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How an 'ugly' PA snack is stopping food waste

Plus, a Philly band opens up a "Tiny Desk" mosh pit

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

March 29, 2024
Inside this edition: Imperfect chips, theater revival, tiny mosh pit, baby groundhogs, riveting remembered, watch parties, and stadiums honored.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
In what year did Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) close?

A. 1998
B. 2001
C. 2010
D. 2006

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One story worth reading: WHYY looks at how Barbeinheimer and a membership program helped keep a metro-Philly theater chain afloat.

» One performance worth watching: Philadelphia band Soul Glo made history when it became the first hardcore punk act to perform on NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series, The Inquirer (paywall) reports.

» One surprise worth seeing: Punxsutawney Phil will be doing more than predicting the coming weather — he’s now a dad. Phil, his wife, and two babies can be seen at Punxsutawney Memorial Library. 

» One person worth knowing: A Bucks County woman who worked as a riveter during World War II will be honored next month for a Rosie the Riveter gold medal she helped design, the Courier Times (paywall) reports.

» One story worth reading: Pennsylvania boasts some of the best ballparks in the country, according to USA Today readers. PNC Park and Citizens Bank Park both made the outlet's 2024 best MLB stadiums list

🗞️ KNOW YOUR NEWS? Prove it with this week's news quiz: Great PA News Quiz: Truth Social’s billionaire ties, Oscar winner’s coal project, and a third party.
The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Service cut makes Elk Co. ‘maternity care desert’

» Everything to know about the race for PA treasurer

» Group behind guv mansion reno won’t reveal donors

» How we're tracking opioid settlement money in Pa.

» Shapiro eyes new funding model for state universities
A mascot for PA Cooperative Potato Growers poses at the 2023 PA Farm Show. (Commonwealth Media Services)

You're about to chomp into a potato chip when you notice it's a bit irregular. It's unusually thick, and it is visibly darker than its counterparts, as if it snuck out the bag to spend a day at the beach. 

Many chip makers consider such anomalies ugly, and dedicate layers of quality control to keeping them from reaching consumers. 

For Uglies Kettle Chips, such "defects" are intentional.

The Berks County-based company, a division of Dieffenbach's, champions unsightly crisps, which it makes from potatoes that have been rejected or thrown out because of their shape, blemishes, or size.

Robert Zender, the company’s marketing director, told PA Local that Uglies is the only certified upcycling potato chip brand in the world, and that it has diverted 25 million pounds of spuds from landfills since it was founded in 2017.

Upcycling involves taking an item that would have been discarded and repurposing it. The practice, which The Guardian once called, “from trash to table,” is becoming a growing part of the food industry as it tries to reduce waste.

Zender said ugly potatoes shouldn’t be counted out. 

“They are still beautiful in our eyes ‘cause they make deliciously beautiful kettle chips,” Zender said of the potatoes the company sources.

Buying unwanted potatoes also helps farmers, he added, explaining that growers can't always control how their crops look. 

The result of saving those potatoes is crunchy chips packing lots of flavor, this writer can confirm after finishing a bag in less than two days.

“Because of the imperfect nature going into Uglies you have more variation in size and color, and it doesn't affect the quality of the eating experience at all. It actually makes it more fun and delicious to me,” Zender said.

Food waste is a big problem in the United States, which discards an estimated 30% to 40% of the food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Uglies wants to help change that.

“It's a huge issue. We are only putting a small dent in the big opportunity for improvement,” Zender said.

In early March, Uglies announced it had upcycled its 25 millionth pound of potato, sourcing the latest haul from a farm in Coudersport, according to a news release.

“We were pretty excited to get to that milestone and celebrate that. It is a big deal for us,” Zender said. “It is a bigger deal because the Dieffenbach family really cares about making a difference for the farming community.”

In addition to fighting food waste, Uglies also puts money toward combating world hunger; 10% of its profits go to VivaKids, a religious organization that supports child centers in the developing world.

Next month, Uglies will have a scale model of its kettle cooker near baggage claim at Harrisburg International Airport. Elam Dieffenbach, the retired former co-owner of Dieffenbach’s, made the model, which also appeared at last year’s PA Farm Show.

“It is a point of pride for Pennsylvanians traveling out of there knowing there are hometown brands they can support,” Zender said.

Zender said Uglies plans to roll out new flavors and bag sizes in the future. There are currently seven available flavors: cheddar and sour cream, buffalo ranch, barbecue, sea salt, jalapeno, sweet potato, and salt and vinegar.

All of them, of course, are eyesores.—Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer

To snag Uglies near you, go to ugliessnacks.com/find-and-buy.

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A quote from a Pennsylvanian that we found interesting this week.

“It is so hard meeting people as adults, especially since COVID. I think people kind of forgot how to socialize in person. I was able to socialize and meet new people, and that hasn’t happened in such a long time.”

City Center resident Gabby Llopiz on reality TV watch parties hosted at Philly bars and restaurants

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Flowers in bloom at the Longwood Gardens conservatory in Chester County, PA, via Tracy S. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
a walk way surrounded by shrubs and flowers
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The answer is B. 2001.

As the company's popularity grew, it struggled to keep up and closed in 2001, later getting purchased by WWE in 2003, Billy Penn reports.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.

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