A Toast to Ending Food Waste

UK activist Tristram Stuart is repurposing discarded bread as a tasty ale ingredient.

Food Culture

Tristram Stuart has yet to find a way of turning wastewater into wine, but the UK activist’s latest venture has succeeded in transforming bread into beer.

Not just any bread, but some of the millions of slices of perfectly good edible bread thrown away every day from bakeries and sandwich factories. Every bottle of Stuart’s Toast Ale—launched in the United Kingdom and now available in New York, Brazil, South Africa, Iceland, and Sweden—contains the equivalent of one slice of bread. Based on a 4,000-year-old Ancient Babylon recipe, the beer replaces one-third of the malted barley with bread destined for landfill. 

While drinkers can taste the wheat and caramel notes, craft ale experts say the bread enhances rather than detracts from the flavor. Toast Ale has even won international awards for quality, not just for its green credentials, says Stuart, cofounder of the London-based food waste charity Feedback, which receives all profits from Toast Ale.

One-third of all bread produced in the United States is discarded, says Stuart, and he believes his brew can tackle bread waste at an industrial level.

“We’ve already brewed more than 10 tons of bread and are now brewing about 500 kilograms a month, scaling up all the time,” he says. “When it comes to Toast Ale, we’re definitely seeing major changes in attitudes from a consumer perspective. This is evidenced not only by discussions with our own customers, but also growing interest from ‘Big Food’ in getting involved in similar initiatives. 

“For example, AB InBev announced they’re making a dairy-free milkshake-inspired drink from brewing surplus. [And] famous chefs and restaurateurs such as Jamie Oliver and Massimo Bottura are excited about new developments in this field and are becoming advocates, raising awareness even further.

“There’s a queue of dozens of new countries waiting to join the Toast family,” he adds. Sustainability and localism is at the heart of Toast’s business model, so new territories will brew their own beer, using local waste bread where possible.

Tritram Stuart
Tristram Stuart
Waste Not, Want Not
Stuart’s arguments against food waste are simple: The world already grows enough to feed 12 billion people, so rather than looking for complex technical fixes to grow even more, we should be reducing waste throughout the chain—from disease-stricken crops on farms to edible food discarded by supermarkets. 

His 2009 book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, concluded that a third of food produced globally, or around 1.3 billion tons, is wasted annually. In the United States, that equates to 40 million tons.

Stuart, who has worked with the European Commission and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), now serves as an advisor to Feedback, which coordinates a number of campaigns. Its flagship project is Feeding the 5000, a series of one-day events in which 5,000 people have lunch prepared with food that would otherwise have been discarded. The lunches have been held in cities including London, Paris, Washington, D.C., New York City, Athens, and Sydney.

Feedback also runs the Gleaning Network of volunteers who harvest food that would otherwise be left to rot because of overproduction or cosmetic imperfections.

Hog Wild About Pig Feed Waste
Stuart, who was brought up on a small farm that raised pigs, is particularly passionate about The Pig Idea—a campaign to reverse the ban on feeding catering waste to pigs in Europe, Australia, and some U.S. states. The ban was imposed after the U.K. foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001, when infection was traced to pigs on a farm in northern England. 

Today, 36% of crops are used to feed animals, not people, says Stuart. In fact, Europe imports 40 million tons of soya from South America to use as livestock feed, contributing to biodiversity loss, climate change, and water cycle interruptions, he adds. And UNEP calculates that the world produces enough virgin crops for animals to feed 3 billion people. 

“Under current law certain food can be fed to pigs—for example, bread, dairy, fruit, and vegetables,” says Stuart. “But the legislation is confusing and results in lots of permissible food not being fed to pigs because people are worried about getting it wrong. 

“To address this, we have recently developed a prototype web app to help food businesses determine whether their surplus food is suitable for animal feed and navigate the relevant [UK] legislation.”

Stuart says he is also eager to call out hypocrisy and double standards in the food industry. A new Feedback campaign called Total Bull highlights what he calls fake meat branding in supermarkets.

“Every day, big brands take you for a ride when you buy your food,” he says. “Marketing is powerful, and food brands know that industrial farming doesn’t sell. So instead they jazz up their cheap meat with some pretty images and nice words, and hope we’ll buy it.

“Well, we’re calling bull. It isn’t enough to stick ‘farm fresh,’ ‘all natural’ or a picture of a happy hen or a cute windmill on your packaging. To make real choices about our food, we need real information, not the fantasies of corporate marketing teams who’ve never seen the factory farms where they source their food.”

David Derbyshire is a freelance environment and science writer based in Winchester, United Kingdom. He is a former environment editor of the Daily Mail, and his freelance work has been published in The Guardian, The Observer, and other newspapers.