Holidays bring increased demand for goat meat

Holidays bring increased demand for goat meat

With the meat enjoyed by many immigrant cultures, butchers and farmers are racing to meet increasing want for goats

By Antonio Olivo

Tribune reporter

December 11, 2008

As the holiday season hits full swing, immigrants are flocking to
butcher shops, meatpacking plants and farms for the food they crave:

who marked the three-day Eid al-Adha festival that ended Wednesday
divided goat carcasses into portions of three—honoring the idea of
sacrifice by feeding the poor as well as cooking up the sweetly pungent
meat for their families.

Mexicans gearing up for Christmas are pulling out family recipes for birria
goat stew. Jamaicans plan meals of jerked goat. And West Africans
prepare to use imported burned skin goat to roast on spits or boil in
pepper soup.

“There is no comparison!” said Abu Sibou, 42, of
the African nation of Mauritania, as he held two sacks of goat meat
outside a West Loop packing house. “This is the food we love.”

a novelty in the Midwest, the demand for goat meat is skyrocketing in
Illinois and nearby states, with immigrants from around the globe
transforming a struggling livestock industry.

Between January
2005 and January 2008, federal figures show, the number of goats in
Illinois raised for meat consumption jumped 63 percent to 19,600.

827,000 meat goats slaughtered in the country last year, “we only
produce about 55 percent of all the goat meat eaten in the United
States,” said Frank Pinkerton, a livestock industry consultant based in
Texas. “So, we are short of goat meat.”

In Illinois, farmers are working to bridge that gap.

Carr, owner of Mint Creek Farm in east central Illinois, realized he
had stumbled on to something promising at a South Side farmers market a
few years ago when African Muslim shoppers approached asking whether he
had any halal-zabiha goat meat.

the Quran, slaughter requires 1-year-old goats killed facing Mecca with
minimal stress and a precise knife, after a short prayer.

for 14 years a sheep farmer, had no such meat. But, today, he is
raising about 75 South African Boer goats, most of them slaughtered by
a halal-certified butcher before they are taken to Chicago.

“Remarkably, they’re a lot like raising sheep,” Carr said.

the meat is used is as varied as those consuming it. For Muslims,
sacrificing a goat, lamb or cow stems from the biblical story of
Abraham, who was ordered by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. When he set
out to do so, God instead placed a lamb in front of Abraham. Dividing
the meat into three, with one portion going to the poor, follows
through on the idea of sacrifice.

“When we sacrifice the goat,
I am also sacrificing my crude desires,” said Dr. Danish Ahmed, an
Indian immigrant physician waiting for his 30-pound order inside a
Devon Avenue meat market in West Rogers Park.

With West
Africans, Greeks, Chinese and others all choosing their own style of
cooking, many share one desire that gives health officials pause: They
prefer freshly slaughtered goat.

Such kills outside of
government-approved facilities are outlawed unless done by farmers
feeding their families or non-paying guests. But consumers and farmers
sometimes flout those rules, said Rich Knipe, a University of Illinois
Extension meat industry specialist.

“A lot of it is happening in
backyards, unfortunately,” said Knipe. Dick Cobb, another goat expert
at the University of Illinois Extension, said such unsafe practices
could be avoided if U.S. agricultural laws governing the goat market
bend more to accommodate immigrant consumers.

“We’ve gotta come up with a way that makes it OK for them to do that on a farm,” he said.