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Roy journeys from L.A. to Orange County to discover how two non-profit innovators are tackling the problem of food waste. Roy visits Robert Egger, whose project LA Kitchen is simultaneously aggregating wasted food, using it to cook fresh meals for those in need, and providing workforce training. Roy also visits Bill Bracken of Bracken’s Kitchen who partners with Chefs to End Hunger to reuse leftover food and distribute it with his food truck in Orange County. Roy also visits with Richard Garcia at Alma Backyard Farms in Compton where kids are learning how food in grown by digging in to Alma’s hands-on program.

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Transcript

- How bad is it out there? - It's estimated between 35 and 40% of all the food produced in America gets wasted every day. - The supermarkets, they don't accept because it's like it has a bruise or misshapen and there's a lot of great food going to waste. - Food doesn't become waste until we throw it away. I'm working to stop that food from actually going into the trash can, because once it's in there, there's no saving it. You can't feed somebody. - This is a truck full of food. That's a truck full of food. There's something wrong with what we're doing. - There is something wrong. - Not only are we producing waste and accepting waste, you have a whole world of people spending this energy working for nothing. - What does a society throw away, whether it's a piece of vegetable or a person. To me, this is the greatest waste out of the trash heaps of the world, we can pull out people and food and meals and opportunity and actually belonging. We're showing people the power of waste. You know, it's one thing to fret about waste, it's another thing to reimagine it. - [Roy Voiceover] I'm a street cook. Even before I was a street cook, I was a street person. I'm out there doing things whether it's approved or not. My whole existence in this world is to nourish and feed people. I want this show to be about the power of us as humans to come together again. Let's not make assumptions. Let's not make stereotypes. And from there, we can start to talk about these things and maybe understand each other. Whether your beliefs different from mine, we're breaking bread. The fact is that nearly 40% of all the food grown in this country ends up in the garbage. It either never makes it off the farm, never leaves the store, or just rots in your refrigerator. Meanwhile, millions of Americans go to bed hungry every night. So the question is, how do we get our hands on all that wasted food and get it out to the people who need it the most? Bill Bracken spent 25 years cooking at five-star luxury hotels for A-list actors and dignitaries. Now he's using his culinary know-how and what he learned from the back kitchen and banquet halls to do something about it. He's repurposing food from hotels and restaurants that would have otherwise been thrown away and turning it into hot, nutritious meals that he delivers nightly in his food truck. - We operate on the notion that feeding people isn't the same as nourishing them. - Yeah. - So we really try to provide people the healthiest, most nutritious meal of the week. Today is all about food kitsch. You can see this here, Greg is over there pulling chicken off the skewers, so-- - They came from a catering party somewhere? - Yeah, obviously, left over from catering. - [Roy] Okay. - [Bill] So we're gonna pull the chicken off and turn it into a stew of some sort. But tonight we're going to Santa Ana, an after school program for homeless kids. Tomorrow night is people living on the streets. - Those people tonight would go without a meal if you weren't driving by. - Some of them would just not have a meal, no doubt, and others would have the bare minimum. - The psychology of America was just ball it out for a while. It was just abundance. The capitalism of abundance, and it's just like, oh, that's no good, out, out, out, out. - [Bill] Yeah, you know. - We did that with people, we did that with food, we did that with toys, everything. It was just out, out the door. Whoever's an adult right now, like you, if you're an adult right now, you are a part of this problem. Bracken's Kitchen relies on donations to make their system work. Chefs to End Hunger is an organization that provides restaurants and hotels with containers to store and transfer huge amounts of food that would normally go to waste. Bracken's Kitchen receives a shipment from them each week and repurposes the food into healthy meals for the people who need it the most. Last year alone, Chefs to End Hunger diverted three million pounds of food from landfills and served two and a half million meals. This is how the world should work. Bill, Jerry and the team are feeding people by recognizing how broken our system is and turning it around, from excess and waste to tackling hunger and need. - So they