A third of all food produced globally—approximately 1.3 billion tons worth—is wasted every year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Arguably, the chief offender is bread. Because of its short shelf life, there’s often so much left over that food banks and feeding programs are unable to cope with the available excess.
Tristram Stuart, a British author, food waste activist, and the man behind Toast Ale, hopes the problem drives you to drink. Stuart’s big idea is to take surplus bread and use it to produce something we can never have enough of: beer.
Toast was inspired by a visit Stuart made to a brewery in Belgium called the Brussels Beer Project, where beer was being made from waste bread. Immediately, he remembers thinking: “That is a killer of an idea, because I know bread was being wasted all over the world in industrial quantities while it is still absolutely fresh. I know that there is a distributed global network of craft brewers with whom there is culture of collaboration, talent, real openness, and interest in cracking problems. And, of course,” he adds, there was already “a global network of food-waste fighters who were looking for entrepreneurial ways to turn food waste into revenue for non-profits.”
Considering that both bread and beer are made up of water, grain, and yeast, Stuart couldn’t help but think that “these things just go together perfectly.”
The project launched in the U.K. in 2016, and now there are three varieties: a lager called Much Kneaded; Bloomin’ Lovely, a session IPA; and Purebread, a pale ale. Occasionally, Stuart will collaborate on specialties such as a Christmas bread pudding-inspired ale made by Wiper and True in Bristol.
Proceeds from Toast go to support Stuart’s organization Feedback, which sponsors and supports educational outreach, along with his Feeding the 5000 event, in which mass public dinners are made from surplus food. Each pint of Toast ale has the equivalent of one slice of bread in it; according to one estimate, the company has brewed 9 tons of bread since its inception, with a CO2 equivalent footprint of 4.5 tons.
Heady with success, Toast launched an American Pale Ale in New York over the summer. Another will debut this month in Brazil to benefit Gastromotiva, an organization founded by activist David Hertz that aims to bring food and job security to the nation’s poorest citizens. In November, they will launch in Iceland, to support Vakandi, which fights food waste in the nation of just over 330,000 people.
Speaking from the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland, Stuart explains that these footprints in the Americas are “the first of many. We’ve had a tidal wave of interest from brewers, nonprofits, and individual food-waste campaigners like myself, all over the world, who can see the incredible potential of Toast Ale. Beer is a beverage drunk in most parts of the world. Bread is eaten in various forms in most parts of the world and wasted in most parts of the world.”
The distributed approach makes sense, since bread waste and breweries are both everywhere. Toast brings them together with established marketing and messaging plans, as well as the knowledge of a brewmaster who learned the intricacies of using bread in the brewing process.
In New York, Toast ale is now available at Whole Foods Inc. and at select restaurants such as Tom Colicchio’s Craft and Dan Barber’s Blue Hill—both leaders in the fight against food waste. The beer is brewed and canned in the Bronx by the Chelsea Craft Brewing Co. in roughly 10,000 can batches. The company also recently collaborated with the brewery at Mario Batali’s Eataly in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, where bread from the emporium’s bakery was brewed on site into an IPA served at Eataly’s rooftop beer garden. As with its U.K. sales, profits from Toast sales in the U.S. go to support Feedback.
For a cause that is so often bedevilled by sanctimony and seriousness, beer is a way of getting the message out that “Actually, we can correct this problem by having a massive celebration,” says Stuart.
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