Much like “organic” or “sustainable,” food labeled as “regenerative” or “regeneratively grown” you might think would set it apart from most other foods grown with chemicals, pesticides, and other means that may harm the earth.
For earth conscious and healthy eaters labels like these mean a lot and to some regenerative signifies a lot more than words like organic and sustainable do.
Still, we need to be careful and ask: how is “regenerative” different? Why even use it? Is it all good? Are there bad things about using the word regenerative?
For a long while the buzzword has been “sustainable” to make sure we maintain, or sustain the resources we have on this finite planet. The term regenerative was invented to fill in some of the gaps and was first coined by the Rodale Institute in the late 80’s. The idea is that agricultural strategies could “regenerate” the resources of the earth rather than deplete them. It suggests that sustainability alone is not enough: the way we grow our food needs to “give back” in some way in order to bring the earth back into balance, and not just sustain itself with equal give and take.
When you break it all down, regenerative food and farming are supposed to have the same attributes as their organic and sustainable versions: avoiding harm to the planet and replenishing soil.
But regenerative farming has lately taken on more of a climate focus. Its main theme is to grow food in a way that captures carbon from the atmosphere and keep it in the soil, avoiding carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.
Regenerative farming is a great label idea. It brings focus out from the minute details of agriculture and back to the context of our planet’s health, which is the most important part of it all.
When you really break all these labels down, proper organic or sustainable techniques for food production are often already “regenerative” in nature: they focus on soil health, environmental health, and in the long run, climate health, too (if utilized and followed properly).
Why throw a totally different label into the mix?
There’s also the issue of regulating, certifying, and making sure farmers and ranchers are actually producing regeneratively. While Organic and Biodynamic Certification is far from perfect, it can at least oversee and enforce laws on foods and companies that pretend to be something that they are not. That’s not the case with the term “regenerative.” At this point, anyone can claim their products are regeneratively grown, but no one is making anyone be transparent about it or prove it.
Even now, companies like General Mills are adopting the term regenerative for their foods, products, and the agricultural methods behind them making the big claim that they are “changing their practices using regenerative strategies like no-till, cover crops, and holistic grazing…to focus on soil quality, erosion, and reduced greenhouse emissions”…but they say nothing about cutting out the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Mass scale spraying of glyphosate CANNOT be included in the regenerative future.
With every new buzzword, we need to be careful.
After all, it’s in our power (and responsibility) to make our dollar ultimately go toward the health of the planet – and not a marketing or money-making opportunity without our knowing. Look for labels like Regenerative Organic Certified.