have approached restaurants and hotels and they give them a box just like this, and then it has three to four pans with lids on it. So if they have a banquet or something and they have extra food, they chill it, they stick it inside of the box, and delivers it to us on Tuesdays. - [Roy] Let's see what we got today. - [Jerry] We've got some sausages and some potatoes for all sorts of-- - This looks like the breakfast buffet at the Hampton Inn. And you can probably imagine something like this for a huge hotel, and meetings and all that. - Yep. - There's probably-- - Tons. - Just tons of millions every single day across every single city. You multiply that by even 500 hotels in just Orange County, this seems like the easiest way to not throw away food. - Right. - Because every kitchen in America, and let's not front on it, every kitchen in America-- - Throwing away food. - Is producing, at least you're having at least this much of leftover. - Sure. - In most situations. It's a lot of food. This could be at least 200 people. - More like 350. - 350, okay. And then when do you get to work on this? As soon as you open it up? - Yeah, as soon as we open it up, we start putting things into order of what we're gonna make, and then we start processing the other parts. I think you've made salsa a couple times in your life, haven't you? - I make it every day. It's got garlic, chilies, lime juice, all that. What is the reach of a Bracken's Kitchen? How many people do you feed? - In Orange County alone, there's an estimated 315,000 people that go without a meal every day. - Let's start with the fact, 350,000 people-- - So I had to do that, 350,000. - Behind the orange curtain every day-- - Yeah, hungry. - That are hungry. - Let's just say three meals per day like a normal human would have. That's-- - One million people. - One million, yeah. Times 365 days of the year. 383 million meals need to be provided in Orange County alone. - Did you hear that? - 383 million. - Where's sound man, did you hear that? - Our goal of 200,000 meals this year divided by 383 million, is-- - Oh, so you're only .005% of the solution. - Yeah, percent of the meals, yeah. Long ways to go. - Number, look at this number, it's staggering. What Bracken's is doing is only .0005% of this, of... - That depresses me. Stop, man, I thought we was having a bigger impact here, man. - You are having a bigger impact, because these numbers mean something when people see it. - But that's the reality of what we face right here in Orange County. - As you figured out, a certain piece of the model where you're not burdened by all of the stuff that a normal business is burdened by, which is purchasing, food costs, all the adult stuff, right? You literally get your stuff donated to you. And you just focus all of your energy on the positive elements, which is amazing. Bill's approach is not just to feed people, but to give them a night out. He uses his food truck to set up shop where people can come together, sit across from each other, listen to music, and enjoy a good meal. - If you're living on a very, very fixed income, even if you have a car or bus pass, any money that you might save by getting your free meal, you just wasted on transportation. That's where we landed on the idea of the food truck and we decided we'll bring the food to the people. - He's just so matter-of-fact about I'm here to feed everyone. Anyone that comes around, you walk in here. It doesn't affect them, because they didn't pay for the food. The food is donated. And it's food that would have gone to waste, so now you've taken something that almost would have never existed, and then it gets turned into this thing. I receive the food, I do everything I can to make it delicious, I give it to you, you're happy, and we all move on together. I mean, that's the true human economy. It makes so much sense. We cover food, change chefs to look beyond their ego, feed the needy. - Two things were very important to me from the get go. And that is what we feed, and how we feed. If we're gonna go out and feed people, we're gonna feed them right, because we believe so strongly that everybody should have the two most basic human needs for survival, the need to breathe and the need to eat. VCORE volunteers, all right. - How are you doing? - I'm Bill. - Nice to meet you. - Parker, nice to meet you. Thank you guys for coming out for Bracken's Kitchen. What I usually say to everybody is Bracken's Kitchen doesn't happen unless you come into the kitchen and make it happen. We're a volunteer-based program, so without you, this doesn't happen. - It's just amazing the amount of food that goes in the trash can if somebody doesn't do something about it. So we're really setting out to make a major impact and make a change, so be nice or Jerry will yell at you, okay? That's all I got to say, thanks. - Next batter can come to the front. Go ahead. - Thanks, guys. - Dinner is served. - This is amazing. Like