Cold Beers, Hot World

4th July 2019

Cold Beers, Hot World

Our latest post is from our brilliant intern Dora Young…

The View from the Bridge

I’m interning at Toast Ale BreadQuarters, near London Bridge. Occupying the lofty upper floor of Sustainable Bankside’s co-working space, Toast is three years into its global mission to tackle the food-waste crisis. Founded by Tristram Stuart in 2016, they’ve just passed the milestone of 1 million beers brewed with surplus fresh bread. I reached out to the organisation after having first heard about their project that year. Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States, the impact of the previous year’s IPCC remained to be seen, and NASA told us that another five years of the CO2 emissions we were producing would use up the 1.5 carbon budget. I needed some positive news, and found it in the form of Rob Wilson’s TED Talk in my home town. For the next three years, I followed Toast’s actions and was inspired to campaign against food waste on my uni campus and glean surplus crops with Feedback, Toast’s partner organisation,

Fast-forward to 2019 and summer solstice has just breezed past. The sun is at its peak and we’re gathering friends and families into gardens and parks on sultry July evenings. But, as excited as I am about grass underneath bare feet and the taste of a cold tropical Pale Ale straight out of the cool box, the messages of Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough and XR have been ringing in my ears since April. ‘Business as usual’ has set us on a trajectory to a ‘point of no return’ by mid-century. So I’m finding it hard to make the usual social plans.

Personally, if I ruminate on the spectre of ecological collapse, I risk of losing my foothold on the uphill slope away from poor mental health (a path that so many people my age tread with caution). However, in many ways, 2019 seems like a hopeful year. The UK government has declared a climate emergency, announced its first official review of the UK food system in 75 years and passed a new net zero emissions target against the 1990 level in the House of Lords. Although calls to action are like London buses (wait half a lifetime for one and then three turn up at once), we have far too much work to do to start grieving yet. I truly I believe what Joan Baez famously said: ‘action is the antidote to despair.’

In fact, if you have time to grieve or are experiencing what’s becoming known as ‘eco-anxiety,’ you’re probably one of the fortunate ones. This perspective suggests that your everyday is easy enough to negotiate. Many people are less fortunate, bearing the brunt of an economic system based on expanding profit margins and externalising costs. Marginalised communities face livelihood insecurity due to soil degradation, compromised health due to agro-chemical run-off, and food insecurity due to species loss, to name a few. Distribution gaps are one of the biggest flaws in the system. It’s telling that almost 1 billion people worldwide are undernourished whilst 2.1 are obese/overweight. Throw in the fact that one third of all food produced is wasted, translating to enormous greenhouse gas emissions where it ends up in landfill, and our super-resource-efficient-post-green-revolution-high-tech food system seems to be guided by one principle: inequality. And even the most climate-conscious consumers amongst us are likely to be the most wasteful; ethical consumption choices require purchasing power and imply a resource-intensive lifestyle. Clearly, environmental issues are so complexly intertwined with social ones in our food system — the mother of all complex systems – and both elements need addressing together.

Luckily, the interconnectivity of our global food system means that there are potential multiplying effects of making small changes to our daily routines, which may be wide-ranging and inevitably compounding. Helen Keller springs to mind because of her resolute optimism; ‘I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.’ So, I’ve found a few tasty recipes, tips and tricks to make the catering side of sociable summer nights as low-impact as possible. Weighing up our choices, planning recipes that include leftover food scraps, and finding ingredients as they blossom in local parks are ways of being mindful of our impact and connect us to wider movement of others rejecting thoughtless consumerism and waste. That’s something we’re sure of here at Toast, and we think that every collective step towards sustainability, big or small, is something to celebrate.

Which Beer is Better?

Of course, to reap the greatest green rewards, nothing beats brewing at home, with negligible retail electricity use (usually 150g per 500mL), reduced energy requirements, and no artificial carbonation with CO2 gas. Our recipe is designed for home brewing and you can let us know how you get on! But when it comes to buying beer, a study from LSE last year showed that locally produced ales are the best bet for low CO2 emissions compared to other commercial beers. At 642g CO2e per 500ml, local ales generate nearly 100g less CO2 than internationally produced lager and over 50g less than locally produced lager. This is because of the differences in ingredients and a local supply chain that decreases the emissions of bottle production and transport (about 204g per 500mL) and malt production and transport (about 132g per 500mL).

As James explored in our last blog post, cans are lighter and more ergonomic than bottles, so use less energy to transport. Our latest Crowdfunding project has helped us to pre-fund a production run of cans so we can get this sustainable option out on shelves, so might be the perfect solution to hot weather refreshment needs. Another great option for reducing impact of catering for beer drinkers is buying for draught beer in steel kegs that can be delivered, picked up and reused by Kegstar.

