Robert Egger Interview, L.A. Kitchen
Looking for inspiration in social entrepreneurship? If you haven't heard of visionaire Robert Egger yet, he is just the person you need to know. Robert has worked diligently to advocate not only to avoid wasting food, but to help build culinary skills for underserved populations. So how do you turn those efforts into a viable organization? You take perfectly good food that would be discarded - nearly 50% of all produce is thrown away in the US - and use that resource to teach others how to prepare and cook healthy meals.
Waste not, want not is the best way to describe L.A. Kitchen. This state-of-the-art 20k square ft. kitchen facility and educational center, has trained so many students and volunteers in its short time of existence, you see how this "disruptive model" is onto something extraordinary. Read more on how it works from its Founder & CEO.
We love your mission that neither food nor people should ever go to waste. What were some of the critical challenges you had to overcome to reclaim discarded veg and fruit?
Very few actually. When I got into the business in 1989, I focused on recovering prepared food from caterers, hotels and restaurants. There was an urban myth that the health department wouldn’t allow it. I worked alongside a lot of other folks in 1995 to help get the Bill Emerson Act passed, which created a national hold-harmless provision for food donors. Since then, it’s been much easier to get food donated…even more so now that most people have a greater understanding of the environmental impact of food waste.
With that, how has Empower LA attracted women and men to work at LA Kitchen?
Similarly with food donors, once you get a rep for being professional, and getting results, people seek you out. We work hard to get word out at the street level that L.A. Kitchen is the real deal, and we get folks good jobs…including jobs here with us.
L.A. Kitchen does so many things, including running its own social enterprise, Strong Food. Was serving seniors healthy, scratch made food always a part of the plan?
You bet!! I always have an eye on the horizon, trying to anticipate who is next to be at the bottom of the ladder in America, because that’s whom programs like L.A. Kitchen will need to serve. Sadly, it doesn’t take much to see that the 70+ million Baby Boomers aren’t even remotely prepared financially for the extra years science will give them. But they will be a super nutritionally aware generation, and they’ll demand healthier food than most social programs provide. So our experiment here is deeply dedicated to developing the way we can feed more people, a healthier meal for less money.
Sustainability continues to be a buzz word across many sectors. However, for food manufacturers it can carry tremendous weight because we see how climate change directly impacts our sourcing. What defines a successful sustainable food business for you?
We rate our success not in pounds moved, or meals served, but in how much opportunity we squeeze out of every ounce we get. We are DEEPLY into no waste, so we zest, juice, puree, blend, chop, and dice things to the point where we can’t get another thing out of it…and then we compost what’s left. And don’t forget…we start with things that most people or businesses would toss out.
You seem to have the energy of a teenager! We imagine this is both good genes and a healthy lifestyle. What are some of the key cornerstones to your diet and lifestyle?
HA…I’m a tequila swigging, blue streak cursing, hard charging fool…but I’m lucky enough to have a loving wife who does her best to keep me well fed and nurtured enough to get back into the mix everyday. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re loved for who you are. That said…I’m highly motivated, and fiercely dedicated to the mission of L.A. Kitchen, and my 30 years of work to insure that neither food not people are wasted. Nothing fires the furnace like a badass mission.
L.A. Kitchen works hard for its community, and by supporting them you become a vital part of its work. They believe in reinvesting locally, and neither food nor people should ever go to waste. How can you argue with that? Contribute to this worthy cause and change people's lives through the power of food.
Want to transform donated produce that would go to waste; while working with L.A. Kitchen's chefs, kitchen staff, alumni and/or Empower Program students? Activities range from peeling to cleaning to packaging meals. Volunteers sharpen their skills by practicing kitchen safety protocols under the direction of trained L.A. Kitchen culinary staff. No prior kitchen prep experience is necessary. Learn more here.