you say, just seeing the faces. Especially having steak today, I think everyone's loving it. - I gotta tell you though, that salsa on top of it really makes the steak, man. - It's good, right, really good. - I don't know who made that, but-- - [Roy] Yeah, but you know, for real, like every little thing matters. - [Bill] Yeah. - It's like all the little things, you have paint job, all the artwork, the environment, the music, the salsa, everything, all that matters. One thing missing, then it's not as special, you know? - Yeah. If they can have even an hour of their life that they can just forget about life's problems and enjoy a meal, there's no better way to get to know somebody intimately than sitting down and breaking bread with them. And we realize that through food, we've been able to connect people. These people that come here every Tuesday night, they've built relationships with each other through the power of food. So, I mean, that's pretty neat beyond just the food itself, it's all the other things that food brings along with it. Well I remember one of the kids, he asked me one day, "Why do you come out here? "Why do you come out here and feed us?" "If I don't, who will?" He's like, "Well, you don't have to come here." And I said, "Well, that's just who I am. "I mean, if I can help you and make your life "a little bit better, I'm going to." And that concept of somebody helping them was kind of foreign to him. - I think it might be foreign to a lot of people who watch this, as well. - Yep, absolutely. - So I want to ask you that same question, why do you do this? - Adios. Mama Victoria. - That's why I do it right there. - Yeah. - I mean, I think that calls it home. When did a tasty, nutritious meal truly become a luxury in America? Martin Luther King made a statement once that it's a preposterous notion to expect a bootless person to pull himself up by his bootstraps. And I'm a man, I'll get emotional talking about this, I'm a man who prides himself in pulling himself up by his bootstraps, but I've always had some boots to pull on. When you are born into poverty and education and all the benefits that we have elude you, it's really, really tough. There's just something so deeply rewarding and moving when you provide a meal to somebody who really needs it. - [Roy] If we're gonna change the way people think about food, we have to start at the source, with the soil. Alma Backyard Farms in Compton is teaching kids and folks, reintegrating them into society, about the relationship between plants, soil, and people. They see wastefulness as a result of people being disconnected from each other and from the Earth. Richard Garcia, the executive director and co-founder, believes that if everyone understood the effort it takes to grow and distribute food, we'd waste much less of it. - How'd you come up on this lot to begin with? - So back in the day I was thinking about becoming a priest. - Yes. - So this is a church, and I knew the pastor from when I was there. And he was like, "I have a back yard that's pretty empty." So it's allowed for us to have like the infrastructure where we could host people, where we could run programming for the kids. To put something in the soil and to see it grow, and then to witness somebody else harvesting it and know that it's gonna be food on somebody's plate. They find peace in it. There was a seed planted, so to speak. Then I got a bigger picture of like what's impacting this community. I started spending more time in the neighborhood and I fell in love with working with youth. There's a lack of interacting with nature when you're growing up in the hood. - Yeah, so you're planting seeds not only physically and realistically but you're also planting seeds in people's lives. - Before we split up, I just want to say thank you, fifth grade. I'm really excited to have you roll up your sleeves and really plant some stuff and turn the compost. Sounds good? - [Children] Yeah. - It impacts them because they get to be around it, literally from, you know, seed to plate in a place that is like, you know, we're in a food insecure neighborhood. It doesn't get any more real than this. - Oh, they're much bigger than the last seeds. - [Girl] Oh wow, they're so small. - So that became that. - What? - [Richard] To be in a moment where people are just discovering a new thing after another, it's like being in a space of awe. - [Roy] Alma works with organizations like L.A. Kitchen, who take donations from the farm and turn them into hot meals for people who need them. Their partnership directly impacts the community Compton where Alma is feeding healthy snacks and meals to the schoolchildren, parishioners, and the neighborhood. - Alma, we give them fruit and they give us vegetables and lettuce and we take that and we move it to our facility where we make individual meals and bulk meals. It's basically the whole community is circling. - So how many farms like this are you