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News Items, including Recommendations from Under the Radar

The Year of the Goat

The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese
by Margaret Hathaway, with photographs by Karl Schatz
Lyons Press/Globe Pequot Press, 2007
ISBN: 978-1059921-021-6
for adult readers

In a nutshell: Two young New Yorkers leave their jobs and spend a year driving around the country and investigating the agribusiness of goat-raising and cheese-making.

History: The "year off" idea came from Schatz's shrink, and if that isn't a quintessentially New York sort of thing, I don't know what is.

Potential Readers: Foodies; the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle crowd; armchair farmers

Buzz: Entertainment Weekly gave The Year of the Goat a B+, while noting the "occasionally overlong" descriptions.

The premise: Although they eat a lot of chevre along the way, Hathaway and Schatz are not really after the "perfect cheese," as the subtitle indicates. Interested in perhaps owning goats and operating a farm one day, they're exploring the world of goat-style commerce.

Big Picture: Good reporting characterizes The Year of the Goat. Hathaway's focus is much more on other people that her (and Schatz's) own quest, and the results are delightful: a series of portraits of prominent people in the commercial goat and cheese worlds. One item did give me pause, however: Hathaway and Schatz's book project accepted money from, among others, the American Meat Goat Association, an industry trade group. That is not standard journalistic practice, of course, but Hathaway does mention the fact in the acknowledgments section, at least.

Anyway. My favorite passage in the book comes toward the end. Hathaway writes,

As educated, politically liberal New Yorkers, we had considered ourselves before our travels to be open-minded and free of prejudice. In truth, however, I'm not sure that we were. We had fallen into a trap, I realize now, of classing America as red and blue, city and country, faithful and un.[...]

Traveling through America, covering more than forty thousand miles in forty-three states, we found that generalizations just don't apply. Rural ranchers turn out to have Ivy League educations, slaughterhouse managers are married to animal rights activists—the country and its inhabitants are complex and compellingly, unfailingly interesting.

Postscript: The compatible couple married, bought a farm in Maine, and had a baby. And, yes, they now raise goats, too.


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Last week, Whole Foods was giving out samples of fig and cocoa spread, which they smeared on top of plain, creamy goat cheese. Yum.

I find the passage you quoted a bit disturbing. Perhaps because we've moved so much, my kids know America is complex. Their guitar teacher was a recovering alcoholic with a velvet picture of Jesus; he raised emus, rode a Harley, and taught them to rock out. And that's just one of the many wonderful Americans that we've met. Maybe every young NYer should be required to do an "exchange" tour. :)

Sara, I see it as Hathaway's epiphany. NYC is a glorious place, but sometimes it's hard to pull your head out of the sand and look around.

That passage really hit home. I've lived in CA, OR, WA, AZ, and NJ. And now NYC. I came here 7 months ago thinking that I was all open-minded and politically liberal...and NYC made me see that I wasn't as open as I thought. People who live here are shocked when they see the rest of the country...but people who have seen a lot of the rest of the country are shocked when they come here! Remember that graduation speech that they set to music awhile ago? "Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft." So true! Everyone should have both experiences.

Thanks for the review! I was already intrigued by this book and now I've bumped it up further on my to-read list!

Dispatches from the author and photographer while they were on the road were featured on the NPR radio show "The Next Big Thing." My guess is that their New York connections have helped a lot in terms of PR; they were wise to leave without burning bridges--if that's indeed what they did. (I don't know.)

Is there room in your yard for goats along with the chickens, or was the goat raising part of this book purely "academic" for you?


PS -- Loved picturing in my mind when Bossy went down the slide with Junior!

Hey, Mary Lee. The woman who sold me the chickens raises goats, too. I'm sure she would have sold me one. I would have a very nice lawn if I got goats, but they seem even more food-crazed than chickens. If that's possible. I'd choose a sheep over a goat since I don't think sheep can jump up on you.

When Jr. comes home from school this afternoon, it's Chicken Health Day. We're going to give all four a good once-over.

I am reading this right now. It's my "in the car" book, for when I'm waiting for kids and whatnot. And I'm loving it, even though I sometimes find myself saying "well, duh" as I read along. And I won't even go into the massive eye-rolling about the guy's shrink. Oops. They rolled again.

Thanks to everyone who has read the book and taken the time to post reviews or comments about it. When Margaret and I started our Year of the Goat project (almost exactly 4 years ago!) we had 2 main goals in mind. 1) Learn as much about goats and farming as possible to decide if it was something that we wanted for ourselves, and would be capable of doing, and 2) educate others about a slice of the American agricultural landscape that we found fascinating and little known to many in America. I hope that people enjoy the story, learn a little something about goats, and are possibly inspired to take a chance and follow their dreams. You never know - you might just end up on a goat farm!
ps. the blog is great - and our daughter Charlotte loves Knuffle Bunny Too.

Thanks for stopping by and for your nice words about the blog.

What's next? Y'all obviously make a good book-creating team.

Thanks, Susan! We're not sure what the next project will be -- right now we're focusing on Charlotte and the farm, trying to feed ourselves and put as much food away for the winter as possible. We've got 2 goats in the barn who are ready to breed, 2 dozen baby chicks under a heat lamp in the living room, and 102 lbs of zucchini in the kitchen, so we expect that the fall will keep us pretty busy.

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