Image description: Green crops grow in the foreground, in the background the skyline of a city can be seen.
There is something about the new year that holds ripe promise for change. The month of January is notorious for its onslaught of resolutions and revolutions, especially when it comes to eating. We’ve all heard of Veganuary, which is exactly what it sounds like: going vegan for the month, and hopefully for the rest of the year. But there’s a new sustainable eating movement that’s taking the planet (and our plates) by storm – introducing Regenuary.
For the month of January, the Regenuary movement urges people to eat foods that are local, seasonal and sourced from farms that use regenerative agricultural practices. The concept of ‘regenerative agriculture’ entails a system of farming and grazing practices that aim to reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. The key difference between Regenuary and Veganuary, then, is that people can eat all types of food, including meat, seafood, and dairy products. To be clear, the Regenuary movement is not about encouraging people to eat more meat. Rather, the focus is on the source of the food. Instead of choosing foods that are flown from farms or factories across the world, people are encouraged to opt for locally-sourced, regeneratively-farmed foods.
The clearest benefit from following the Regenuary movement is environmental sustainability. Importing food involves an entire cascade of processes, from preservation to processing to packaging, and then to transport and retail. Not only do these processes consume significant resources like energy and water, all of these steps contribute to carbon emissions, particularly if air travel is involved, which is often the case for highly perishable foods like fruit and vegetables. Furthermore, by encouraging regenerative practices, Regenuary advocates a shift away from environmentally degrading practices like monoculture farming. This occurs when only one type of a crop is grown at a time, or when only one species of livestock is bred at a time. Evidence for the destructive effects of monoculture farming is glaringly clear: reduced biodiversity, pest infestations, higher pesticide use and soil degradation, to name a few. In contrast, regenerative agriculture takes a dynamic and holistic approach to farming. Essentially, it lets nature do the work. For instance, one regenerative technique is to integrate livestock on farms. As animal hooves break up the soil, this accelerates the building of organic matter that provides nourishment for germinating seeds. At the same time, animal excrement helps add nutrients to the soil, further improving water retention.
The consequences of COVID-19 have foregrounded the need for food security.
Beyond the environment, Regenuary incentivizes support for small-scale producers, bolstering local economies and even strengthening resilience at the national scale. The consequences of COVID-19 have foregrounded the need for food security. As strict restrictions on the movement of people and products, transnational supply chains were all but disrupted. Not only were supermarket shelves swept clean, but the livelihoods of smallholder farms were threatened as well. In the light of the pandemic and the uncertainties it has highlighted in global food distribution, encouraging people to eat locally presents a compelling solution for both consumers and producers.
However, although the Regenuary movement sounds promising, it may not be as applicable in certain parts of the world, such as in areas that lack resources for self-sufficient food production. I come from the city-state of Singapore, which spans a tiny area of 728 km² – that is, approximately half the size of London. Constrained by space, over 90% of Singapore’s foodstuffs have to be imported, be it from neighbouring Southeast Asia or from Europe and beyond. Yet, I believe this limitation only underscores the importance of Regenuary in raising awareness and igniting change within society and industry. Given the practical constraints of Singapore’s food production, it may not be possible to eat entirely local here. Nevertheless, becoming more conscious of our food origins will still have great benefits for both the environment and economy. Moreover, the movement can encourage greater investment into emergent technologies like hydroponic or vertical urban farming and lab-grown meat, enabling greater availability of home-grown products in the future.
Ultimately, Regenuary is about eating more consciously and responsibly, and becoming more informed consumers. It is about understanding that food is not just the final entrée on our plates, but a commodity that may travel from farm to factory to fork. This movement is not a binary argument against veganism, nor a rejection of globalisation. Rather, by encouraging people to eat food from regenerative farms, Regenuary hopes to restore ecosystems, revitalise economies, and reconnect communities. It may sound like a tall order, but, as with any January movement, perhaps the first and most important step is to be open to try.
Image credit: MMW Horticulture Group via Creative Commons