Skip to comments.Immigrants from Middle East reviving lamb and goat market
Posted on 09/17/2017 3:27:47 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
Shumaila Shah knows how to cook her husband's favorite dish the way one might say the Pledge of Allegiance. "Cook onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger crushed together," she said, articulating something so familiar it didn't need words, English or Punjabi. "Salt, pepper, garam masala. Put meat in and add water to make a gravy. Cook until the meat is soft, not tough." How long?
She thinks for a moment. "A half-hour; it depends on the meat," she said. "Then add the potatoes, because they take a shorter time to cook. We eat it with naan."
The recipe for her aloo gosht is more an act than a recipe. Classic Pakistani meat and potatoes, it is familiar and comforting with lamb or goat. Shumaila and her husband, Sajjad, a respiratory specialist, eat a lot of lamb, a red meat that had been fading from the American diet.
After falling for decades, lamb sales started rising in 2005, boosted by a growing ethnic market - primarily Middle Eastern and Latino - that is thriving outside the mainstream channels through direct sales and small butchers, according to an American Sheep Industry Association and Lamb Council report in 2010.
Immigrants like the Shahs may be saving America's sheep industry, say farmers and industry officials.
"What would we do without strong group of ethnic people wanting our lamb?" said Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board. "We'd be in a world of hurt."
Minorities, which accounted for 35 percent of America's population in 2008, consumed a disproportionate 58 percent of the lamb available, according to the report. "It's growing by leaps and bounds," Wortman said.
The number of lambs harvested in the U.S. last year was 2.2 million, and most were sold from two locations: New Holland Sales Stables in New Holland, Lancaster County; and Producers Livestock in San Angelo, Texas. They are the two largest lamb and goat auctions in the U.S., selling about 125,000 head each last year, Wortman said.
The Feast of Sacrifice
On Sept, 1, the Shahs joined hundreds of Muslims, dressed in their best clothes, kneeling and bowing in the outfield of FirstEnergy Stadium as Imam Anwar N. Muhaimin prayed. They were celebrating Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the story of Abraham's obedience to God when he was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac. God intervened and allowed the substitution of a sheep, or goat.
The three-day observance, which is based on the lunar calendar, includes a tradition of gathering with family and friends for a meal that revolves around lamb.
At the ballpark, Muhaimin was projected on the stadium's big screen as he led the prayer. His voice echoed through the empty stands, calling the faithful with a prayer known in Arabic as the takir, "Allahu akbar."
Following the service, many drove to farms across the region to buy a lamb or goat. A lamb is a sheep under 14 months old.
Lamb sales peak for this holiday. New Holland sold more than 11,000 sheep in the two weeks prior to the holiday, double what was sold during the same period last year when there was no holiday.
"It's (New Holland) a major hub in the Northeast," said Sydney Weaver, an East Earl Township farmer who has a flock of about 40 ewes with 80 lambs. "No other market gets as high a price for lamb."
Farmers come to New Holland from surrounding states to reach monied buyers from New York and Washington, D.C., said Roger Bowman, president of Berks County Sheep and Wool Producers Association.
Typically, the buyers are from ethnic sales outlets such as individual grocery stores or meat markets, according to the sheep industry report.
Muslim dietary restriction, called halal, require lamb and goat to be slaughtered according to Islamic law, which is why many seek the meat outside traditional channels such as supermarkets.
Finding a lamb
When Hamid Chaudhry, owner of Wyomissing Restaurant & Bakery, was growing up in Pakistan, he, his father and brother had an annual Eid al-Adha ritual. They took a bus to the market to buy a lamb for the feast. Buses didn't allow sheep, so they walked 3 miles back home with the animal.
"For me, it was like going to get a Christmas tree," Chaudhry said.
Eating lamb was special because his family was poor. "It was a good week if I ate a quarter-pound," he said. Once, a seller quoted his father a very high price: 2,000 rupees. His brother, shocked, asked: "Is that for you or the sheep?"
The comment wasn't well-received, but Chaudhry looks back on it and laughs.
Finding a halal lamb in Berks County takes a little ingenuity. There are a few small markets that sell halal. Often, muslims traverse the countryside, inquiring at farms where they see sheep or goats. And if they find a source, they share it. Butchering the lamb purchased for the holiday is done by the buyer or it is included at additional charge.
Rachid Boumrah, a Morroco native who is a chef from West Reading, goes to Ephrata. Inoel Sackoor, native of Trinidad-Tobago who owns a Laureldale real estate firm, buys his lamb in Lititz. He likes lamb curry. "It's spicy," Sackoor said with a smile.
Fatmata Bah, a registered nurse from Sierra Leone, buys lamb in Bechtelsville to make jallof rice.
Hamid Barahu, a native of Togo who lives in Reading, goes to a farm near Fleetwood. He's been going to the farm for 10 years and thinks he may have been one of the first to find it.
Mohammed Karim, a cook at Wyomissing Restaurant, also goes to the farm near Fleetwood. Karim said more than 50 people line up now for lamb on Eid al-Adha, some from as far away as New York and New Jersey.
