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Regenesis Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet

New SPECIAL OFFER
By: George Monbiot(Author)
339 pages, no illustrations
Publisher: Allen Lane
NHBS
A vitally important book for our times, Regenesis tackles industrial agriculture and environmental feel-good myths in equal measure and answers how to minimise the disastrously large environmental footprint of farming.
Regenesis
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  • Regenesis ISBN: 9780241447642 Hardback May 2022 In stock
    £14.99 £19.99
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Price: £14.99
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About this book

People talk a lot about the problems with intensive farming. But the problem isn't the adjective. It's the noun. Around the world, farming has been wiping out vast habitats, depleting freshwater, polluting oceans, and accelerating global heating, while leaving millions undernourished and unfed. Increasingly, there are signs that the system itself is beginning to flicker. But, as George Monbiot shows us in this brilliant, bracingly original new book, there is another way.

Regenesis is an exhilarating journey into a new possible future for food, people and the planet. Drawing on the revelatory, rapidly advancing science of soil ecology, Monbiot shows how the hidden biological universe beneath our feet could transform what we eat and how we grow it. He travels to meet the people who are unlocking these methods, from the fruit and vegetable growers who cultivate pests as well as potatoes; through producers of perennial grains who are liberating their fields from ploughs; to the scientists pioneering new forms of protein and fat that can be cooked into rich golden pancakes and much, much more. We start to see how the tiniest life forms in the soil might help us save the living world, allowing us to produce abundant, cheap, healthy food while returning vast swathes of land to the wild.

Here, for the first time, is a profoundly hopeful, appetising and exciting vision of food: of revolutionary cultivation and cuisine that could nourish us all and restore our world of wonders.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • An incendiary page-turner
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 1 Jun 2022 Written for Hardback


    Do you eat? Then you might wish to consider that farming is destroying the planet. Or so argues Guardian columnist and environmental campaigner George Monbiot, who is never one to shirk controversy. I have a lot of time for Monbiot. I might not agree with everything he has written over the years, but I find his ideas to be driven by sound logic and appropriate scepticism. He is neither afraid to admit his mistakes nor to piss people off by saying things they do not want to hear. In that sense, Regenesis is a necessary provocation.

    Many farmers, food critics, and activists will be dog-piling on this book, so to be clear: Monbiot is not blaming farmers who, he knows full well, are trapped in an exploitative system, even if there are cases of misconduct from their side too. This is a grounded and long overdue critique of our food system. You want facts? Monbiot has plenty. 98 (!) pages of footnotes back up every claim.

    Industrial farming of plants and livestock has a deservedly bad reputation. Issues such as animal welfare, antibiotic resistance, habitat destruction, insect declines, soil loss, and wildlife extinction have been well-publicised over the years. Furthermore, livestock consumes vast amounts of food fit for human consumption. Even knowing this, Monbiot manages to shock with some of the facts he has dug up. From Many people rail again intensive farming, but, writes Monbiot, "the problem is not the adjective. It's the noun" (p. 90).

    Many solutions proposed by well-meaning environmental organisations and individuals are often equally bad, if not worse. Free-range and organic farming suffer an undeniable yield gap. Rewilding even more so. Local food is not by definition better and transportation is only a fraction of the emissions budget of produce. The claims for regenerative farming do not stand up to scrutiny. And urban farming and vertical farming are similarly despatched as pipe dreams. Monbiot is merciless: "as so often in this field, passionate debates about how we should grow our food take place in a numerical vacuum" (p. 146).

    The part that terrified me was Monbiot's examination of the global food production system through the lens of network science. Complex systems have a habit of taking on a life of their own, showing emergent properties and unexpected tipping points. We have come to understand them to the extent that, once you know their topology, you can predict how stable they are. Since the 1960s, we have increasingly globalized both food production methods and our diets, relied on fewer crops that we grow as monocultures, concentrated power in the hands of fewer and larger corporations, and relentlessly chased efficiency, which "is another way of saying that we are reducing its redundancy" (p. 31). Many countries are no longer self-sufficient and the whole system relies on just-in-time delivery. In other words, we have created a food production system that is highly vulnerable to shocks and governments seem hell-bent on making the system even larger and more interconnected.

