JP McMahon: Why aren’t we eating more goat meat in Ireland?

Anything you do with lamb, you can do with goat: stew, fry, braise, roast and curry. So get out there and find yourself some

“Several recent articles suggest goat is the new lamb, and its consumption is more sustainable than any other meat.” Photograph: Getty Images

“Several recent articles suggest goat is the new lamb, and its consumption is more sustainable than any other meat.” Photograph: Getty Images

 

Due to the defeat of Gareth of the Goats by Niall of the Nine Hostages, the consumption of goat meat was outlawed in Ireland from the 5th century onwards. 

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November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related content in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth

Of course, this is nonsense, but I do wonder why we don’t have a history of eating goat meat in Ireland. Though goats’ milk plays a central role in the production of some of our best farmhouse cheeses, goat meat is nowhere to be found. That is, until recently.

New goat farmers are popping up all over the country, from Galway to Westmeath. Can goat meat save us? Several recent articles suggest goat is the new lamb, and its consumption is more sustainable than any other meat. This is because we all eat goats’ cheese. And what do you think happens to all the males? If you eat goats’ cheese, you should, according to food writer Felicity Cloake in the Guardian ( April 9th, 2018), eat goats’ meat. It’s an ethical responsibility.

But this returns me to my initial thought: why didn’t we farm goat for meat in Ireland? Of course, there is the possibility that we did. Sheep and goat bones are difficult to distinguish between, so early archaeology of Ireland acknowledges we may have eaten goats (as well as drinking their milk). Goats were the first domesticated meat and I can’t imagine Neolithic farmers only milking their goats. 

Is it about religion? Popular Christian folk tradition in Europe associated Satan with imagery of goats. A common superstition in the Middle Ages was that goats whispered lewd sentences in the ears of the saints. The brats! 

It was Arab merchants who brought goat to Spain along with spices, citrus fruits and nuts. Did Catholicism corner the lamb market in the same way Arab Muslims celebrated the cooking of goat meat? Does this explain it?

Whatever the history, superstitions and cultural habits, we have a chance now to turn things around and embrace goats’ meat. Anything you do with lamb, you can do with goat: stew, fry, braise, roast and curry. So get out there and find yourself some goat meat. I like it with seaweed!

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