Social enterprises take more than love and a knack for business: they also can use a little rock and roll to be effective, at least according to L.A. Kitchen founder and president, Robert Egger.
On “Food Talk with Danielle Nierenberg,” Egger boasts of the power of a rock and roll mentality, overturning what it means to be a leader in nutrition, sustainability, and equal employment. “I am a 49/51 guy—49 percent is always going to be about how can I make this business here thrive, rock, and just kill it every day,” says Egger. “But 51 percent of my time is about how can I help others out and how can I share what I have learned.”
Egger’s experience with social enterprises started when he abandoned his dream of starting a nightclub 1989 and founded D.C. Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C. The kitchen has produced more than 35 million meals for the community and employed 1,500 people full time. Following in the footsteps of D.C. Kitchen, L.A. Kitchen reclaims healthy food that would otherwise go to waste while providing culinary job training to unemployed men and women.
Starting the L.A. Kitchen in Los Angeles in 2003 was the cherry on top of Egger’s career, a move meant to say “look the future is fruits and vegetables, because that’s the only thing; whether it’s for a food bank or a pantry, this is the long term sustainable supply,” Egger says. “But dudes, we can’t just keep hurling this stuff all over and think redistributing food is fighting hunger. We have to squeeze every ounce of whatever we get to empower people.”
“Let’s move past this kind of pantry food center idea and explore how food can create vibrant intergenerational activity” he says. For Egger, the future of the food system depends on the ability to sustainably provide for the arriving wave of people who are going to be poor—the older generation, which Egger believes has “one of the coolest soundtracks in the history of the world.”
Egger’s philosophy of food waste coupled with his concern for older generations is central to his choice to start a kitchen in L.A. “We are part of the fuck the beauty myth movement. What better town to come to L.A., a town that has promoted this false idea of beauty for so long. We can say, in effect, wrinkled food, wrinkled people, no waste!”
On the newest podcast, Egger’s ideal force to address this wave includes none other than the younger generation of millennials and their innovative social enterprises, service-minded businesses, and power. “They’re probably one of the best social experiments ever, an entire generation raised doing service,” Egger tells Food tank. Millennials, according to Egger, “are looking potentially at a consumer revolution, where we say[…] ‘if you want me to buy whatever you are making, part of the deal is, I want the money to go back to my community.’”
Egger adds, “a lot of young people have grown up seeing food waste as an environmental disaster; there’s a lot of opportunity” for new enterprises that not only don’t do harm, but do good in the food system. “I think millennials have this insane power. I always say: why occupy the streets, take over the town! You are already in charge,” says Egger.
For this reason, “I bring out a lot of young, new and dynamic social entrepreneurs and leaders,” to L.A. Kitchen, says Egger; these new leaders work with all staff and volunteers building better food policy. “Food policy is one of the rare unifying principles for young and old. Whether it is access, nutrition labels, wage, or environmentalism, there’s a lot of potential unifying aspects,” Egger tells Food Tank.
And L.A. Kitchen, Egger notes, is the perfect place for all generations to do food outreach differently. “I’ll give you some service hours, but we will rock your soul if you come down here. We also say to older people, come on down—rock and roll—don’t submit to the tyranny of the larger society’s beauty myth or your own sense of ‘my time is spent.’ Rock life till you die,” says Egger.
To learn more about how Egger uses rock and roll to bring generations together, listen to the full podcast episode. You can listen to “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” on Apple iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you consume your podcasts. While you’re listening, subscribe, rate, and review the show; it would mean the world to us to have your feedback.
Photo courtesy of Robert Egger.