What I talk about when I talk about regenerative farming, regenerative cheese and a jet-black fungi that repels radiation.
Thank you to everyone for responding to my AMA last week. The idea for “Ask Me Anything” was to open the door to your questions—no curiosity too small! (It also allowed me to skirt coming up with a topic this week!) I’ll start with the question that confuses many—what does the term regenerative mean?
The question was actually this: What is regenerative cheese? I’ll get to that in a sec.
Regenerative agriculture refers to a practice of farming where everything is seen as interconnected and vital. The goal is that the land and its surroundings improve year over year. What’s included here is soil—is the farmer planting cover crops between traditional crops, which amend and enrich the soil, and do they avoiding tilling the land; do workers have fair wages, health benefits and other means that allow them to live well; does the farm benefit the community surrounding the farm, is it beautiful to look at, accessible and providing food locally; and last, is the farmer profitable. Yes, this counts too.
There’s no strict rule book for regenerative agriculture, meaning it fits into varying ecosystems that are unique from region to region. It’s a systems approach meant to leave our land, waters, and climate in better shape for future generations. Here’s a deeper dive by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), and a previous article I wrote for Bloomberg.
Regenerative isn’t a new way of farming. Indigenous communities have been following this framework—adhering to nature and following its laws more closely--for millennia. But today the term is catching on. Often, its paired with the word “organic” because there are groups trying to create a new form of certification that is—in their minds—a step further than organic. (Organic is a state-by-state certification that has been a national standard since 2002.)
This separate framing of organic and regenerative, and the additive version: regenerative organic, has become a bit of an argument in some circles. (And probably not one I’m versed well enough to handle completely.) Anyways, I met a produce guy in New York this week who told me that only one percent of the total acres in the US were organic certified. When I looked further, I found his number to be outdated. In 2020, that number was 5%. The point he wanted to make was that not enough land has been converted to organic (or regenerative) and splintering it out into varying degrees of “good” isn’t good for anyone. We need to support farmers who want to improve the land and grow food.
My writing focus is the intersection of food and technology, but it’s important to me that we continue to respect the land and, to go even further, to invest in it.
Back to cheese. Last Wednesday, I hosted an event in Bushwick titled: “Can future food and regenerative farming share the same plate?” Along with a great panel, we served a four-course meal. This included a cheese plate featuring regenerative cheeses and plant-based cheeses. If I want to serve regenerative cheese, at my dinner table, or an event in Bushwick, then I’m going to look for a dairy that is raising cows on land that improves year after year. (Along with all of the other metrics I pointed out above, and along with the fluid “rules” that shift depending on where you are in the world.) If you want to go deeper, start here.
What’s nice about a term like regenerative, is that we can also apply it to many of the New Foods I cover in my book because they still rely on crops, and every crop is grown, typically in soil, by farmers. Let’s not ignore this fact by thinking that technology somehow avoids being dependent upon the land.
I’ve mentioned in some of my podcast appearances that I am hopeful that mycelium may become the next protein on our plate (or even deli meat). It seems that fungi has endless potential. In visits to Chernobyl, researchers found more than 200 fungal species at the site, including a jet-black fungi with melanin, a pigment that influences hair, skin and eyes. This melanin also allows it to thrive in inhospitable environments. (Something NASA loves to discover.) Turns out the melanin in the fungi is attracted to radiation, which means this organism could act to mitigate harmful chemicals for long-term astronaut missions. (Y’all know I love talking about space.)
At least one of my readers is looking for healthy snacks for her kids. I tried a new one this week that tastes like chewy candy but the star ingredient is carrots. As for his affection for “candy,” can you reset the word in his mind? Make apple slices with cinnamon the candy. (Other ideas: cinnamon spiced nuts, maple almond butter for whole wheat pretzel sticks.)
Where you can find me:
Don’t miss my interview with comedian Dan Ahdoot. He tried some koji salami and cooked up the JustEggs and shared his unvarnished LA-funny-guy opinion. According to my stepdad my number of “ums” has dropped dramatically making it for very good listening.
I’m appearing virtually at the Food Edge Summit in Boston on May 3-5. On May 5th, I’ll be talking to Luda Kopeikina from DSM Venturing about investing in a healthy food system.
I’m moderating a panel on fermentation at Reducetarian conference this May 12-14 in San Francisco. Any students out there? There’s a reduced price ticket for students.