We’ve often drawn parallels between mezcal and the sustainable food world in previous coverage so we are always keeping abreast of what is happening in sustainable food world. Here is a great article by Beth Hoffman for Civil Eats that looks at the recent demise of Belcampo Meat Co, which attempted to completely redefine the meat industry with vertical integration and sustainable agriculture practices and ultimately failed.
There is so much to be gleaned not only from this piece but also from the rise and fall of Belcampo. The article goes into great detail about the low margins in farming and the consolidation of ownership that is happening all across food and agriculture resulting in more land being owned by fewer people and less food being produced by small and independent farmers, a trend we see happening in the production of Mezcal.
It’s important to point out that until very recently, mezcal was traditionally a very small scale and independent production, and unlike food, there is no actual “need” to produce large quantities of it except to satisfy a demand for a luxury product. But what really stuck out in the piece for me was the discussion of capital, community support and systemic change:
“If your goal is to change the system and build and support communities, with capital you can control the structure of the business instead of necessarily owning land. There are many farmers and ranchers who are totally committed that need capital, those ready to bleed to death trying to make it all work.”
Given all of the conversations in the world of mezcal about supporting communities where mezcal is made, this is some serious food for thought. We might need to rethink the idea that change and influence can come from a handful of large companies, as well intentioned as they might be. At the end of the day, “Larger companies like Belcampo may help to drive interest in and demand for pasture- raised livestock with sizable advertising budgets and frequent media mentions. But diversifying the ownership in addition to the diversity of plants and animals may have been what was missing.”
Replace a few words in that sentence and you could easily be talking about where we are these days in the world of agave spirits and what the current trajectory might mean.