11 January 2021, 10:53 AM
  • A new movement is making waves in the food and drink industry. We look into the trend and what it means for speciality retailers
Regenuary: what is it, and how can indies get involved?

We’ve all heard of Veganuary and Dry January by now, but what about Regenuary?

What is Regenuary?

Regenuary is a movement started by The Ethical Butcher in 2020 to encourage more people to look into the provenance of their food and prioritise local, seasonal products made through regenerative agriculture.

Glen Burrows, marketing director at The Ethical Butcher, came up with the term in a post on Facebook after noticing that many fast food brands were launching vegan substitutes for Veganuary. “I started to wonder, ‘what is the impact of somebody who eats that kind of food anyway, who simply swaps it out for a meat substitute for a month?’ It could potentially do more harm than good,” Glen says. “Instead of greenwashing for one month, why don’t you just try and make the conditions better for the animals that you serve for the rest of the year?”

Glen’s Facebook post went viral, and another post on Instagram this year picked up steam again.

What are the benefits of regenerative agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is a conservation approach to food and farming systems that prioritises soil health, biodiversity, agroecology and other restorative practices.

Mary Quicke, managing director of Quicke’s cheese, has come out in support of Regenuary, and she believes that a more nuanced conversation around farming is important to getting the message of regenerative agriculture across.

“I think it takes a bit of understanding about how soil works, which is something that’s sort of hidden under the bonnet of this discussion. It’s not something that lends itself very easily to banner headlines,” Mary explains. “I’m really passionate about connecting and inspiring all people to where their food comes from, to food and farming, to how we nourish ourselves and how we can do that in a way that supports the planet.”

The problem in the UK is that while meat or dairy-based products from animals reared in a regenerative system are easy to trace, products like wheat that are regeneratively grown can get “lost in the system”, Glen says.

“There isn’t really a label or a mark for that in the UK,” he adds. In America, A Greener World certifies regenerative farms and labels the products that come from them.

In order to create a similar system in Britain, Glen says The Ethical Butcher hopes to find ways to make it easier for brands to source from regenerative farms. “I’d like to think that throughout the year we can start putting together a directory and talking to people, and just put a bit of time and effort into it.”

Mary says Regenuary offers “an extraordinary opportunity to connect people to where their food comes from,” and to empower consumers to make informed decisions. “All the power is with consumers, it’s just we as consumers don’t know that. So let’s empower consumers. Let’s treat consumers like grown ups, like they can understand subtle conversations.

“I think there’s a way that we can work together to make the food that we need to eat for the long term,” Mary says.

Why is Regenuary controversial?

Regenuary has proved to be contentious in the vegan community, but Glen says that was never the intention. “It’s not an attack on veganism, it’s an attack on anyone who makes bad decisions, and that includes vegans and omnivores,” he explains.

While decisions around diet can be very personal, Glen believes that consumers need to be informed about the food they eat. “The whole point of it was to say ‘make better choices about what you eat’. It’s a decision making process, it’s not about one versus the other,” he added. For instance, on its website the business compares the impact on the planet of eating an avocado grown in Mexico versus an ethically reared cow, and concludes that pasture-raised beef is the more ethical choice.

Mary believes that removing animals from farming can be detrimental to regenerative agriculture. “I think that if you take out the animal step in farming, you’re harvesting the resources of the soil in a way that isn’t really long term.” Indeed, a recent report by the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission charity found that the UK’s beef herd could be at the centre of a sustainable farming system so long as production and consumption of meat, milk and eggs fall.

Research around climate-friendly diets often encourages consumers to eat less meat to reduce emissions, and the growing popularity of Veganuary shows that consumers are keen to change their habits. In 2019, a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) included a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption. “We don’t want to tell people what to eat,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, a co-chair of the IPCC’s working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, said at the time. “But it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.”

Can retailers get involved with Regenuary?

Glen hopes that Regenuary continues to make consumers question their food choices, this month and in the years to come. And although The Ethical Butcher plans to keep spreading the word, he wants Regenuary to take on a life of its own. “I want to decentralise it, I don’t want it to be something that we own. I just want it to be out there as a thought process.”

With Regenuary, independents have an opportunity to take the conversation further by drawing attention to locally made and regenerative products, from British-grown fruit and veg to responsibly sourced meat. By doing this, retailers are not only supporting Britain’s farmers, but also a more sustainable food system.

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