Natural Living

In a Pickle & Loving It

Kayla Abe and David Murphy, founders of The Ugly Pickle Company, are tackling the problem of food waste one delicious jar at a time.

When I was a small child in the postwar ’50s, the concept of “food waste” was simple and self-evident: you ate everything on your plate, because “starving children in Europe” would love to be as fortunate as you. And dinner often consisted of assorted “leftovers,” so that nothing edible was discarded.

Decades later, “food waste” is an international topic, an intractable and complicated problem with serious negative effects on society and the environment. According to the USDA, consumer waste is the most significant component, and the United States is one of the worst offenders. Every year, we waste 30–40% of our food supply, throwing away 80 billion pounds of food, 94 percent of which ends up in landfills, creating methane gas and hastening global warming.

One peculiarly American idiosyncrasy is the need for produce that looks “perfect,” resulting in the rejection of tons of perfectly nutritious food for cosmetic reasons. And that’s where Kayla Abe and David Murphy come in. Their idea? To utilize that less-than-perfect produce to create a desirable product and initiate a dialogue about food responsibility at a grass-roots level.

Word of Mouth

They met at a farmers market in San Francisco, Murphy as a chef shopping for his restaurant and Abe working for the nonprofit that runs the market. Their growing realization of the problem with food waste came first hand. “We’d have chats with farmers every week about what was happening on the farm, what challenges they were facing at the moment,” says Abe. “The common thread was a struggle with food going to waste.”

Photo: Lisa Duncan

These discussions prompted Murphy and Abe to take action, and they eventually decided to found The Ugly Pickle Company to tackle the issue of food waste head-on. “We wanted to make something vibrant, bright, and fun, to be our gateway into talking about the heavy topic of climate change,” says Abe. “The wild colors, the California colloquialisms, are very much a reflection of us as founders. Our brand is kind of our way of having a one-on-one climate conversation with each person that eats our products.”

Growing Impact

Those products are indeed colorful and delicious, ranging from an intriguing assortment of pickles (duh) to a unique chimichurri made from carrot tops and a roasted root hummus. But their greater purpose remains at the forefront for Abe and Murphy.

“Our role is to help make the connection for people between food waste, climate change, and personal choice,” Abe says. “While climate change can feel like a terrifying and overwhelming topic, we want to remind people that you can take meaningful action as an individual. We only have seven years to create some seriously radical solutions before we’ve done irreversible damage to our planet. This company was born out of that necessity. We exist to create food waste solutions, generate personal reflection, incite individual change, spark dialogue, and inspire action.”

Oh, and they make mighty tasty pickles too!

Don’t Judge a Book

The Ugly Pickle Company aims to tackle the global issue of food waste by creating products that take advantage of produce that’s perfectly healthy, but would be considered too … well … ugly to be sold at your local grocery. Among their many delicious offerings, look for Hawt! Bread and Buttah pickles, Dilly Carrots, and original Bread and Buttah pickles coming soon to a store near you.

Roast Barramundi with Carrot Top Chimi Creme

Photo: Pornchai Mittongtare

This dish goes beautifully with a bowl of Lotus Foods Jade Pearl Rice and a heap of roasted heirloom carrots.

Get the Recipe.