Meet everyday heroes stepping up to protect the planet.
We know — without a doubt — that climate change is happening. But we also have answers, solutions, and new ideas. And we want to share them. So we’re bringing you a set of stories that champion the people, technologies, and movements at the forefront of sustainability.
April 22 is Earth Day, but since we can only live on one planet, we really ought to be thinking about Earth, and how we can protect it, every day. That’s how the following three environmental heroes think. Each of them, in ways big and small, has devoted their time and lives to initiatives intended to help with renewable energy, environmental justice, and combating waste. They’re heroes for spotting a problem and stepping up to fix it, sacrificing time and much more to literally make the world a better place. Read on and be inspired or, better yet, join them in their fight to save the planet.
The Chef Fighting Food Waste and Global Warming — One Cracker at a Time
A painful paradox of our prosperous nation is that while so many of us are food insecure (an estimated 35 million Americans had trouble finding food in 2019, according to the Department of Agriculture, a number that’s believed to have doubled as a result of the pandemic), a staggering 30 to 40 percent of the food supply goes to waste. A 2010 study from the USDA equated that to about 133 billion pounds or $161 billion worth of food that ends up in the trash.
For Kyle Fiasconaro, this type of senseless waste was a huge no-no when he was training to be a chef. He cut his proverbial teeth at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant in Westchester County, New York, that’s considered a pioneering force in the farm-to-table movement.
“At that restaurant, they grind it into your brain that you can’t waste anything,” Fiasconaro says. “If you bring it into the restaurant, it’s either on the plate or it goes to the pigs. So that set the bar pretty high for me.” When he left, Fiasconaro took time off to hike the Appalachian Trail, foraging wild vegetables and food from northern Georgia to Maine. The time in the wilderness prompted a new internal challenge: “I needed to find the biggest problem I could fix.”
Around 2014, he found it in the form of beer.
“I was riding my bike past a brewery in Brooklyn. And one of these breweries had a dumpster outside the brewery. That brewery was next to a Jewish bakery. And you could smell the bread. You could see the grain. And that was the aha moment: I should make something out of this.”
In the process of brewing beer, beer makers boil grains, including barley and wheat, to extract sugars that are converted into alcohol when fermented. But the boiled, high-quality grain is thrown away — sometimes thousands of pounds of it a day. The grain is still perfectly good, and breweries even need help getting rid of it, paying big bucks for dumpsters and other ways to dispose of it.
“So, I got a bag, I picked up some grain that wasn’t in the dumpster from the guys at the brewery, I brought it to the restaurant, and I made a cracker,” Fiasconaro says. Crackers, he figured, are something almost everybody likes and appreciates, and the response from friends and family was enthusiastic. Specialty shops and tea stores followed; the seed for Brewer’s Crackers was planted, and now Fiasconaro is shipping roughly 5,000 cases of crackers a week (and he’s expanded to pita-style chips too.)
“In reality, I don’t have a passion for making crackers,” he says. “I have a passion for fighting food waste. I’m a chef and a cook at heart. So I do a lot of thinking about how to understand people and the best way I can teach people about fighting food waste.”
Fiasconaro, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, isn’t just reusing materials that would’ve gone to waste either. Besides the water and energy it takes to process, transport, and store food that no one eats, food in landfills produces a large amount of methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. His crackers, in that sense, help fight food waste and global warming, bite by bite.
“I’m just trying to make the world a better place,” he says. “The point is to have a brand that’s going to be around for like 100 years. Because food waste isn’t a trend. I want to make products that can stick around forever.”