Forget being vegan, go planet-friendly regen (and you can still et meat)

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Forget being vegan, go planet-friendly 'regen' (and you can still eat meat)​


Keen to eat food that’s kind to the planet, but don’t want to forgo steak? Regenerative eating prioritises nurturing the soil


By Madeleine Howell 24 January 2022 • 5:00am

 Reap what you sow: Abby Allen is a director at Pipers Farm in Devon, which is shifting towards regenerative agriculture

Reap what you sow: Abby Allen is a director at Pipers Farm in Devon, which practices regenerative agriculture Credit: Matt Austin

"Pasture is the great healer,” says Groove Armada’s Andy Cato, the DJ turned frontman for “regen” eating.
Two million participants have signed up to the Veganuary campaign since it launched in 2014, but proponents of regenerative eating – an eco-friendly approach to food production that puts the health of land and pasture front and centre – say we should be focusing on how vegetables and grains are grown and animals are reared, rather than on ruling out meat and its by-products altogether.
Regenerative farmers work in harmony with nature to nurture soil that has been depleted by modern methods, ensuring the land which produces food is biodiverse, naturally resilient, full of nutrients, healthy and productive long-term.
Grazing, pasture-raised animals have a part to play in the cycle, thanks to their manure and helpful trampling. It’s billed as the antidote to monocultures, synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and a lack of cover crops, which strip our all-important soil, the “black gold” that enables the earth to filter water and absorb carbon. Worryingly, soil is becoming less productive, less fertile and less nutrient-dense due to the way it is treated by modern farming.
Regen fans argue that cows aren’t inherently bad for the environment. Industrial farming is the problem: a pasture-raised cow is very different to a grain-fed cow given antibiotics or growth hormones.
Increasingly, producers in the UK are shifting towards regenerative; established champions include Yeo Valley in Somerset and Pipers Farm in Devon. “Regenuary”, a campaign encouraging people to eat regeneratively in January, was launched in 2020 by Glen Burrows, co-founder of the Ethical Butcher, who was frustrated with “simplistic messaging around veganism and its environmental impact”.
He wants consumers to look beyond plant-based versus animal-based debates and be open-minded and curious. For Burrows, it’s too simple to say “vegan is good” and “meat is bad”. “Both plant and animal-based foods can be produced in ways that have a high, low or even carbon-positive impact,” he says.
The grass is greener for cows that graze in natural environments

The grass is greener for cows that graze in natural environments Credit: Getty Images Contributor
High-profile champions of regenerative farming include chef and food writer Gizzi Erskine, author of cookbooks Slow and Restore: A Modern Guide to Sustainable Eating, who uses regenerative produce where possible at her restaurants and events. “I’ve always felt a bit icky about the word ‘organic’,” she says. Regenerative agriculture takes ecological ideals a step further than organic farming in its quest to sequester carbon in soil, and to restore and “heal” it. “I don’t eat meat that isn’t raised on pasture anymore for of a variety of reasons, including taste, ethics and agricultural science. If we put our animals out to pasture in a biodiverse environment, it can regenerate that land. Holistically, it’s how we should be farming.
“I don’t believe veganism is the best thing for the environment. I did – I had a business that was totally plant-based and I believed it was the future. But vegetables are often grown in a single crop rotation or in monocultures, which depletes the soil. If your resolution was to only eat meat that has been raised on pasture, and to eat less of it, that would make a big difference to the planet. Geriatric dairy cows tend to be slaughtered, but if they’re sent back out to pasture they remain part of the cycle. Not only is the meat amazingly marbled, but their manure gives back.”
The more consumers support regen producers, says Erskine, the better. Her favourites include Rosewood Acres in Kent, which produces pasture-raised hen’s eggs, and Matt Chatfield, who uses “silvopasture” methods (grazing livestock among trees) on his sheep farm.
Wildfarmed is another cheerleader for regenerative agriculture, but its focus is wheat, not meat. Co-founded by Andy Cato, former TV presenter George Lamb and Edd Lees, Wildfarmed works with farms – such as Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk – which grow wheat regeneratively, with biodiverse perennial plants grown alongside arable cash crops. They buy it at a fair price, and then partner with top bakeries and restaurants (such as London’s Jolene and Rye by the Water) to raise its public profile.
Regen wheat