Serving the community
For Eid al-Adha, Muslims are encouraged to buy a whole lamb, if they can afford it, and divide it into three portions: one for family, one as a gift and one for the poor, said Kamran Sarwar, an Elverson-area farmer who is Muslim and a native of Pakistan.
"The animal should be complete as it naturally is," he said.
Some people think that means it must have horns and its tail, but it is most important that the animal be without defects, Sarwar said.
Sarwar, a former technology professional, bought a farmette with his extended family in 2012 and has been selling lamb and goats since then. His customers find him by word of mouth.
"It's more of serving the community than making a profit," he said.
Days, sometimes weeks, before Eid al-Adha, Muslims come to Sarwar's farm to pick out a sheep or goat. The process calls to mind Abraham, or Ibrahim as Muslims know him, and his son.
"We pick animals we love, get it dressed for sacrifice," Sarwar said. "You aren't supposed to think of the cost." Lambs were running around $200 to $300 this year, depending on the source and the size.
The best parts are given away, said Michael Otey, a counselor who lives in Cumru Township.
"You don't want to keep the best for yourself," he said. "That's the tradition."
Hungry for lamb
Chaudhry said there are three kinds of buyers: traditional, who have specifics on the lamb and slaughter; convenience; and price-conscious. He buys from Kamran, which happens to be convenient and traditional.
So does Sadajj Shah, a Sinking Spring resident for 20 years.
"Before Kamran, we used to get it from Bensalem; before that, Edison, N.J.," Shah said.
And before that, when he was young and living in Philadelphia, his family drove to a farm on Route 73 in Berks County. Little did he know then that he'd end up living in Berks, he said with a smile.
Otey discovered Sydney Weaver's East Earl Township farm when he saw the sheep in a pasture. He stopped and asked the conservative Mennonite family if they were for sale.
Weaver said Muslims have been coming to his farm since he first brought in sheep about 10 years ago. He bought sheep to graze the flood land, hills and corner spots not suited for much else.
In the beginning, he asked his new customers a few questions about their faith so he could understand their needs. Weaver's main source of income is hogs, which are kept separate from the sheep. Pork is forbidden for Muslims.
Forget the mint jelly
There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United States, and about 1,000 live in Berks.
The Sheep Industry Association predicts lamb consumption could grow exponentially as minority populations grow, but they aren't the only future lamb customers.
The sheep industry is capitalizing on this newfound ethnic cache to entice adventurous and health-conscious millennials who did not grow up eating lamb. They are the ones most likely to appreciate that branch-chained fatty acids give pastured lamb its robust and earthy taste. For those who say they've never had lamb, Wortman points out that lamb is a key component of the popular Greek gyro meat.
In Pennsylvania, sheep may be the future for unemployed coal miners. This summer the state received at $1.75 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to develop new and diverse economic opportunities. The project will develop "a robust local food shed" supporting the cultivation of four of southwestern Pennsylvania's existing agricultural industry clusters: sheep, lamb and goats; poultry; specialty crops; and value-added processing.
The project promises to serve 50 existing businesses, create 10 new businesses and 100 jobs, and leverage $3.5 million in private investment.
I grew-up in a part of Texas where sheep and goat meat was pretty common.
I suspect she knows a lot more about the recipe than the pledge of allegiance. Also consider for a second how long an American news outlet would last if it ran articles on how American women create the “favorite meal for their husbands” which come as natural as the pledge of allegiance.
I’ve had goat at my local curry house - tastes a lot like lamb.
American women could learn a lot from Filipinas, Japanese/Korean and Amish women, if not Middle Easterners.
Had beef atthe local Chinese - tastes a lot like rat.
I’ve never eaten goat but I once bought a locally-raised Barbados lamb and had it butchered. It was excellent.
What nationality are your doctors?
Just leave off the garlic...
In all my travels throughout Africa and the Middle East, I reckon I’ve downed about a dozen goats/sheep. And I’m still here. I love lamb, but I have trouble eating a cute little lambie that not long before it was innocently gamboling in Farmer Jones’ meadow.
Crazy-assed Jihadis notwithstanding, a good lamb dish is underappreciated in the US.
The loin chops are unsurpassed. Fattier than pork, and sweeter...with just a hint of grass and game.
Make them too salty, and burnt on the outside.
Know what eim talkin’ about?
not long before it was innocently gamboling in Farmer Jones meadow”
Yeah, it’s a shame you have to eat 6 of those chops just to get a meal.
Love lamb. Grilled saddle, rack or leg as shish kabob—can’t be beat. Leaner and healthier than beef—also grass fed and thus more good protein.
I’ve been using the Veteran’s healthcare system since 1983. Of the dozens of doctors I’ve had, exactly one (a podiatrist) was white.
My mother was a low-rung high roller at the Treasure Bay casino in Biloxi before Karina. Occasionally she’d use her comps to take me out to their gourmet restaurant. I’d always get an entrée that featured steak, lamb and lobster.
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