Twice a week, Kayla Abe and David Murphy go to the farmer’s market to buy produce. But while other shoppers pick out photo-worthy peaches, Abe and Murphy pick up special orders — whole cauliflower plants from stem to whole leaf, wilted greens, ugly mushrooms, bruised fruit – and take them back to their pizzeria, the aptly named Shuggie’s Trash Pie.
This is where they apply their spoils to items like the Casino pizza: the dough is made from spent oatmeal (ground from the parts of the grain left over after processing oat milk) and leftover whey. Plus, there are excess mussels from a local retailer who couldn’t sell them that week; sliced and dried pig’s trotters; and cooks green vegetables that have wilted in the field of a Northern California organic farm.
The “waste” in Shuggie’s name refers to waste from farmers and other food suppliers, which owners reuse in all sorts of ways: bruised fruit is tossed into frothy slushies, fish bycatch tops off a salmon belly pizza and buffalo-flavored chicken gizzards and hearts value leftover meat. With the exception of the pepperoni pizza, each item on the Shuggie’s menu contains several ingredients that would otherwise go to waste. (Murphy insists on canned Stanislaus 7/11 tomatoes and low-moisture mozzarella to maintain a consistent flavor base for the pizzas.)
Shuggie’s Trash Pie is the first restaurant of Abe and Murphy, the couple behind Ugly Pickle Co., which sells pickles made from jagged cucumbers and other upcycled products. Shuggie’s wants diners to think about food they may have considered trash. In the bottom corner of the menu, there is a short paragraph on how food waste contributes to climate change and an area of the global crisis where individuals can have a big impact. “We’re certainly not the first to do this,” says Abe. “But to make any kind of change in the lives of individuals, I think you have to make it that blatant.”
Projects by chefs like Dan Barber and Nick Balla have incorporated food waste into fine dining, but Shuggie’s is bringing the idea to a pizzeria with broad appeal, where diners are encouraged to have fun. The front room is painted floor to ceiling in school bus yellow, interrupted only by a giant painted image of a leopard head straight out of a tattoo studio flash book. The bar shines with dense, hand-poured glitter. The second dining area is painted dark green with matching armchairs that make it look like the Jolly Green Giant is holding you in its palm.
Food waste is a huge and complex issue, and it’s not easily reduced to a blurb on a menu or fun pizza toppings. A decade ago, the USDA estimated that 30-40% of America’s food supply was wasted. A 2021 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from food waste in America each year were equivalent to running 42 coal-fired power plants (and that without taking into account the methane emitted by the decomposition of food in landfills).
In a field study in California, researchers at Santa Clara University found that one-third of commercial crop yields were left behind in hand-picked fields. Greg Baker, lead author of the study, says market prices can drop so low that it’s not worth the cost of labor to harvest or pack, or farmers may not care to harvest. products with cosmetic issues that they know retailers will refuse. Sometimes what’s left in the field is returned, but not always.
“I would say the most frustrating problem is when we spend an entire season growing a crop and we’ve given it all the attention, the inputs, the time, the care. And then, in terms of when to harvest, the market price is too low to justify the harvest and the crop is left in the field,” says Cannon Michael, president of Bowles Farming Company.
Right now, Baker says, one of the biggest outlets for that food waste is food banks, but there’s not always a good match between what farms have and what food banks need. Ugly produce boxes, farmers markets, and CSAs make another dent, especially for produce that can’t travel far. But the amount of food lost is still far beyond what these alternatives can absorb.
Any good chef, Murphy says, will be creative to avoid throwing food away. But starting a restaurant that relies on other people’s waste requires close relationships with farmers and suppliers, and flexibility in menu design that goes well beyond seasonality. “What we’re seeing is that every farmer and every food producer is dealing with this issue in one way or another,” Abe says. “It’s just a matter of figuring out where, and then what, you can partner on.”
In its first few weeks of operation, Shuggie’s has already made some changes based on changing waste streams. The usual 20-30 pounds of excess mussels the restaurant receives each week soared to 80-90 pounds the week after Mother’s Day; Murphy agreed to accept them, preserving them to extend the shelf life. But Shuggie’s had to turn down other offers. Some just aren’t suitable, like whole-wheat flour that doesn’t match their pizza dough recipe, or short-code feta (a cheese that isn’t – yet – in Shuggie’s pies). Shuggie’s hasn’t avoided supply chain issues either, causing last-second runs to markets for crucial ingredients. When they ran out of edible flowers for a week, Abe and Murphy went for food for a few days.
Ultimately, the restaurant must design a menu that remains stable enough to keep diners coming back while remaining flexible enough to deal with any waste that arises; It may sound difficult, but it’s just “basic cooking,” says Murphy. “What is going to be success for a restaurant? What are the things you would do have have? We have tried to do this, but only through food waste.
Murphy clearly relishes the challenge, but is looking for how to make it sustainable for the whole kitchen. A labor-intensive dish that featured sweet potatoes that were too big or gnarled for your average grocery store has been shelved for now. “We are still only [a few] weeks later, I don’t want to beat my guys too much. he says. “Let’s right the ship before we start bringing in too much new stuff. »
And it’s not like the extra effort is a big money saver. While they may get a discount on things like scraps, overall they want to pay vendors fairly so their food prices are comparable to a traditional restaurant. “I think the only way to create a market for hopefully other places that will also take this stuff is to compensate people for it,” Abe says.
Market demand is growing. Miles Mountjoy, a sales specialist at the Monterey Fish Market (where Abe and Murphy get salmon bellies, and also get frames of fish for scraping and preserving) saw leftover fish go and go out of style in gastronomy. Moreover, “in many other communities, [fish heads and collars] never [stopped] to be popular,” he says; immigrant communities and restaurants in the area were already buying a steady stream of fish heads. This isn’t new to Abe, who grew up in a Japanese family where fish bellies were considered prime cuts.
Mountjoy appreciates when these ingredients become more popular, because more people discover something they might have thought was trash, “but there’s also a cost,” he says. “All of a sudden, the fishing boats are selling fish heads at $5 a pound when before it was $1.50. I don’t know how you can gentrify leftover fish. But I think that might be the best way to put it.
Opening Shuggie’s is also a risk for Abe and Murphy. They have a small group of investors, so their savings are wrapped up in the restaurant. But they think it’s no riskier than any other restaurant that’s currently opening. And they can rely on the relationships with farmers that Murphy developed as a chef and that Abe established at the Bay Area Foodwise food association, which runs several farmers’ markets — the same relationships that made the problem of food waste more concrete in their minds.
“There are a million reasons why it wouldn’t be possible for chefs [to use more food waste]”, Murphy says. “But I also think the conversations haven’t been there.”
There is a distinction between food lost on farms and food wasted after leaving the field, boat or pasture. It’s the second category – discarded in processing, discarded by grocery stores or consumers – that accounts for much of the food wasted in America. Everyday life at Shuggie is focused on the former, but the hope is to have an impact on the latter.
While the restaurant pledges to keep its menu “trash” focused, in some ways the real product is easy-to-digest stories about food waste and the many ways to fix it. “A restaurant recycling item can impact our very hyperlocal food shed,” says Abe, “but for people to take something home and change the way they eat, that’s where we can really start. to make a difference. ”
Taylor Kate Brown is a freelance journalist and editor. She previously worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and BBC Newsand publish a weekly newsletter on local climate action.