Wildfarmed, co-founded by Groove Armada's Andy Cato, former TV presenter George Lamb and Edd Lees, is championing regen wheat Credit: Getty
The co-operative has been awarded a 20-year lease of the National Trust’s 295-hectare Colleymore Farm in Oxfordshire to use as its HQ, and its ultimate goal is for the UK to produce enough regen wheat to supply not only independent bakeries but also high-street giants such as Greggs.
“The solution to so many of the problems with the food system, public health and climate change lies in how we treat the soil,” says Cato, who praises the Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground presented by Woody Harrelson for raising the profile of regen. “When biodiverse plants grow together, the magic happens. You never find a monoculture in a natural system. In a world that can feel full of insoluble difficulties, choosing to buy regenerative food to shape the future of the planet feels hopeful. Consumers need to be activists. We need to realise that we as humans are part of the cycle, and when we destroy it, we destroy ourselves. The microbiome of soil is very similar to our own.”
In the restaurant world, chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes and Imogen Davis of Native restaurant at Browns Brook Street in Mayfair are highlighting star regenerative producers on their menus.
Madeleine Howell tucks into the ‘Regenuary’ menu at Native at Browns

Madeleine Howell tucks into the ‘Regenuary’ menu at Native at Browns Credit: Andrew Crowley
"Regen looks at alternatives to mass-produced food. The way that big, profit-hungry companies farm makes lots of money for them, but it’s damaging to our soil,” says Tisdall-Downes, who cut his teeth at River Cottage HQ in Devon.
His recent dishes include “compost broth” – an umami-rich vegetable broth using scraps ordinarily wasted. Nutrient-rich compost is organic matter which can be recycled and used as a natural fertiliser to enrich soil and grow healthy produce. “I love the mad fact that one teaspoon of good soil holds over a billion microscopic forms of life. Within it, a whole ecosystem is operating,” he says.
Not only is eating regeneratively touted as more nourishing and healthy for humans, it’s also said to be more flavoursome. According to the Ethical Butcher’s Glen Burrows, regen meat is tastier because the animal has had a varied diet, while regen plants have not been treated with pesticides or grown in a monoculture with poor, “desert-like” soil.
“Animals in regenerative systems will have lived longer on a more varied diet than factory-farmed counterparts. The flavour is very different. Think of wine. Grape varieties and terroir together create subtle nuances of flavour. The same is true of animals fed on pasture in a particular terroir, versus those that are fed with grains, and of plants grown in rich soil.
“The nutritional values of slow grown, 100 per cent pasture-fed beef are superior to grain-fed beef, especially when it comes to good, healthy fats. Regeneratively farmed, pasture-fed animals have a greater level of omega 3 fatty acids, lower omega 6 and higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which studies have linked to fighting cancer and fat loss.
“Pasture-fed meats also contain a high level of antioxidants, derived from the plants they eat. All-round, regenerative meat is a more nutritious product.”
Soil

