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Popular vegan restaurant owner expanding menu to include meat from regenerative farming: 'People are still eating meat everywhere I look'

"I hope that the vegan community and the regenerative community can really come together because I think they're both powerful, powerful pathways for change."

"I hope that the vegan community and the regenerative community can really come together because I think they’re both powerful, powerful pathways for change."

Photo Credit: iStock

A popular Los Angeles vegan restaurant is adding meat from regenerative farming to the menu. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, Sage Vegan Bistro announced on Earth Day that it would become Sage Regenerative Kitchen & Brewery. The change would include selling meat and dairy through regenerative farming practices. 

The change has disappointed many vegan restaurant-goers in the area, with thousands of comments online including criticisms such as calling it "devastating" and a move for "profit disguised as environmental progress." Explaining the change, Chef Mollie Engelhart, the owner, said she is making the switch for two reasons.

First, she said she believes regenerative farming is the next step in controlling polluting gases. Regenerative farming is a more natural way of farming that improves soil health and aspires to limit heat-trapping carbon dioxide and methane from increasing their concentrations in the atmosphere. 

Also, perhaps the biggest driver of the change is she said it was a financial decision, as the restaurant has struggled since the COVID-19 pandemic. It hasn't made a profit since 2020, per the Times. 

"My restaurants have been really struggling, like so many restaurants post-pandemic," Engelhart told the news outlet.

She first discovered regenerative farming through agricultural consultant Graeme Sait's TED Talk and spent the next few years researching it. 

"I hope that the vegan community and the regenerative community can really come together because I think they're both powerful, powerful pathways for change," Engelhart added

There are numerous health and environmental benefits to a fully or largely vegan diet — including a recent study suggesting a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas pollution, water use, and land use from going vegan — and eating foods from regenerative farming will not replace those advantages. While it would be better for the environment if more people and restaurants could go and remain vegan, what Engelhart said she is at least hoping to achieve is a widening customer base that could be making more environmentally conscious choices at the dinner table as opposed to consuming with no regard for any negative knock-on effects.  

"Here's the thing: People are still eating meat everywhere I look," Engelhart said

In other words, if it's unrealistic to expect a significant jump in the percentage of people eating a vegan diet in the next few years and her vegan business is struggling to stay open, Engelhart is saying she wants to find the next best thing and perhaps expose more people to the idea of making environmentally conscious food choices in the process.

Engelhart said she planned that when the restaurant started serving meat options, it would only offer beef that was all either grass-fed or mob-grazed, where the cattle are moved to allow the soil to regrow. The chicken served would also be moved daily and pasture-raised.

In addition to the backlash, Engelhart did receive some positive comments as well when she announced the restaurant's transformation on Instagram

"This is going to be such an upgrade in nutrition while supporting regenerative agriculture and regenerating the soil with animals," one user commented.

The LA Times story noted that there's some good evidence in favor of the benefits of regenerative farming but also that "not everyone agrees" it makes enough of a difference, citing an academic review that found most regenerative farming operations "are not likely to lead to a large net sequestration of organic carbon in soils." Some have even said the "regenerative" label could be used as greenwashing.

"I'm profoundly aware of how people use some of these practices for greenwashing," Engelhart said. "But I'm also profoundly aware of how these practices — when implemented correctly — make a profound difference."

Regenerative farming or regenerative agriculture is intended to be healthier for people because its crops contain more nutrients and minerals and fewer heavy metals, according to Green America. It can also be more resistant to the effects of rising temperatures, so fewer crops are lost, per the Nature Conservancy. In addition, because fewer pesticides are used in this type of farming, there's less water pollution, resulting in less health risk. 

Researchers are also developing other farming practices that are potentially safer for the environment. For example, researchers at the University of Texas are doing what they call "smart farming," which uses copper-based hydrogel to capture nitrates from pesticides before they reach water and soil. 

A group of women in India is using solar pumps for agriculture. As a result, it's made water more affordable and reliable, and they've been able to diversify their crops. 

Individuals can make a difference for the environment at the table by eating at restaurants that promote vegan options or use other eco-friendly practices and products — or by generally dining or shopping anywhere that best aligns with their values. Being conscious of the waste or environmental impact of any purchasing decisions is the biggest first step. 

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