I’m in Oaxaca exploring Matatlan and more with my friend Fabiola Santiago an Indigenous Zapotec food leader and descendant of mezcal makers.
Fabiola is guiding me in her ancestral territories and helping me understand the impacts of the highly extractive mezcal industry, which is exploiting land and people, due to foreigners and commercial brands who are overwhelmingly extracting native knowledge and ecological resources.
Upon arrival I enjoyed an ancestral drink prepared by Fabiola’s mama, which included cacao! We headed to mezcal tastings with producers and culture keepers like Mezcal Masoquista and Macurichos Mezcal who are focused on regenerative practices that benefit the original people of this region.
Let’s talk about mezcal, which is booming. Over the last 20+ years, Oaxaca has become a center of gravity because this is where native communities stewarded the mezcal for 100s of years. We are witnessing how neo-colonialism and extractive capitalism are stealing the mezcal – destroying the ecological balance of this region.
Lots of foreigners, not just white folks, but also people of color from the US, are coming in to launch mezcal brands, while not actively including or benefitting the native people who brought this drink to the world!
Folks who are not native to Oaxaca are being touted as “experts.” It’s cultural appropriation combined with ecological destruction. Not only do native Oaxacans continue to be impoverished, but the water, the ecosystems and the sacred agave are being polluted, overproduced, and poisoned. These are all topics that Fabiola and I explored on our recent IG Live.
Fabiola is one of a growing number of Zapotec folks naming this and urging for a radical shift. One of her strategies has been to uplift mezcal brands that have deep generational ties, that are native-owed and that benefit local communities, and that have a strong ecological lens – because the folks who produce the mexcal also must live in the regions where the plant thrives and dies. Who do you think lives with the waste that remains after this mezcal consumed?