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
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.