RISE to the Occasion: Fighting Food Waste with Flour

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What’s Brewing at the Intersection of Food Waste and Food Tech

In the brewing of beer, there comes a crucial point when yeast eats up sugars from the grains, then releases alcohol and carbon dioxide. The baking of bread follows along: yeast eats up sugars from the flour and also releases CO2, and that’s what makes bread RISE. The same is true for baking powder and baking soda; in fact, they’re even more effective.

So while we’re talking about leavening agents, let’s talk about RISE, a Brooklyn-based startup including Bertha Jimenez, Jessica Aguirre, Remington Tonar, Lev Tatz, Ashwin Gopi and Allison Stewart. RISE is the yeast to our food movement, fermenting the resolution of food waste until it is something crave-worthy.

What RISE does to combat food waste is not dumpster diving (although we certainly won’t be found discounting the benefits of this method). Their method is an interception of food waste, a reworking of industrial byproducts back into the food chain as high-quality, nutritious flour. With their proprietary technology, RISE convert brewers’ spent grain from landfill-bound trucks to protein-packed pastries.

Something highly nutritious spawns from beer? Yes! Though your beer belly may beg to differ, it’s true. “[RISE flour] has twice the amount of protein, twelve times the dietary fiber and contains a lot of antioxidants,” Ash Gopi explains. “It’s much healthier than normal wheat flour because all the carbohydrates have been dissolved to make beer.”

Spent grain from the brewing process. Photo courtesy of RISE!

How RISE Rose

Like so many innovations in New York City, this beautiful product owes its humble beginnings to a student project. “We were all students from different schools participating in a challenge hosted by NYU. The challenge was, how can you make cities better?” Ash recalls.

Bertha posted an idea online, wanting to tap into Industrial Symbiosis, a relationship in which the byproducts of one industry become the raw materials for another. Soon, the original co-Founders linked up: Bertha, Jessica and Remington; and before long, Ash and Lev joined. RISE is an acronym for Real-Time Industrial Symbiosis Exchange (though we still like to think of it as mouth-watering, expanding dough).

“We had no idea what we would do, so we starting doing research. We thought, let’s focus on the local structure. There are already systems in New York City for paper, plastic, glass and metal, but there’s not really anything for organic products, we realized,” says Ash.

The sustainable RISE Dinner at Rouge Tomate will benefit Change Food. Tickets here!

Once the team started researching industrial symbiosis for organic products, they saw that the many microbreweries in the city provided colossal potential. “Originally we just wanted to be connectors between buyers and sellers,” Ash says. They were collecting their product, living with it, eating it.

“But it’s not that simple,” he continues. “So we started creating a technology to preserve [the spent grain], since it is wet and it goes back really quickly. We worked on the technology for a year and a half. We experimented constantly.”

With help from academic mentors at NYU, the RISE team finally patented their technology. Next, they were accepted as one of eight startups from an applicant pool of over 500 to the accelerator Food-X. That’s when they really started to gain traction (maybe it had something to do with the life-changing shortbread cookies in which they showcased their flour…?) and when Allison Stewart joined the crew. “We wanted to be a food company, too, not just a tech company,” Ash says, of why they joined Food-X.

Now, Brewers are raising their hands for an opportunity to connect with RISE. Not only do the New York City microbreweries benefit from the sense of socially and environmentally responsible business, they also save money.

Typically, brewers spend 10 cents for each pound of grain they waste. The cost is high because nearby landfills have reached capacity, so disposal services have to haul food waste as far as the Carolinas. “Because we’re processing the grain locally, we don’t have much transport cost. We charge [brewers] less than half of what they would pay: 3 or 4 cents per pound.”

If you could save dough while saving dough, wouldn’t you?

Helping the Food System RISE to the Occasion

RISE has high hopes for consumer response to tech solutions to food waste, like theirs. “We are fighting a very specific kind of food waste, but there are many different kinds and food is wasted at almost every step of the food chain,” Ash says.

The technology shows potential outside of the realm of breweries, too, for almost any industrial organic byproducts. And it has incredible implications beyond the United States, as well, considering food waste is a universal devastation.

RISE technology is “very cheap, easy to build and start, and it’s energy efficient,” Ash explains. These are crucial components in the quest to improve food production in developing countries, where so often “the crops grown locally are not consumed locally.” With RISE, a developing country’s economy could still benefit from exports without leaving themselves completely barren. “By saving the byproducts, at least you give those nutrients that would otherwise be lost back. You bring those exports back into the local system.”

. . . . .

In summation, Ash says that RISE aims to make the elimination of food waste an enjoyable and accessible mission in which everyone can participate. “We want to let people know that it’s edible, that you can eat it – and it’s healthy.”

Fortunately, you really can! RISE Up, Dine with Purpose and benefit Change Food at our dinner on July 24th. The 4-course meal at Rouge Tomate Chelsea will feature RISE flour, paired with the local craft beer from which it came. It won’t be a waste of time or beer!

Carly Brand studies Sustainable Urban Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Global Nutrition & Health at Metropol in Copenhagen. She looks to Change Food for future generations and loves to hear your perspectives at carlybrand11@gmail.com.

Change Food® works toward a healthier food system for people, animals & the planet.  Learn more about Plant Eat Share – planting food in public spaces. For free.