An interview with Tristram Stuart, a leader in the fight against food waste through his charity, Feedback, and the brewery he founded, Toast Ale.
Tristram Stuart is an award-winning author and campaigner on the environmental and social impacts of food production.
In 2013, he founded Feedback, a charity which exposes systemic problems leading to unsustainable uses of resources within the food system. The charity has now been commissioned by the European Commission and the United Nations Environment Programme to spread the campaign globally.
In 2016 he started Toast Ale, a company that makes ale from surplus bread. According to Toast Ale, bread is top of the list of our most wasted household food items. We waste almost 900,000 tonnes of bread every year — around 24 million slices every day.
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1. Where did the idea for Toast Ale come from?
In 2015 the guys at Brussels Beer Project told me about an ancient recipe for making beer from bread. Immediately, I realised that I had all three key ingredients for Toast Ale. One, I knew where industrial quantities of fresh bread were being wasted all over the world. Two, I had spent the past 20 years catalysing a global movement of food waste activists and entrepreneurs. Three, the craft brewing movement was becoming a global super trend. I thought: bring all these three phenomena together and you have a delicious pint-sized solution to food waste.
2. What was your background prior to this, and how did that shape your work for Toast Ale?
First and foremost, I am an environmental campaigner. Following the release of my books “The Bloodless Revolution” and “Waste: Uncovering the global food scandal,” I started the Feedback charity. This kicked off a global movement against food waste which continues to work internationally to improve the environmental impact of food. I then set up Toast Ale to convert wasted bread into revenues for Feedback. One hundred per cent of Toast Ale’s distributable profits go to support Feedback and our other partner charities overseas.
3. What change does Toast Ale want to facilitate?
Toast Ale is directly reducing the problem of food waste by upcycling fresh unsold bread into the brewing process. This reduces the amount of land required to grow all the grains that would normally be needed to make beer by one third. It’s a bit like having a car that drives as fast and as smoothly as any other, but only uses a two-thirds of the fuel. In addition, because the profits to charities fighting to change the food system, we are contributing to the bigger picture of system change.
Most importantly, by being a beer company, we are making the solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems accessible and fun. Whether you’re an environmentalist or not, drinking beer that has an environmental mission provides an invitation into the sustainability conversation. We hope to catalyse a movement of drinkers that take positive action for the planet. We believe that to save the world, we need to throw a better party than those destroying it.
Related: 7 INNOVATIVE USES OF FOOD WASTE
4. Through your work, are you seeing a genuine paradigm shift in businesses towards positive change?
Absolutely: consumer awareness of food waste as an environmental issue is skyrocketing, along with the broader sustainability agenda as a whole. This shift in perspective is being driven by businesses like us, such as Too Good To Go, Rubies in the Rubble or Olio. These companies are providing consumers with delicious solutions (discounted food, or delicious craft beer in our case), whilst using their platform to educate on the challenges of food waste and inspire day-to-day action.
5. What has been your proudest moment thus far?
I’m proud to have helped catalyse a global movement that has transformed food waste from a completely ignored problem into a global priority that millions of people, hundreds of start-up companies and some of the biggest institutions in the world are now dedicated to tackling. I’ve been made a UN Champion of the Global Goal to halve food waste. Whilst we have had an enormous impact together, we still have an awful long way to go, so there’s no time to rest on our laurels!
6. Where do you see Toast Ale in five years, and how will you get there?
We have huge ambitions to build a platform that achieves powerful change. Whether that be addressing bread waste (we want to be brewing 5 million slices of surplus bread every year), challenging the current food system or reframing what consumers perceive as “waste.” As a certified B Corp, this will involve the continuous refinement of the way we operate across all areas of the business: from looking at the impact of our packaging to investing in culture. We want to ensure we’re creating positive change and championing people, planet and profit.
7. What is one book you’ve recently read that has inspired you that you recommend?
Yuval Noah Harari’s book ‘Homo Deus’ gives me hope that a global consciousness to tackle the world’s biggest problems will emerge. However, if we don’t speed this up fast enough, it will not be in time to avert the existential environmental and social threats that we face.
8. Do you have any other thoughts or wise words for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t try to do it alone: seek out wise people, young and old, and listen to the advice you’re given.
9. Who inspires you?
The global youth. The kids who have kicked off climate strikes involving millions of people. This new political movement of disenfranchised young people who have no vote, and thus no power to force governments to safeguard the future of the planet they will grow up in, gives me more hope than anything.
26th February 2020