As usual, I’ll start with a digression about the animal/food in question, and get to my opinion about how it tasted toward the end. Goats, of course, are one of the oldest domesticated animals, as folks did so about 10,000 years ago, according to the latest archaeological/DNA evidence. It’s not hard to see why they were picked, as they’re useful for meat, milk (an average adult female goat can produce over two liters a day), bones (for tool making), hides (their hair is good for making warm clothing, and their skin was sometimes used as parchment), and sinew. In the barnyard they’re considered the second smartest animal, after the pig (granted, their competitors are such non-geniuses as the chicken, cow, sheep, and horse, but still). Sometimes, this is a downside for the farmer, as their intelligence, climbing ability, balance, and curiosity means they’re Houdini-like in escaping enclosures (they’re even capable of climbing low-angled trees).
One myth about goats is that they pretty much eat anything, including tin cans. Alas, cartoons and fairy tales have misled us, as this isn’t true. Being natural browsers, they do eat a wide range of things, but only of the plant variety. This myth probably came about because of goat’s penchant for investigating objects with their mouths. But checking something out and actually consuming it are clearly two different things. Goats might be attracted to the food smells still inside a can, or by the paper label (and adhesive glue), but they are not inclined to, or are able to bite off chunks of metal and digest them.
During the Middle Ages, goats had a bad reputation, at least in
Europe. Perhaps because of their horns and lusty demeanor during mating times, they were often associated with evil, and sin in general. Depictions of Satan often had him possessing goat parts, and the pentagram is thought to possibly be a rough rendering of a goat’s head. Even regular goats were thought to tempt and torment saints by whispering dirty things in their ears.
One amusing subspecies is the Tennessee Fainting Goat, a breed especially prized for its meat. This title is true, in a way. These goats have a condition called myotonia congenita, which means when they’re surprised and/or afraid some of their muscles freeze for about ten seconds. This often results in them falling over in a very comical manner. Technically it’s not a faint, as the goats don’t lose consciousness, but it sure looks this way. Older members of this group typically learn to stand in a spread position, or to lean against something, meaning they don’t fall over as often. If they start to run while experiencing the affliction their gait is necessarily weird and stiff, which is why alternate names for them are wooden-leg goats, or stiff-leg goats. I was intrigued to learn that this condition is also (rarely, obviously) found in humans.
A fairly recent expression involves goats, sort of. “GOAT” or sometimes, “G.O.A.T.” is an acronym for “Greatest of All Time,” usually said to have been inspired by boxer Muhammad Ali’s boasting (but arguably reasonable) comments about himself. This has been claimed by rappers (LL Cool J, Eminem) and athletes (sprinter Maurice Green) and said by others for folks like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, etc. This seems weird to me, as in sports the “goat” (no periods, written in lowercase letters) typically means (or used to, anyway) the person who’s most responsible for a loss (probably derived from “scapegoat”). Personally I would have originated an acronym that was less easy to misinterpret, like B.E., or BE, for “Best Ever,” or something.
My job frequently involves working adjacent to, or actually inside agricultural fields or pasture areas. Usually it’s cows or horses, but on a few occasions I’ve been around goats. I’ve seen firsthand how they’re inquisitive and agile—they were able to easily get through fences to come over and see what the archaeologists were doing. One in particular climbed up into our SUV (we were tempted to take it with us) and later attempted to mount a guy who was sitting on the ground. Their eyes are very bizarre, and kind of creepy looking, with their horizontal slit-shaped pupils. I later found out that other common animals, like horses and deer, also have pupils like this, but since their irises, unlike goats, are darker in color this isn’t as noticeable.
I’ve eaten goat on a couple of occasions, both times at an Indian restaurant. And I came away unimpressed. Texturally it was similar to lamb, but it had none of lamb’s savory taste. It was bland, and rather bony. It’s possible that it was the restaurants’ fault, or it was a poor cut of meat, lackluster sauce, etc, so I’d be willing to try it again. But I have to say I’m doubtful that I’ll change my opinion.
On the other hand, I’ve had goat cheeses (including another blog post entry, gjetost) and enjoyed these. This is to be expected, though. Readers of previous posts may remember my stance on cheese, which essentially is that all kinds of cheese are, to borrow a compound word used by Van Morrison, fantabulous (or, to be more vulgar, like pizza and sex, even “bad” cheeses are still pretty good).
Finally, I was amused to see that goats are becoming a choice for unusual pets, a la ferrets and pot bellied pigs, I guess. They seem to have decent dispositions, so I could see that working out. However, if those Middle Ages Europeans were right, owners might be risking either attacks of hysterical laughter, or sexual harassment, depending on your feelings about hearing obscene comments from your pet.