“In a nutshell….ALL food recovery is cool…but more programs must now pivot to take full advantage of food so that we maximize it’s value to better serve and empower the community.”
Robert Egger has been in the food service industry for 25 years. In two decades, he founded and was president of DC Central Kitchen. In May 2014, he opened L.A. Kitchen. Robert is a nonprofit leader, speaker, author and activist who takes pride in the “community kitchen” he started and helped run. Community kitchens are essentially a large distribution center in which leftover food from hospitality businesses and farms are used to provide meals for the community and community agencies. DC Central Kitchen goes one step further in that Egger pioneered culinary arts training programs. Along with the aforementioned, community kitchens provide culinary training and jobs for individuals who are unemployed, underemployed, previously incarcerated, and homeless adults who want careers in the food service industry.
Egger opened DC Central Kitchen in 1989 to transform leftover, unwanted foods into nutritious and healthy meals ready for distribution. Today, it employs 144 employees and prepares 10,000 meals per day. In 2012, US$1.2 million in food waste was prevented by turning leftovers into 2 million balanced meals. Egger started several programs within the Kitchen, such as the culinary job training program, which addresses the root cause of hunger and unemployment by training individuals in food service, food recycling, healthy school food for low income children in DC’s poorest neighborhoods, and the Truck Farm, which is a traveling, edible education tool that delivers interactive and education lessons on the benefits of farming and nutritious produce to youth. DC Central Kitchen has tackled issues such as food wastage, hunger, supporting local agriculture, eliminating food desserts and supporting universities. The Kitchen has had a pivotal part in supporting local farmers in that it invests more than US$150,000 a year so that distributed meals are made from nutritious ingredients. DC Central Kitchen also operates Fresh Start Catering and Campus Kitchens Project. which coordinates similar recycling/meal programs in high schools and college kitchens.
L.A. Kitchen is aiming to “reclaim healthy, local food that would otherwise go to waste, and use it to empower, nourish, and engage the community.” With services similar to what DC Central Kitchen does, L.A. Kitchen will focus on four programs: Empower L.A., Nourish L.A., Engage L.A. and Strong Food. L.A. Kitchen will serve nutritious meals to some of the more vulnerable populations, including aging residents of Los Angeles. With an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, the main focus will be to recover fresh food and use that to start culinary arts job training.
In addition, Egger is the Founder and President of CForward, an advocacy organization that rallies employees of nonprofits to educate candidates about the economic role that nonprofits play in every community. Currently, he serves on the Board of the national addiction recovery program, Back on My Feet. Between 2006 and 2009, he was listed as one of the “50 Most Powerful and Influential” nonprofit leaders. Among the several awards and titles Egger has claimed, he enjoys speaking throughout the country and internationally on hunger and sustainability.
Egger says, “our job shouldn’t be just to feed the poor, but to get Americans to think through the way we feed the poor, to open a very different dialogue about how do we approach hunger in America,” and DC Central Kitchen, L.A. Kitchen, and the various programs he has pioneered, are helping the fight against hunger.