are already in Vermont! If you check out their website, there are more great recipe ideas. I would love to take what they are doing further and bring some awareness to Vermont. We have a lot of great restaurants here that support and rely on local farms for their food, why not give them the opportunity to try their hand at a new protein source and bring creative goat meat dishes to Vermonters? Why should New York City have all the deliciousness!?
If you are not in Vermont I encourage you to get a copy of the book Goat*Meat*Milk*Cheese and support local farms, butchers and meat markets in your area that sell goat meat. If you are a blogger, please blog the recipes you make to help raise awareness.
To read more about our journey to homesteading, please ready my last post: Share My Insanity