Goat Meat as an Ethical Alternative to Beef

Goat meat being barbecued on sticks.

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From those who believe a vegan world is our best hope, to others who argue that integrating animals into sustainable farming is the most sustainable way forward, meat eating is always going to be a controversial subject. But it is easy to forget that, from a purely environmental perspective, not all meat is created equal. That's why many people are turning back to a somewhat ignored (in the US at least) source of animal protein in the search for greener meat—goat. They may even find their health improves as a result too.

Not All Meat is Created Equal

A farmer watching a goat pasture.

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True, for those who say that killing any animal for meat is wrong, the relative carbon footprint or environmental impact of goat versus beef is somewhat of a pointless distinction. But for those of us who do eat meat, and who do believe that animals are an important part of viable, sustainable agriculture, it is important to understand the relative benefits and drawbacks of different types of farm animals.

Goat Meat Makes a Come Back

Goat cheese on a cutting board with a knife.

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Writing over at the Washington Post, Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough—authors of Goats Meat, Milk, Cheese—note that consumers are rediscovering goat meat as a healthy, more sustainable source of animal protein. Noting that while goat cheese and butter have gone from being somewhat maligned, to becoming pretty much a culinary cliche, the authors claim that goat meat is about to undergo a similar revolution. Given the fact that goat is in fact the most consumed meat in the world (70% of the world's red meat consumption is accounted for by goat), they may have a point:

Goat meat production is ramping up in the United States. The number of goats slaughtered has doubled every 10 years for the past three decades, according to the USDA. We're closing in on 1 million meat goats a year -- and still growing, despite the economic downturn.

The Environmental Impact of Goat Meat

Goats eating on a green pasture.

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Boasting fewer calories and less fat than chicken, beef, lamb or pork, there is certainly a health case to be made for goats meat, say Scarbrough and Weinstein, but it is the environmental impact that may be most compelling from a societal point of view. Because goats are browsers, not grazers, they have a much smaller impact on the land—and consequently farmers are able to produce more goats meat from the same sized pasture than they would with beef.
Now there is a powerful advocate for more sustainable meat working to take advantage of that fact:

Out in California in 2008, Bill Niman originally fielded a herd to tend his cow pastures. The goats would even out what the cows mangled, chewing down the less-desirable weeds, giving the plants a haircut before the bovines tromped about. The founder of Niman Ranch, a well-respected network of farmers who produce humanely raised pork, beef and lamb, soon found that meat goats were for more than just lawn-mowing. He is now on the cusp of doing for goat what he did for pork years ago: putting together a consortium of ethical, mindful farmers and ranchers who can demand a higher price for a superior product.

Goat Meat Requires a Culinary Rethink

Meat and vegetable kebab skewers on a barbecue.

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As with any unfamiliar ingredient, perhaps the biggest challenge for taking goat mainstream in the US is educating consumers on how to cook with it. Winstein and Scarbrough offer some tips on how to get the most out of your goat meat, and also note that it is important to ask questions of your supplier—goat meat is not yet subject to the same rigorous butchery standards as other types of animal flesh. But, given the global popularity of goat, the authors note that they were not short of recipes when researching Goats Meat, Milk, Cheese. Now adventurous American cooks will have some of the legwork done for them.