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Goat song

When I began reading Goat Song, by Brad Kessler, I did not know what to expect. Does it simply describe one man’s journey into pastoralism? Does it grant the reader a vaster knowledge of domestication? Or does Kessler provide a social comment on the human-animal dynamic? The answer: it covers each of these areas and more.

Though I found the description of the young goats entering their “heat” almost too grotesque to read, I really enjoyed this brief autobiography that covers such a diverse range of topics, including religion, domestication, the food industry, human/animal relationships (mutualistic, or not?), as well as many other topics that reach several different audiences.

One topic that struck me in particular was Kessler’s debate over the true definition of paradise; is it simply based on our perception of ourselves and the world around us, or is it a physical place closely related to the “land of the milk and honey” described in Exodus. He goes on further with his debate to relate the fall of man to our move away from gathering to farming. Personally, I would not make a link quite as extreme, but he makes some valid points about our move away from “what nature intended,” which we often debate ourselves in our class discussion. Are we going against nature by intentionally keeping and altering animals for our own benefit? Though Kessler realizes through his own experience of “kidnapping” (pun intended) the baby goats from their mother, as well as his analysis of his neighbor’s inability to save his livestock from the coyotes, that farming has harmed animals in various ways, I feel that he still finds the process of raising livestock so rewarding and beautiful that he sees it as a necessary evil in the human-animal dynamic. This may sound a little harsh, but I believe Kessler appreciates his personal experience with his goats so much, that he does not view farming as “all evil.”

Rather, I think he has an issue with the way the food industry has moved away from nature; from paradise, by taking the easy way out (ex. pasteurizing milk instead of scrutinizing each dairy). I see farming personally as I would any other invention; a beautiful concept, until someone comes along and using it solely for his own profit. That being said, I was extremely impressed and motivated by the Kesslers’ ability to take every responsible measure necessary to raise the goats, while still admitting when they needed help from experts.

Furthermore, I loved how Kessler showed his readers the beauty found in simple, everyday concepts. For example, he shows us the history of a few select words, namely paradise, and then shows us why we should care about their origin and their relation to domestication. Through these brief excerpts, Kessler demonstrates just how vast an impact the domestication of goats has had on cultures through language, religion, and food.

Overall, this book made me think twice about the milk I drink; but most importantly, it challenged me to analyze thoroughly the full spectrum of our “mutual” relationship with animals. Once the reader can get past the gruesome accounts of breeding the goats, he will find greater insight on not only our history with animals, but how it still affects us today, all while providing an interesting and fun account on his experience in trying to produce homemade cheese.

6 comments to Goat song

  • kcdrews

    I found the breeding descriptions to be little more detailed than necessary but certainly not gruesome or gross. I pictured Kessler kind of smirking as he wrote it, but it just come down to basic biology that happens every day in every animal species.

    I didn’t like his negative stance on pasteurization. He wrote that pasteurization kills or denatures many of the beneficial aspects that come from drinking milk, and I agree with that statement. However, it also is incredibly important for destroying the potential dangers that reside in dairy products. Now, he also states that there’s an alternative – rigorous testing similar to many European regulations. However, something to keep in mind is that what might work for a European country may not work for the United States, purely based on geographic reasons. Most European countries are the size of one of our states, and that small geographic scale make many things more convenient or practical (such as having inspectors go all over the country to test facilities). When it comes to diseases I’d prefer to err on the side of caution and pasteurize our dairy. Any nutritional drawbacks can easily be made up in other areas (as has been pointed our numerous times, drinking milk into adulthood is not the evolutionary norm).

  • meganimals17

    I did not take offense to it, I have just always gotten squeamish easily whenever discussing biological matters this in depth. I agree that in many ways, including the how we sanitize dairy, America has to differ in method due to its size. Though he took a pretty extreme stance on it, his comment that now dairies could do whatever they wanted to the animals and the milk, as long as they pasteurized it, really resonated with me. The food industry is extremely corrupt, and many disturbing things happen behind closed doors.

    As to your point about drinking milk during adulthood was not the evolutionary norm, I too thought back to that reading when analyzing his argument. Do we really need all the nutrients in milk, or is it just a marketing scheme from the dairy industry?

    • Tanner

      We do not need many of the nutrients in milk, but there are other sources of these nutrients. Calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, protein, etc. are all essential for us to survive, and milk is a great way to get them. Milk just isn’t the only way to get them. But, for cultures thousands of years ago who went through periods of struggle, having a cow to provide milk was probably life or death.

  • Kara Van Scoyoc

    I like the idea of the “mutual relationship” he talks about. I felt like the goats were really a part of his family by the end and that he truly cared about their well being and safety. This is why he was so proactive about getting rid of the coyotes and called the doctors at first sight of trouble.

  • mollyo92

    I do agree that the portion on breeding was hard to get through, however to make the point that you gathered from his story, I think it was necessary. After reading this section, in a state a disgust the whole time, I realized that’s exactly what he wanted us to feel. We’ve become so disconnected with animals that we don’t even want to think about the most basic of animal processes. It was between the breeding and comments such as the one about removing blood clots from the milk (which made me gag a little) that I realized how much the “out of sight out of mind” concept we discussed earlier this semester is so applicable here. Although I didn’t fully appreciate the images initially, I’m glad Kessler opened my eyes to the reality of how our food is produced.

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