Food, Community, and Four Dozen Happy Goats

lil goatsBy Colin Knight at A.C.E. at SPU–In wrangling goats, the most useful trick is to grab them by one of their rear ankles, lift it well off the ground, and pull ’em where you need to go. At least, this is how it works with French goats—I can only surmise that American goats are much the same.

Just last month, I had the opportunity to spend three weeks on a small goat farm in southern France through WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. While on the farm I not only learned about goat wrangling, but also about food culture and the way a community contributes to this culture. Over the last few years, I have read a lot about the problems with American food—corn in everything we eat, hormones in animal products everywhere, obesity our number one health problem—and as a result I have begun learning about the local and organic food movements in the U.S. and abroad. Paired with my desire to brush up on a French major collecting dust, I found myself at a small goat farm in southern France.

me and le troupeauThis small farm of about 45 goats, run by a single mother and the occasional volunteer like myself, produced nearly 100 small rounds of goat cheese every day; providing just enough income for her and her 12 year-old son. “Making cheese is about 80% washing,” explained Patricia, as I scrubbed the grating in the middle of the sterile, white tile floor. Her cheese never underwent pasteurization, a requirement for cheese-makers in the U.S., but not the case in France. And while the fat content of her delicious cheese may be several notches above what most weight-conscious Americans would even consider consuming, there is nary a Frenchman (or Frenchwoman, for that matter) who would hesitate in devouring any of her delicious cheeses. And yet, somehow the French have a life expectancy nearly ten years longer than Americans. Go figure.

troupeau But the cheese was not merely Patricia’s creation, though she was the one in sterile bib and clogs in the ‘fromagerie’, or cheese-making room, everyday. People all over the region contributed to the process: the local butcher slaughtered the young males, whose meat provided a good supplement to the regular income from cheese, for a bit of trade; neighbors purchased their cheese directly from her; the surrounding towns hosted regular farmers’ markets where Patricia and other local farmers and craftsmen would peddle their products; surrounding land-owners—whether government or private—allowed the goats to roam their forests each day so they could graze; and last of all the owners of the property on which Patricia and the goats lived took rent in the form of goat cheese!

lil goats2Over these three weeks it became clear the difference in emphasis between the U.S. and France, the importance of food in French society and the role it plays in the health of individual people, as well as the community. I look forward to instilling the spirit of these happy goats here in the States.

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