The Next Big Food Trend Is Regenerative Meat — Here’s What That Means
In 2020, Whole Foods listed “regenerative agriculture” as one of their top 10 anticipated food trends for the year. Despite this prediction being nearly two years old, the term “regenerative” is just now starting to regularly reach the consumer level in the national conversation around food sourcing. Several major food companies, including Applegate and General Mills, have made recent commitments toward utilizing more regenerative practices over time. But for the uninitiated, the term “regenerative,” especially along with the word “meat,” tends to conjure an idea of protein grown from cells in a lab — although the reality of regenerative meat couldn’t be further from that notion.
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“Regenerative agriculture is newly defined, but it’s an age-old concept,” explains Cliff Pollard, Founder and CEO of Cream Co. Meats, a regenerative meat company based in Oakland, California. “It’s the way farming was until we industrialized and weaponized our food system to produce the fastest, cheapest commodities. Before that, farmers were naturally regenerative because they had to be; they were managing their lands in such a way that they would be continually fertile and have great soil health.”
Pollard’s Cream Co., a name which alludes to “cream of the crop,” is both its own regenerative meat brand, as well as a USDA meat processing facility that works to provide butchering and packaging services for small-to-medium sized regional farms that have an emphasis on sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices. Pollard spoke to Clean Plates to help break down some of the most important points about regenerative meat and agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture aims to regenerate biomass in the soil
First things first: the term regenerative specifically has to do with regenerating the beneficial microbes, or biomass, in soil — not regenerating vegetables and animals themselves for food. Industrial farming, especially in the meat sector, deteriorates natural soil health over time. Soil is abundant with microorganisms that are beneficial to plant and animal health. When soil itself is healthy and rich with these microorganisms and the nutrients they help to provide, it creates a virtuous cycle of healthy plants and animals whose cellular structure and behavior continues to increase the quality of the soil. As Pollard described above, it’s taking a long view of the health of not only the soil, but of the farm at large.
Chemical fertilizers, by comparison, are a short-term solution to a long-term problem. They can temporarily add nutrients to the soil and improve a crop over a single year, but those same nutrients will be created by the soil and its microbial activity if the soil is in good shape in the first place. To put it in human terms, regenerative agriculture practices are like taking probiotics for improving gut health, rather than taking the vitamins that you should be getting from a nutritious diet and a well-functioning gut.
The term “regenerative” isn’t regulated (yet)
This isn’t so much “consumer beware” as it is “requires consumer critical-thinking.” Much like the natural wine category, regenerative agriculture can be a little fuzzy where the use of the term “regenerative” is concerned because currently, there is no official government regulation on the subject. “It’s a little bit too loose right now for sure,” says Pollard. “There are definitely farms that use the terminology, but their practices raise questions. However, there are a number of third-party certifications that are gaining momentum and are getting good adoption by farmers, saying we believe in these standards and believe in this empirical way of measuring the positive impact on the soil of regenerative practices.”
This space is rapidly evolving, and leaders are emerging that can offer farmers and aggregators the opportunity to evaluate their practices to increase consumer confidence, especially The Savory Institute and its Land-to-Market Ecological Outcome Verification, and Regenerative Organic Certified.
Regenerative agriculture helps to reduce carbon in the atmosphere
More so than just soil, plant, and animal health, regenerative agricultural practices help with the health of our environment through a desirable outcome known as carbon sequestering. This, more than anything, makes regenerative practices a necessary goal for the future of agriculture. Simply put, more carbon in the soil means less carbon in the air, and healthy soil creates “carbon sinks,” that literally have the ability to keep carbon from where it does no good. “One pound of certified regenerative meat could potentially sequester up to 3.5 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere,” says Pollard. “That connection is pretty cool, and that thought process is working on consumers.”
Through his California-based lens, Pollard recognizes that people don’t really deal with a problem unless it’s creating an immediate threat, and the increase in California wildfires of the last few years — a direct result of climate change — has created that threat. “As a consumer, if you can make a decision that’s helping to offset that threat or really change it, by helping to regenerate land through purchasing power, and lessen the effect of climate change, the consumer is intelligent enough to start to make those connections.”
Animals are major players in regenerative agriculture
Regardless of whether farms are mainly producing vegetable or animal products, grazing animals are an important part of how regenerative agriculture works, and regenerative meat farms are just as valuable to the economy and environment as vegetable farms are.
According to Pollard, “The folks in regenerative agriculture are completely focused on their soil health, and animals play a critical piece of that. They help to regenerate soils, fertilize them, turn them over, and naturally till them.”
How to find regenerative meat
Cream Co. Meats is mostly available on the West Coast, as part of Pollard’s and the company’s ethos is a more regional, decentralized food system, where plants and meat are raised as close to its consumers as possible. In addition to Cream Co., other regenerative meat aggregators include Force of Nature, Epic Provisions, and Country Archer Provisions. On the most local scale, talk to people at your nearest farmers market about their agricultural practices and buy from them.
A focus on regenerative farming practices is also a focus on quality
Pollard’s background is from the culinary space, and he was a chef before he was a business owner and champion of regenerative agriculture, so his focus has always been about the quality and flavor that farms with excellent sustainability and regenerative practices can provide.
“We want products that taste amazing, because we don’t believe that folks are going to convert toward eating this way and change how they purchase if the products don’t taste great,” he says. “So we’re always looking for farmers that not only use regenerative practices, but have great herd genetics, the right feed regimen, etc.” Ultimately, regenerative meats are those that should make you feel good about what you are eating, both in terms of ethics and flavor.
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