Looking for another campaign to sign-up for in January? Regenuary’s focus on regenerative agriculture could be the most sustainable option. But what is it?
We waste no time easing into the new year anymore. Hundreds of thousands, if not more, have already signed up for Veganuary, the popular British campaign that encourages people to go vegan for the month of January. It’s a climate-motivated campaign first and foremost, but the benefits of years-long health conditions reversed or even cured, bring tears of joy and humble gratitude. As does the discovery that another year of campaign fervor brings more fast-food restaurants that have embraced the art of deep-frying nearly anything, especially plants shaped like nuggets.
There is also Dry January, the atoning for our sins of indulging in too much eggnog or NYE Champagne, perhaps, as people commit to going completely booze-free until February 1st — at least. It’s a noble endeavor, really, staring stone-cold sober and bleary-eyed into a new year, and yet another spent in the not-yet-loosened grips of a pandemic.
But if neither of those tickles your fancy, or, if like a circus plate juggler finding a rhythm, you have room for at least one more January commitment, there is, perhaps, the noblest of them all: Regenuary.
What is Regenuary?
Regenuary is only in its third year, but it aims to be a sustainable eating movement that brings awareness to regenerative agriculture and how it plays a part in mitigating climate change, supporting biodiversity, and healing soil. It’s focused on seasonal, local, and organic farming practices that eschew synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
“It helps us understand that, in any dietary choice we make, we either have positive or negative impact,” Monique van Wijnbergen, sustainability and corporate communications director with Natural Habitats Group told The Food Institute. “Regenerative farming is about continuous improvement and creating positive impact, working in unison with nature instead of at the detriment of it.”
According to Regeneration International, regenerative agriculture improves soil by using technologies and farming methods that build back better soil, such as using cover crops and organic fertilizers.
“Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality, nutrient dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, and ultimately leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies. It is a dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers’ income and especially, topsoil,” reads the Regeneration International website.
Like Veganuary, Regenuary aims to connect the follower to their food choices and just how every choice is either helping or harming the planet. But for meat-eaters, it may be a more palatable shift than Veganuary — at least to start.
Is meat sustainable?
The term Regenuary was coined by “The Ethical Butcher,” a U.K.-based butchershop claiming to offer sustainable meat. The founders argued that a vegan diet isn’t necessarily more sustainable than eating animal products. They announced Regenuary in response to Veganuary.
In a Facebook post, The Ethical Butcher wrote: “Imagine if Veganuary could be Regenuary — where all foods eaten for the month of January are not imported, are local, seasonal and the animals are farmed using regenerative agriculture.”
But eating animals is problematic, if not for ethical reasons, certainly the climate impact. Data continue to point to livestock production as a leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of all global emissions, according to UN data — more than aviation and maritime emissions combined.
And while we often think of the offenders as the clandestine factory farms housing tens of thousands of animals, some research has found that grass-fed animals, like those raised in bucolic regenerative agriculture settings, produce more emissions than factory farm-raised animals.
It’s complicated mathematics that looks at the time it takes an animal to get to market weight and the methane emissions produced in that time. Factory farms have perfected this speed-to-market process with unnatural diets and growth hormones that help animals pack on the pounds. They also limit physical activity, which increases weight gain.
Regenerative or free-range settings are much more natural environments for animals than factory farms, but because they’re eating grass instead of grain, and getting more exercise, it can take them longer to reach market weight, thereby producing more methane.
But, again, the math. Factory farms house tens of thousands of animals whereas regenerative agriculture operations would be considerably less.
Is meat healthy?
Last November, the American Heart Association updated its dietary recommendations, and for the first time, included a message of sustainability.
“For the first time, the issue of sustainability is included in the Association’s dietary guidance,” the group said. “Commonly consumed animal products, particularly red meat (beef, lamb, pork, veal, venison or goat), have the largest environmental impact in terms of water and land usage, and contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, shifting reliance from meat to plant proteins can help to improve individual health and the environment.”
Chair of the scientific statement writing group Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., FAHA, senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Team at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, said it is important to recognize that the guidance is consistent “not only with heart health but also sustainability—it is a win-win for individuals and our environment.”
U.S. News & World Report, which ranks diets from best to worst each year, placed the meat-heavy keto diet at the bottom of its recent rankings.
“This diet is fundamentally at odds with everything we know about long-term health,” one of the experts that ranked the diets, said.
How to do Regenuary
Whether or not you’re ditching the meat entirely (Reveganuary?), Regenuary does emphasize a focus on locally, and regeneratively grown fruits and vegetables above all else. There are two good resources.
First, try the Regeneration International website. It includes a map that can help point you toward your nearest regenerative farmer. But as regenerative agriculture only makes up a small percentage of farming operations, your best bet may just be your local farmers market.
There, you can connect with a number of farmers and growers. And even if they’re not fully regenerative, they are your local area farmers, growing seasonal fruits and vegetables to your region, and that’s most important. Often, farmers can’t afford certifications like organic or non-GMO, but are incorporating sustainable growing methods.
“Fun fact: 70 percent of the world’s food comes from smallholder farmers and indigenous people, and a lot of them are farming regeneratively,” Heather Terry, CEO of GoodSam Foods, told the Food Institute.
She says regenerative agriculture is arguably, “one of the easiest ways” to combat climate change by “limiting or eliminating fertilizers all together and by not using tilling methods which release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.”
Regenuary is also a great time to take the campaign into your own hands. While you may not be farming and tilling out on your patio, growing a few kitchen herbs or vegetables can be an easy way to keep your food local. Signing up for a farm box is another way.
The campaign emphasizes avoiding imported foods, and that’s easy enough to do if you skip the processed stuff. Stick with whole foods for the best interpretation of the campaign—and for your health, the best results.
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