    Fortunately, Monbiot does more than sound the alarm and the second half of Regenesis considers solutions. Land use is the key metric in this discussion and he favours high-yield, low-impact methods. None are perfect and he is frank about their shortcomings. But together they can point the way toward a resilient and diverse food system that produces abundant, healthy, and affordable food.

    He thus meets farmers who are pursuing less destructive ways of growing food. What their different methods have in common is that they put soil health first. This is why Monbiot opens Regenesis with a chapter on the fascinating and incredibly neglected fundamentals of soil science. One of the most exciting developments he covers is the use of perennial rather than annual plants, i.e. crops that can be harvested multiple years in a row. Our ancestors cultivated annuals because they grow quickly and invest all their energy in seeds rather than roots or foliage. But "large areas dominated by annual plants are rare in nature. They tend to colonize ground in the wake of catastrophe [...] in cultivating annuals, we must keep the land in the catastrophic state they prefer" (p. 179). This idea had never occurred to me.

    At the other end of the spectrum, Monbiot discusses the high-tech method of microbial fermentation that grows proteins in vats and has a tiny land footprint. Interestingly, he has become less convinced by attempts at growing cultured meat, instead hoping for completely new cuisines. I was left wondering about the nutritional value though. Monbiot seems fixated on the protein this technology can provide and dreams of a farm-free future in which vast tracts of land can be returned to nature. But we live on more than protein alone. Though he mentions that bacteria could produce the vitamins we need thanks to genetic engineering, he does not mention all the other macro- and micronutrients. I am thus left thinking this could either be a stumbling block or at least something that needs looking into.

    At this point you might be left wondering: what about vegetarianism or veganism? This is my only major critique: Monbiot is largely vegan and at several points mentions that switching to a plant-based diet would be a major environmental win, but he never explicitly writes why he is not promoting veganism. If you read deeper, he argues this means changing people's habits, which is notoriously difficult: "the less we need to rely on moral suasion, the more successful a shift is likely to be" (p. 150).

    Though I appreciate Monbiot's pragmatism, I disagree. The ideas explored here are all techno-fixes which only get you so far. In my opinion, cultivating an ethos of self-limitation has to be part of the answer. Monbiot admits that his proposed solutions will likely face stiff opposition, so changes of heart and habits are on the menu anyway. Furthermore, when discussing microbial fermentation, he gives recent examples of rapid social change. Since most people align with the status quo, all you need is a critical mass. This seems like a lapse in logic: if he thinks we can change people's minds on eating microbially fermented food, we can change their minds on veganism, and people are exploring pragmatic ways to do so. By ignoring it, other options, such as the awkwardly named flexitarianism or reducetarianism, do not get a look-in. Could they contribute to the solution?

    This notwithstanding, I have nothing but praise for this book. Monbiot calls out injustices, wishful thinking, and illogical ideas on all sides. That he angers pretty much everyone in the process is a price he is willing to pay: this is not a popularity contest. Regenesis is an incendiary page-turner, in the best possible sense of the word.
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Biography

George Monbiot is an author, Guardian columnist and environmental campaigner. His best-selling books include Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life and Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning; his latest is Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. George co-wrote the concept album Breaking the Spell of Loneliness with musician Ewan McLennan, and has made a number of viral videos. One of them, adapted from his 2013 TED talk, How Wolves Change Rivers, has been viewed on YouTube over 40 million times. Another, on Natural Climate Solutions, which he co-presented with Greta Thunberg, has been watched over 60 million times.

