A New Social Experiment Driven by Food: L.A. Kitchen Opens for Service

From foodtank.com, by Jordan Figueiredo
A New Social Experiment Driven by Food: L.A. Kitchen Opens for Service

While Hunger Action Month is now over, the work never stops for folks like Robert Egger and his new game-changing venture L.A. Kitchen. The Kitchen’s mission is to collect or purchase ugly produce and use it to “fuel a new social experiment” as CEO Robert Egger says. “There is gold in this produce,” he goes on, “and it can play a huge roll in keeping a rapidly aging population (Baby Boomers retiring in droves) healthy, active and engaged. Our great quest is to figure out how to serve more people a healthier meal for a whole lot less money.”

There are three main goals for L.A. Kitchen: one, keep seniors strong and vital as long as possible; two, foster a strong volunteerism program to engage the community and keep people active; and three, partner with research institutions to study the importance of diet alongside medicine. “About 25 percent of most major cities population are baby boomers, many of whom are retiring now and even more in the next five to 10 years” Egger explained. Perhaps this is why AARP Foundation honored L.A. Kitchen with its largest grant ever, a whopping $1 million dollars.

And the problem with this generation is “that they are going to live an average of 10 years longer than they have money in the bank” Robert said.  Most noticeably “the under 69 group is the fastest growing segment of food insecure seniors in the U.S.” Egger added. And it’s not just that we know more plant based meals (what L.A. Kitchen focuses on) is what seniors need. Things like “the Affordable Care Act will push preventative care more, which will get more and more elders to become open to vegetarian, and even vegan meals” Egger pointed out.

And that’s where L.A. Kitchen is also looking to redefine what a meal looks like. Taking out large portions of meat (or meat altogether) and exploring other options. Egger says that “we’ve been poisoning poor people in the name of feeding them for years with processed food.” For example, Egger wants to see L.A. Kitchen take “juicing and pureeing to a whole new level, working with Chef’s, Dieticians, Nutritionists, etc. to find the best way to keep seniors strong and healthy.”

With goal number two, engaging the community, L.A. Kitchen, is like its older sibling D.C. Central Kitchen, in that it employs folks needing a second chance by giving them food service skills. The downstairs at L.A. Kitchen is set up for large quantity processing of donated fruit and produce, preventing food waste and keeping food for longer, when needed. By chopping and processing into veggie snack size, soups, salads, etc., and then using cryo-vac technology to refrigerate or freeze products, L.A. Kitchen hopes to give food weeks to even months longer lifespan. Through their Strong Food for profit arm graduates of the L.A. Kitchen Culinary Training program will gain jobs preparing healthy meals for paying contracts. Strong Food will buy ugly produce and compete for some of Los Angeles’ over $10M in senior meal food contracts.

L.A. Kitchen is also approaching charitable organizations in a two to three mile radius of their downtown location to begin supplying food to. And L.A. Kitchen is asking the recipient organizations what they want and need the most (not just telling them what the Kitchen has to give them). Then L.A. Kitchen will come back to its suppliers and work with them to fill the need (wasting less food in the process).

And last, but not least, for the three keys for L.A. Kitchen: medicine as a compliment to local and healthy food. L.A. Kitchen understands that most seniors will be on medication and they’re looking to partner with the University of Southern California and the University of Southern California at Los Angeles on medicine studies alongside healthy eating.

And all of that service to the community, is on top of helping out farmers by purchasing produce that would have gone uneaten and giving folks a second chance in their Culinary Training program.

And all of that service to the community, is on top of helping out farmers by purchasing produce that would have gone uneaten and giving folks a second chance in their Culinary Training program! So if you’re so inclined, get involved with L.A. Kitchen: donate, promote, or volunteer because they are definitely making beautiful things happen with ugly produce. Find out more about the growing “ugly” produce movement at my social media campaign @UglyFruitAndVeg on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and now on Pinterest as well.