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This Beer Might Be The Answer To Our Global Food Waste Epidemic

The world wastes food, and bread is among the most squandered. With an ancient recipe and a forward-looking team, a new kind of pint is giving life to one slice of bread per bottle. Here's how it all adds up.

Photo by Paloma A./Unsplash.

Every year, about a third of the food prepared for human consumption is wasted. This staggering loss tallies over $650 billion in the industrialized world alone, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. That’s bigger than half the globe’s entire annual crop of cereals.

Part of the problem is intractable: There’s no “food police,” and there won’t be anytime soon. It’s costly and invasive to decide what should or shouldn’t go in the trash, and criminalizing waste risks disproportionate harm and unintended consequences. Fortunately, part of the solution to humanity’s big squander may be simple: food recycling.

Don’t worry, it isn’t as gross as it sounds. Much of the food we junk is perfectly good — and can even be intercepted before it hits the bin. A recent Rockefeller Foundation-funded report traced much of the trouble not to spoiled food, but to overcentralized and oversubsidized production, which can lead, for instance, to so much unsold bread that even charities can’t absorb all the extra.

Which gets us back to food recycling. While it’s relatively difficult to convince people to buy unsold bread, it turns out it’s not so big a challenge to offer them something special made out of that bread: premium beer.

That’s right. On a recent trip to Belgium, food waste activist Tristam Stuart stumbled across a special brew based on an ancient bread fermentation recipe. Linking up with Rob Wilson, U.K. head of the social entrepreneurship incubator Ashoka, Stuart set about producing his own Toast Ale, the only beer with a “slice” of bread in every bottle — or the recycled bread equivalent anyway.

There’s an extra touch of genius in using unsold bread to produce beer. In addition to directly decreasing bread waste, it also cuts down on the beer-driven demand for grains, reducing production. Toast’s approach replaces about a third of the malted barley that’s typically used in the brewing process.

And it does so in partnership with legit breweries, to ensure that its beverages are so high in quality that Stuart and his team can keep standards up on that unsold bread too. “We would rather use the breweries that already exist and the knowledge at those breweries so that we can focus on maximizing the quantity of bread that we're able to recover,” explains Madi Holtzman, Toast Ale’s U.S. director. Yep — they’re in America too.

Nobody’s saying beer is the solution to all the world’s problems — though when it comes to booze, it’s hard to find a more solutions-oriented product. If the world is going to make any real headway in approaching the U.N.’s goal to halve wasted consumables by 2030, we’re going to have to get creative with recycling food.

Drinking what we don’t eat, without sacrificing flavor or quality, is a solution that proves a bigger concept than beer alone. The right combination of incentives and logistics can broaden Toast’s insights into new product types and across new continents — something we can all raise a glass to.

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