Plenty of breweries worldwide are taking steps to integrate sustainability in innovative ways into their business practices, production, transport and distribution processes. In the UK, Good Things Brewing Co, Adnams, Seven Bro7hers, and Wye Valley Brewery are just a few of the independent brewers shortlisted in Footprints Drinks Sustainability Awards. We’re also friends with fellow B Corps Brewgooder and Stroud Brewery.

In the US, breweries of various sizes have signed the Brewery Climate Declaration, committing to taking these steps and as a call to others to do the same. To name a few, Allagash brewing company in Maine has provided over 57 tonnes of spent grain to local farmers for animal feed. Aspen Brewing Company in Colorado recycles water used to cool hot wort (beer before fermentation) and then stores the warmed fresh water in an insulated tank to use in the next brew. Redhook Brewery purchases Renewable Energy Credits to offset the electricity used at 100% of the facility, including to power their new electric vehicle charging station, which is the first public and free charging station on the Seacoast.

With so many different factors in the beer production process that need addressing — sourcing ingredients, methods of farming, production, transport, refrigeration and packaging — the best thing you can do is find out what your favourite breweries are doing to monitor and reduce their environmental footprints and how transparent they are about them. Support those doing the most and put pressure on others to make more climate-conscious changes. Where you can, be vocal. Take to Twitter to do so!

Start With What You’ve Got

Here are two of my favourite bright, light and summery food-saving recipes. First up is Amazing Waste’s Watermelon Rind White Gazpacho Soup, a great way to use the watermelon rinds which are often discarded after a picnic. This one would be well-complemented Toast’s floral session IPA. For a recipe that will no doubt impress the dippers at your do, try Hidden Harvest’s Cracker Banana and Coconut Relish. It’s a summery spicy relishe that use up plenty of bits and bobs around the kitchen and is best enjoyed with (slightly outdated) tortilla wraps, cut into strips and baked, and a can of our tropical, hoppy APA.

Summer Storage Hacks

Next time you’re buying food for more people than usual, try these tricks to prolong shelf life and make sure that nothing goes to waste:

  • Squeeze juice of citrus fruits into ice cube trays and freeze for later use.
  • Sprinkle herbs into ice cube trays, pour in oil and freeze for later use.
  • Cut avocados with plastic knife, squeeze lemon juice over and keep seed in.
  • Keep a slice of lemon in a bag of cut fruit to prevent browning.
  • Wrap the top of bunch of bananas in tin foil.
  • Store wilting greens in cold tap water in the fridge until they appear crisp again (which shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes) before adding to your salad. Your guests will never know!


Find, Don’t Buy

Slowing down and connecting to nature is imperative as we find more climate-conscious ways of consuming and living. Foraging is a wonderful opportunity to appreciate one’s natural surroundings. It’s also a radical rejection of the food value chain that seeks to make all food available to all people at all times, whatever the cost. It’s a way of reminding yourself that you are part of the ecosystem in which you live. Plus, your findings can be frozen till you get around to using them.

In the UK, brambles, apples, elderflowers, nettles, rosehip, mint are bountiful this time of year, and there are useful guides on how to get started with finding and preparing these wild goodies. In the UK, US and worldwide, apps like Falling Fruit map out the urban harvest and plenty of resources for finding out what to do with your bounty. So, if non-beer drinkers need to be catered for, get bottling wild elderflower now and drink it straight away as cordial or leave it a month for champagne!

Hurt is Human, but Growth is Good

The relentless stream of climate warnings is hard to stomach, especially as our understandings of climate change shift to emotional and personal ones and suddenly our lives are implicit. But you’re not going insane. You’re going sane. Know that you can join the people searching for alternatives, who are many and rising. When you save on food waste, deliberate in the alcohol section, use resourceful recipes or pluck your urban harvest, be sure to share the results and nourish those around you. Meaningful connections to your community are crucial to working and playing differently, and sharing advice for how summers might be done from here on out.

This one could also be our hottest yet, but we can call the future we want into existence through our actions. So we might as well make sure these actions reflect our values. Toast is just one of these communities of companions taking meaningful action together. Brewing beers with bread brings conversations about food waste into mainstream places — bars, supermarkets, homes, parks, wherever and with whomever cracks one open. Our motto is ‘to change the world, you have to throw a better party than those destroying it.’ So when you do throw a party, make sure it’s with those planet-saving ethics in mind, and we’ll raise a Toast to you.