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Wveganuary is expected to reach more than 2 million registrations worldwide since its launch in 2014, the 31-day plant-based pledge is making headlines again in January as food manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurants are responding to the movement. But for people who want to eat more sustainably, but don’t want to eliminate meat altogether, there’s another consumer challenge to tackle: Regenuary.

The idea for people to source as much food as possible from producers who use regenerative farming methods was pioneered three years ago by Ethical Butcher co-founder Glen Burrows, who was a vegetarian. for 25 years because he didn’t like the way meat was produced. “In 1989, being a vegetarian was like being a Martian,” he says. “I became this awkward guy at dinner parties and enjoyed that moral smugness a bit, but after a long time I wasn’t doing so well. It didn’t sit well with me.

So he started eating meat again. “It was like a life force had been reactivated…I was going to get my second black belt in martial arts.” He particularly likes offal. “For me, it’s almost like taking drugs.”

Burrows’ goal with Regenuary is to get people to think more about how their food is produced. “The point of the movement is to think more about the impact of their food choices and stop the simplistic narrative that all plant-based foods are better than animal-based ones,” he says.

Unlike Veganuary’s fairly explicit rules, Regenuary is more nuanced and involves eating seasonal produce from farms that proponents believe have lower or even beneficial environmental or social impacts. This idea is gaining traction and “regenerative” could be the farming buzzword of 2022. It’s still a pretty broad concept – it’s basically any form of farming that simultaneously improves the environment, including in a social sense. . At the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) last week, there were discussions about regenerative dairy, regenerative suckler cows, regenerative fashion, regenerative mindset and even regenerative women.

At last year’s Groundswell, the UK’s flagship event for nature-friendly farming, Environment Secretary George Eustice said Brexit was a chance for the UK to take the initiative to support regenerative agriculture. Agriculture is the main driver of biodiversity decline in the UK. But many farmers are anticipating the change in subsidies and are already starting to make green improvements to their farms.

Love meat too much for Veganuary?  Try searching for Regen instead |  Veganism
A regenerative farm in Cumbria. This idea of ​​regenerative agriculture is gaining momentum in the industry. Photograph: Anthony Cullen/The Guardian

But while many support the idea of ​​regenerative agriculture, they argue that the priority should be to stop people eating meat. Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University College London, said: “While I support regenerative farming and community farming and soil protection, I think Regenuary is a greenwash to eat green. meat and drink dairy products.” Lewis says we need to be clear about the science that plant-based diets are better for the planet, and he fears movements like Regenuary will “muddy the waters” on this issue.

Avoiding meat and dairy is considered the biggest way to reduce your impact on the planet. Scientific studies show that humans cultivate approximately 4.1 billion hectares (10.1 billion acres) of land worldwide, and if we all adopted a vegan diet, only 1 billion hectares would be in use. This would mean more space to protect wild habitats for nature and to plant trees. This is the land “sparing” approach to wildlife protection.

Many regenerative farmers believe in “sharing” land, essentially that wildlife and farm animals can co-exist in more natural, low-intensity grazing systems, creating a mosaic of habitats and requiring fewer chemical inputs.

At the end of last year, a poll showed that more than a third of the British public wanted to go vegan, with meat consumption falling by 17% over the past decade. “People pushing Regenuary better say ‘hey, when you’re done with your Vegenuary, if you still feel like you need to eat some meat once in a while, you should get it from regenerative farming’,” rather than standing up against people exploring being vegan for a month,” says Lewis, who believes the government needs to ensure that the most environmentally friendly option is the cheapest and easiest to choose. for consumers.

Burrows thinks people should eat “better” meat, but not necessarily less. For him, the value of food comes from being able to see where it comes from, supporting grass-based grazing systems, and involving farmers and consumers in short, direct supply chains. It also encourages people to eat only prime cuts and adopt a snout-to-tail diet, which means less carcass is wasted.

However, in terms of carbon emissions, science argues that regenerative meat consumption is only sustainable if combined with a reduction in the total amount consumed, a fact that UK farm unions are still struggling to accept. . Although the exact amount of meat we should be eating is a rolling feast, the Lancet recommends a maximum of 100g of red meat per week. Professor Sir Ian Boyd, former chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says sheep and cattle numbers must fall by 90% as half of the country’s farmland should be converted to forest land.

Other estimates have been much more conservative. The UK’s advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, is calling on people to cut their consumption by 20% by 2030, with a focus on eating ‘less but better’ meat.

Both Regenuary and Veganuary are part of a growing movement of people who are more aware of the environmental effect of food production and their supporters should be allies, not competitors, says program researcher John Lynch. future of food from the University of Oxford. “I support a lot of the ‘less but better’ movement, which is that if we want to eat better meat, oftentimes the welfare argument comes through as well as the environmental argument,” he says. .

Love meat too much for Veganuary?  Try searching for Regen instead |  Veganism
Anna’s Happy Trotter pigs, bred in East Yorkshire, are 100% free range from weaning. Only 1-2% of pigs in the UK are produced this way. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Lynch thinks some farmers feel “bad guys,” which means they’re disengaging. “People are more willing to engage if they’re not just giving up farming, but still enjoying some carbon and biodiversity benefits,” he says.

Environmental efforts such as soil protection, tree planting, and the restoration of peatlands and wetlands are expected to be supported by future government agricultural subsidies. Increasingly, efforts are being made to integrate trees into existing farming and cropping systems and, with farming taking up 70% of the UK, such large-scale efforts can have a big impact. on a more regenerative agricultural industry.

Similarly, among consumers, many people would be unwilling to do Veganuary but could try Regenuary and that is to be applauded, says Lynch, as long as reducing meat consumption is part of that effort.

“Some people are already vegan and want to continue not eating farmed products, and that’s fine. They don’t need to aim to eat meat once or twice a week. Whereas if you eat meat or dairy every day, even if you cut back slightly, that will still be a good step in the right direction,” he says.

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