Kim Safdy, creator of no-cook hiking meals
Premade backpacking food is getting to be big business as more and more folks are getting out on trails. Despite the increased interest, products from many companies haven't progressed much past high-fat, highly processed meals. To push things ahead, Kim Safdy formed a company called Outdoor Herbivore to provide no-cook backpacking meals that are free of processed foods, using organic products to create eclectic, vegetarian offerings like lemongrass Thai curry, basil walnut penne and apple quinoa oatmeal. You won't find her products in REI—she sells directly to consumers on her website. She started Outdoor Herbivore in May 2010 in Charlotte, N.C., but was buying a lot of her products (and selling to a lot of people) right here in California—so she relocated the business. We spoke with Safdy about how she ended up in Sacramento and the secret to growing food while on the trail.
What’s the appeal of no-cook meals for hikers?
People are trying to keep it simple. A stove adds weight, and you have to worry about your fuel, your pots and pans. So if you can get by with a little bowl and some cold water, it simplifies it. So they're looking for no-cook meals. That's actually very challenging to come up with something that tastes good. For a breakfast or a dessert, it's pretty easy. There's cereals and things like that you can come up with. But an actual meal, like a dinner, that's really challenging, because it can't be fresh.
What are some of the challenges of making these foods?
A lot of the challenge is finding suppliers that supply organic, because almost everything out there is just conventional. So I know who to go to now. A lot of times the challenge may be that they're out of stock of something, and my product relies on that particular product, so I've got to put it out of stock. A lot of the dried foods that I've found come from China, 90 percent of it. I just have a policy. Nothing against China; I just don't trust that they take the organic certification seriously, based on what I've heard and what I've read. I don't feel comfortable selling that to people when I can't trace it back if something were to go wrong with a product.
To what extent are you able to locally source your ingredients?
My goal is to stay within 80 percent. I have a spreadsheet so I know exactly where each product I'm buying comes from, where the origin is. I look at domestic as local. A lot of it is coming from this state alone.
Before you started the company, what would you eat?
I was basically dehydrating with a home dehydrator my own foods and concoctions and recipes. I never even bought the other products. I read the ingredients and I didn't like what I saw. I hate to say this but I've never even tasted any other products out there, so I don't even know what I'm up against. I've only eaten my own stuff.
How do you test your products?
I come up with what I think would be a good recipe. If it tastes good at home, then I'll say, “Let's see how it rehydrates on the trail.” If it can rehydrate at the higher elevations—usually I try to be above 5,000 feet—and I like the flavor of it, then OK, this is a good one to put out to the public. Everything is different at higher elevations. I'm trying to get that quick rehydration time, but also try to stay within the whole foods.
How did you end up in Sacramento?
I'm kind of from all over the place. My family is from Ohio. I move around a lot. That's the best way to see this country, is to keep moving every six or seven years. I've never really done a lot of hiking and backpacking on this side of the country. That was kind of what prompted the relocation. The best way to do that is to live here. Also, because a lot of the food is coming from California, it wasn't very efficient to have to transport it to North Carolina, and a lot of my customers are out here. It just made more sense.
I noticed something called “trail sprouts” on your site. What are those?
A lot of the hikers wish they could have fresh food on the trail. … There's very little, maybe an avocado you can have fresh. Dehydrated spinach, it's not the same. You want something that's living. The only thing I could think of is [that] you got to grow the food while you're hiking. The whole idea of that is basically a sprout bag you hang on the back of your backpack. It's made of hemp. With sprouting, you're basically starting out with a good quality seed. You have to soak it in water overnight. You have to tell the seed, basically, “End your dormancy,” and “You're being planted,” but really it's going in a sprout bag. You just have to water it twice a day. Take the sprout bag and dump some, hopefully, filtered water over it. In three, four days, you're going to have a good bag full of sprouts, so hikers have the ability to get their vitamin C. If your vitamin C levels go down, you tend to get sick.
Favorite luxury item you take on backpacking trips?
Well, we do take an IPA usually. We try to find a can of IPA just to celebrate when we get to a peak. We'll just share it. That's pretty much the extent of it. Or an occasional book. I've done that, too. I'll read at night with my headlamp in the tent.