One solution to the food waste problem: eat your waste

The villains of climate change are usually what we emit: cars that spew carbon, power plants that emit soot, cows that fart. It follows that we can make a dent in the problem by focusing on what we ingest. Like, what if we ate garbage?

That is the premise behind Shuggie’s Trash Pie and Natural Wine, a restaurant that opened this spring in San Francisco’s Mission District that specializes in ingredients that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Co-founder Kayla Abe and her team rescue bruised peppers, unwanted fish heads and excess dough crumbs and reuse them in gourmet “grandma-style” pizzas, snacks and shareable products, all with the goal of slowing climate change.

Food waste is a major cause of the problem: the US alone throws away $218 billion worth of food every year. Producing these discarded bits takes a lot of energy: Every year the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 37 million cars and 21 percent of the water use in the US is lost.

Abe and the co-founder of her Shuggie, David Murphy (the duo also runs an upcycled pickle brand called Ugly Pickle Co.) felt compelled to do something about the problem. “So we made the pretty obvious choice to open a restaurant and throw all that garbage on pizzas,” she says.

Food waste has many culprits, other than forgetting your to-go box in the back of the fridge (though that’s no small part; consumers generate over 40 percent of food waste). Sometimes picky customers sniff at cosmetically unappealing but perfectly edible products. Other times, beautiful food is thrown away for reasons that have nothing to do with desirability.

“Time is the worst enemy of eating perfectly well,” says Abe. Lack of labor or cold storage plus time constraints can spell the demise of edibles. Recently, one of Shuggie’s suppliers approached them with an overabundance of summer squash. The pumpkin was in perfect condition, but because of the farmers’ limited labor supply, he prioritized picking tomatoes, a higher value crop. So Shuggie’s saved the veggies, and Hawt Squash was born: a trash pie topped with thinly sliced, fried pumpkin, melty cheese, fresh tomatillo, chimichurri, sautéed excess onions, and serrano chili. The “farmer’s annual headache eventually turned into our best-selling pizza,” says Abe.

Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images