New SPECIAL OFFER
By: George Monbiot(Author)
339 pages, no illustrations
Publisher: Allen Lane
NHBS
A vitally important book for our times, Regenesis tackles industrial agriculture and environmental feel-good myths in equal measure and answers how to minimise the disastrously large environmental footprint of farming.
Media reviews

"This book calls for nothing less than a revolution in the future of food – one that will literally transform the face of the Earth, to make food affordable for all while restoring the living world. Such a vision sounds near impossible, but Monbiot reveals the food pioneers whose extraordinary innovations could bring it within reach. Never shying from controversy, Regenesis weaves the poetry of soil into the politics of farming to shake the ground on which we all grow. This is Monbiot's masterpiece: an urgent and exhilarating journey into remaking what and how we eat"
– Kate Raworth

"Regenesis speaks to us like a poem that begins with a phantasmagoria of that which lies under the soil, offers a magnificent political economy of global food production and concludes with a hopeful vision of a techno-ethical equilibrium between Humanity and Nature. It must be read"
– Yanis Varoufakis

"People from all walks of life should read this remarkable book. It is in my view one of the two or three most important books to appear this century"
– Prof. Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government

"As we begin to rethink our relationship with Nature, the unstinting work of George Monbiot becomes ever more valuable. Monbiot has been at the cutting edge of the discussion for decades, and his extraordinary book covers this complex, evolving subject with depth and breadth, sincerity and humour. I never cease to be surprised by the unexpected perspectives he brings to bear, leading me through problems I never envisaged and solutions I never imagined. We are left with the hope that the solutions might triumph, that we might make it through"
– Brian Eno

"A book offering evidence-based hope is a rare thing in these days of climate and nature emergency – yet that's exactly what George Monbiot has written. Inspiring and compelling, Regenesis sets out a transformative vision of a new food future with the potential to both restore nature and feed the world. Monbiot's blueprint is both wildly ambitious and deeply practical, and might well be our last best hope of stopping the sixth great extinction"
– Caroline Lucas

"This remarkable book, staring curiously down at the soil beneath our feet, points us convincingly in one of the directions we must travel. I learned something on every page"
– Bill McKibben

"George Monbiot clears paths towards solutions that lie dormant within us, which, if embraced, could transform our world and our societies into better places. He reaches for new ideas that might ignite the collective consciousness in a push to protect, rather than tragically destroy, the biosphere. Read George Monbiot and you will meet the cheerful courage and passion of a fellow traveller on this earth who seeks authentic hope"
– ANOHNI

"For anyone who cares about where our food comes from and its impact on the planet Regenesis is essential reading. This deeply researched book lifts the lid on our current methods of food production and all its dirty secrets: but more than that it provides a blueprint for the future. Monbiot pursues the key question: how can we have healthy food that's cheap enough for everyone to eat? His answers provide critical pathways towards a way to feed the planet"
– Rosie Boycott

"Forget Elon Musk's dry-as-dust retro sci-fi fantasies, George Monbiot gives us an inspiring vision of the future that is alive and kicking and grounded in the latest scientific discoveries. George Monbiot has combined his gifts as an investigator, interviewer and witty storyteller to create an exhiliarating epic!"
– Robert Newman

"A fascinating and ultimately positive book [...] a harmonic vision of how changing our relationship to land use, farming and the food that we eat could transform our lives"
– Thom Yorke

"Wonderful [...] Monbiot shows that the thin layer on which all terrestrial ecosystems stand is alive with organisms as diverse, fascinating and mysterious as any found above ground. He shatters the shibboleths of farming, showing the way to a radical transformation of agricultural practices and exciting new opportunities for nourishment"
– David Suzuki

"Regenesis is a world-making, world-changing book; at once visionary and rigorous and practicable. It rings and sings throughout with Monbiot's extraordinary combination of passion, generosity and justice. It is braced by his unshakeable commitment to bettering the planet for all its inhabitants, human and other-than-human. It is a thrilling work, more ambitious even than its predecessor, Feral, and it gripped me as I read. Recognising that "the future is underground", Monbiot shows us that the possibility for a transformed relationship with food, the living world and each other lies just beneath our feet, right under our noses"
– Robert Macfarlane

"A brilliant, mesmerizing, vital book. Beneath each square meter of soil live thousands of species, and each chapter of George Monbiot's eye-opening exploration of that soil and its potential is similarly, dynamically rich-delivering a whole new way of thinking about our agriculture and our diets, our climate and our future. And much needed hope, besides"
– David Wallace-Wells