The focus of regenerative eating is nurturing healthy, resilient, carbon-capturing soil - that doesn't need chemicals or pesticides - to ensure healthy plants, healthy animals and healthy people Credit: Getty
Tisdall-Downes is at pains to stress that Regenuary is far from a dig at Veganuary or veganism. “It doesn’t have to be about one or the other. There’s nothing to stop you from embracing vegan regenerative eating.”
The problem in January is that it’s difficult to eat a colourful, seasonal vegan diet that doesn’t rely on imported foods. You’d be looking at a lot of beetroot, artichokes, celeriac and kale. He also points out that regenerative eating involves eating less meat, but better.
“Regenerative farms don’t produce as much meat as intensive farms. It forces you to think nose-to-tail, embracing duck gizzards, oxtail, ox tongue and liver. You might buy one chicken a week and see how many meals you can get out of it.”
Regen produce is more expensive, but the added cost can be mitigated by viewing meat as a treat – as previous generations did – and using it judiciously to add flavour to stews and pasta dishes, for example.
“Eating regeneratively will tend naturally to take you away from supermarkets and processed foods towards supporting smaller-scale butchers, fishmongers and producers with your purchasing power. We’re dictated to by supermarkets when it comes to what we eat. It’s hard work and it can be expensive – particularly if you’ve got a big family to feed – but this country has some amazing regenerative farms,” he urges.
Regen prompts us to think about the choices we make when deciding what to have for dinner. You might well scoff that only the middle classes have the budget to buy meat from the farmers’ market and to worry about how holistically the soil that nurtured their carrots has been cared for – but every consumer has some measure of power over what they choose to eat.
As for me, if this January I simply find out more about the affordable additions or swaps I can include in my weekly food shops, and discover farmers, producers, chefs and restaurants who are championing regen and exploring alternative, non-intensive farming methods, then I’ll consider my Regenuary 2022 efforts a success.
There’s not (yet) a food label demarcating regeneratively farmed foods but, happily, there’s no calorie counting required – and I’ll raise a glass of compost broth to that.

What is regenerative agriculture?​

According to Innovation for Agriculture, regenerative agriculture encourages “a return to the mixed farm, where livestock are used as tools to heal the land between crops”. The aim is to enrich soil, capture carbon, protect water and increase biodiversity.

How to eat regeneratively, according to the Ethical Butcher’s Glen Burrows​

  1. “Whether carnivore, vegetarian or vegan, the same principles of buying from regenerative producers and getting involved in discussions around food and agriculture apply,” says Burrows
  2. Source as much of your food as possible from regenerative producers, from meat and fish to dairy, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetables (see box, right, for suggestions)
  3. Buy from British suppliers where possible and do what you can to minimise the impact of transportation, especially the “last mile” of the food chain, as this is where the emissions proportion is highest
  4. Where regenerative produce isn’t an option, look for produce from organic, biodynamic or permaculture systems
  5. Buy direct from small producers wherever possible, including at farm shops and farmers’ markets, to shorten the supply chain
  6. Ask questions, do research, get involved in discussions and share your own ideas on food and the environment

Where to source the best produce​

Farm Wilder​

Farm Wilder, a not-for-profit company, supplies meat boxes direct to your door from farms in south Devon and east Cornwall committed to supporting and restoring wildlife.
farmwilder.org

Yeo Valley​

Farmer Tim Mead of Yeo Valley Organic is an advocate for the benefits of regenerative organic agriculture and firmly believes organically produced produce can reverse the effects of climate change.
yeovalley.co.uk

Rushmere Farm​

Toats Mylk is an oat milk produced on Rushmere Farm in Hampshire using oats grown in a regenerative rotation.
rushmerefarm.com

Trewithen Dairy​

Cornish dairy producer Trewithen Dairy is investing heavily in pioneering a “carbon-neutral milk”.
trewithendairy.co.uk

Sapling Gin​

Sapling Gin is a “climate positive” London dry gin distilled from organic regenerative wheat produced by Wildfarmed farmers.
saplingspirits.com

Worstead Estate​

The Worstead Estate is a wagyu farm in Norfolk, which specialises in regenerative farming.
worsteadestate.com

Hodmedod’s​

Hodmedod’s British-grown pulses and grains – which include quinoa, lentils, chickpeas and carlin beans – are packed with micro and macro nutrients and have a role to play in more diverse, resilient crop rotations. Add to soups, stews, curries, salads and roast vegetables.
hodmedods.co.uk

Rotherfield Park​

Tunworth cheese is made with milk from Rotherfield Park, a progressive estate in Hampshire at the forefront of regenerative farming in the UK.
hampshirecheesecompany.co.uk


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