How to Fight Food Waste, Train Cooks, Feed Seniors … and Do It Again

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An L.A. Kitchen graduation.

En español | Shortly after midnight on New Years Eve, the first baby boomer turned 70. Everyday, 10,000 more men and women follow, and this will go on for years to come.

There are many good things associated with the maturing of the richest, freest and most educated generation in history. Boomers will likely redefine aging as we know it, and usher in a new era of inclusion. They will push to redefine beauty, as well as success, and if Mick Jagger is any indication, they will keep rocking until they keel over.

But all will not be polka dots and moonbeams for this generation. Too many of the “new old” will enter their later years with too little savings and too much debt — credit card debt, mortgage payments, home equity loans and even student loan debt from helping to educate their children, grandchildren or even themselves. As a result, they won’t have enough money to see them through.

Quiz: 10 questions to test your knowledge about senior hunger and food insecurity »

So how do we prepare to house, feed, engage and include older Americans who fall into poverty?

That is what compelled me to drive from Washington, D.C. (where I had lived for 40 years) to Los Angeles, where I’ve open the L.A. Kitchen with a pioneering grant from the AARP Foundation.

In Washington, I founded and built the D.C. Central Kitchen, which recycles food, trains the unemployed for food service jobs and feeds thousands of people everyday. I also launched the Campus Kitchens Project, which uses school-based kitchens to do similar work.

I wanted to take those models to another level, so I launched the L.A. Kitchen. LAK is a pioneering program with one overarching goal: develop a way to feed more people a healthy meal for less money … and then share the model, openly, so that other organizations or communities can build something similar. Here’s what we’re doing.

We source fresh fruits and produce that are currently disposed of because of cosmetic defects. Using the donated food, we train young men and women exiting foster care or older people coming home from prison in a 15-week, intergenerational culinary arts program. Students learn with and from each other. They also teach what they’ve learned to volunteers, and together we prepare balanced meals and distribute them to nonprofit partners throughout L.A.

Once students graduate, we help them find jobs, for many at Strong Food, our for-profit business. Strong Food buys similarly blemished produce that we use to prepare scratch-cooked, ethnically diverse meals. Through city and county contracts, we supply the meals to senior centers, Meals on Wheels partners and other programs that want better meals for their clients. Profits are reinvested in L.A. Kitchen, so that we can train and ultimately employ more students.

Help hungry seniors – add your name in support! »

It’s a bold new model. Feel free to visit L.A. Kitchen in Los Angeles. If you want to consider adapting the model, please contact me at regger@lakitchen.org.

If you use an AARP Credit Card from Chase, with every restaurant purchase made using the card, Chase donates 10 cents to AARP Foundation in support of Drive to End Hunger (up to $1 million in 2016). Plus, during February, AARP Hunger Awareness Month, Chase will double its donation to 20 cents (up to an additional $100,000). Denny’s will also donate 25 cents to support Drive to End Hunger during February for every AARP Membership Card that is shown at a participating restaurant (up to $250,000).

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See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more.

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