"A genuinely brilliant, inspirational book [...] George Monbiot embarks on a journey of discovery, realising that soil and its role in our life is bigger than everything else. Halfway through, I felt like a child who was bursting to share a secret with anyone who would listen. By the time I had finished reading, I felt as if the purest mountain stream had washed through my brain, and Monbiot had shared the most fundamentally important insight of his life"
– Sir Tim Smit, Founder of the Eden Project

"You may think you are across environmental and climate change issues, but think again. This passionate, extraordinary book opens up a compelling and vital new dimension: food and the way the world farms"
– Will Hutton

"With rigour, singular bravery and an infectious love for the living world, George Monbiot presents the Silent Spring of our time. Regenesis is an eye-watering reckoning of humanity's land and food crisis and an astonishing vision of survival and restoration. Monbiot takes us on a journey from the rhizospheres and the drilospheres through soil ecology, cultural myths, to the future of food all bound together with his own wonder-ful, beautifully-written observations. There is no topic more important for planetary survival than land and food, and there is no writer willing to dispense of bullshit, tell us the truth, and take on powerful forces and perceived wisdom like George Monbiot. A visionary, fearless, essential book"
– Lucy Jones

"Monbiot rolls up his sleeves and pulls on his boots for an uncompromising session of agricultural dragon-slaying and foodie myth-busting. Unafraid to propose a new world order for farming and food production that is kinder to both people and planet, Regenesis is rigorous and restive, but also witty, original and humane. Let us hope it is read, digested and acted on by people, politicians and policy-makers the world over"
– Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

"I am so grateful George Monbiot has applied his razor sharp intellect, bountiful curiosity and love for the land to the complex and fundamental issue of what we eat. This book offers a deep dive into the most essential question of our time – how might we feed ourselves without destroying our planet in the process?"
– Lily Cole

"This is an important book and a gripping read. It will enflame vested interests on all sides. Because Monbiot has that most aggravating of gifts – the ability lucidly to point out things that people desperately do not want to be true"
– Henry Dimbleby

"How can we ensure that everyone is fed without destroying the biosphere? Regenesis is a lively and deeply researched enquiry that confronts our dilemmas head on. There are no easy answers, but Monbiot provides a brilliant guide to asking the right questions. Transformation is urgently needed and this book shows how it is possible"
– Merlin Sheldrake

"George Monbiot is a very skilful writer, and Regenesis shows all his powers at full stretch. He seems to see more fully than almost anyone else in this field, with a clarity of attention both to the smallest realities of a handful of soil and to the widest implications of the way human beings have lived and continue to live in the world. Telling things in the right order doesn't seem like one of the functions of the imagination, but again and again Monbiot shows that it is, with all the imaginative sympathy of a great storyteller as well as the overarching understanding of a moral visionary. This is a fine and necessary book"
– Philip Pullman

"George Monbiot is one of the most fearless and important voices in the global climate movement today"
– Greta Thunberg

"I used to look up to the stars for thoughts of infinity, eternity and divine cooperation. This book revealed to me I could find the same inspiration beneath the souls of my feet in less than a foot of soil. My walks on earth will never be the same as they were. The writing, observation and devotion is infectiously compelling. The learning is deep and immense"
– Mark Rylance

"A magnificent new overview of how we might live and feed ourselves without destroying ourselves [...] It is riveting [...] Along with a dazzling array of stats, there's also impressive investigative reporting [...] rich food for thought, devastating figures, startling insights and even the odd joke [...] A hugely important read"
– Christopher Hart, The Sunday Times

"A call to raze the pastoral imaginary so that we can begin to think clearly about how we produce food and steward the soil [...] To have any chance of turning the age of extinction into an age of regeneration, systemic reform, based on the facts, not pastoral myth-making, is essential"
– Philippa Nuttall, New Statesman

"Colossally important [...] You've got to read it"
– Max Porter (via Twitter)

"A treasure trove of hope and solutions, and a vision for a sustainable, healthy, equitable world. We meet inspiring farmers as well as some radical solutions [...] Comprehensive, devastating, rousing [...] An essential book"
– Rowan Hooper, New Scientist

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