BEING THERE : Getting Your Goat

There's nothing like looking your prospective meal right in the eye, as I discovered when I went to the Goat Ranch in Wilmington.

I'd always bought my meat the old-fashioned way: prepackaged and without a personality, but here I am, peering into a pen full of apprehensive goats. I put my hand out to pet one, but these aren't like the goats at the County Fair, who nuzzle you for corn or candy. No, these guys run away when people approach, and no wonder: Every week more than a hundred of their buddies vanish.

I gulp and select a sluggish, bony, awkward one who's missing a horn. It's hard to select a cute goat when its destination is a barbecue. I'm asked if I want to keep his blood, head or skin. When I decline, One-Horn is led away to have his neck slit. I'd noticed that the air was laced with a terrible, sour odor, and I soon found out why: Inside one of the buildings, they're burning the fur and skin off my goat. I realize I have pretty much screwed up my karma for good.

In a matter of minutes, I'm handed a box packed with nine pieces of One-Horn. At home, my boyfriend is in charge of cutting the meat from the bone, which sounds deceptively simple. But One-Horn, it seems, has a taste for the ironic: As Greg struggles with the stringy flesh, a leg bone gores his hand. But soon the goat is in small chunks. We make curry and kabobs, and later the house is full of 30 guests who discuss the moral implications of One-Horn's fate as they lick their plates clean.

I choke down just one piece of meat. It's greasy and rubbery and it seems like an awful lot of work, physical and emotional, for very little return.

I'm sticking with vegetables. They don't stare back at you. They don't cringe. And eating salad means never having to say "I'm sorry."

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