guys-- - This is one of the main ones, Alma, actually, that does give us stuff every year, at least once a week, and it's definitely fresh-- - [Roy] And they're just giving it to you guys. - Correct. - Shout out to Alma, man. - I know, it's incredible. We bring them snacks every time for the kids, and the kids love, because we always bring them some healthy snacks. - So we send farm bags, we do this fruit and the snacks and it's just like, it makes you all heart. It's kind of like the Grinch, you know, your heart beats, it's like, oh my God. - [Roy] L.A. Kitchen is a massive commercial kitchen space Just north of downtown L.A. founded by Robert Egger. Every day, they get truckloads of fruits and vegetables that have been rejected by grocery stores, either because of cosmetic defects, imperfections, or overstock, and they turn them into a perfectly healthy meal. But there's more to it. The people cooking those meals are formerly incarcerated men and women as well as kids aging out of foster care who are all transitioning back into society. L.A. Kitchen is redefining how we think of food waste. It's showing us how discarded food can be used to empower people while providing healthy meals for communities in need. Why is there food waste, and how bad is it out there? - It's estimated between 35 and 40% of all the food produced in America gets wasted every day. Now, there's two big bookends. You've got industrial waste out on the farms, stuff that is ripe, misshapened, out there, it's never gonna make it off. The other, and the bigger half is households. This is just the American system of filling our big refrigerators with more food than we can really truly eat. - Yeah, we can't go into everyone's home and-- - Right. - Clean their refrigerators. - So the middle here is where I live. - Is it making a dent at all in the waste? - Oh, yeah. I mean totally, man, because we're showing people the power of waste. - Okay. - You know, it's one thing to fret about waste, it's another thing to reimagine it. - [Roy] L.A. Kitchen doesn't operate like a normal restaurant kitchen would. They're not placing orders with food vendors. They're getting truckloads of food delivered to them, and someone has to figure out what to do with it all. You serve 2,600 meals a week? - A week, yes. So we're getting like approximately 10,000 pounds of donated produce or grains or vegetables. It's supposedly imperfect, but if you look at this, this is like a perfect-looking head of lettuce. It's perfect, you know. - [Roy] So why is this being rejected? - Sometimes the supermarkets, they don't accept it because it's not the size that they wanted. - Okay. - Or sometimes it doesn't fit the packaging that was supposed to fit. - The farm is doing what they can to make, they think it's good, they're putting it out there, they're selling it, but then it arrives on the supermarket dock, and the supermarket buyers then saying, no, yes, no, yes. - Yeah. - And all of a sudden, and it gets rejected at the front door. - Exactly. - And then where does it go? - Yeah. - So that's the cycle, okay. - And I think like, as consumers, people should think about that before they go to the supermarket, because if they're asking for perfect-looking food, this is what happen. - There's something wrong with what we're doing. - There is something wrong. Beautiful-looking mango, like nothing wrong with it. Green leaf lettuce. - Cucumber. That's a lot of stuff that someone said is not good enough. - There's more stuff here. - And these are all really good items. You could donate this to my house. - Like, if you look at it like the color maybe is not perfect, but what's the problem with it, you know? - That's waste. Trash bags full. Trash bags full of... Someone said that's no good. Who is that person? Where you at, man? I hope you're watching. Why is that no good? - So all of this is gonna become that. - [Roy] These are your meals? - Yeah. It's beautiful looking. It's a piece of fish and some carrots and vegetables. - So these are all things that were maybe prepped the other day that got cooked and then now. - Yes, exactly. - What's this board all about? - This board is the production that we have for the week. - This is who gets the food? - Exactly. This is our current, and we call them partners because without them, we can't relay the food to either a homeless person or somebody in the shelter or a senior. - And then this board is what comes in. - Exactly. So we'll take a look at the protein and say, you know, for example, we have beef in the freezer. - I'm already thinking you can make a braised beef. - Exactly, so us chefs, we come in and we're like, okay, what's gonna go well with beef and couscous? And then we said, you know, why don't we do kale and then increase the green. We don't have recipes. That's the beauty of it. - [Roy] That's what's up. I like that style of cooking. - It's just come in, mix flavors, and if they taste good and make sense, we'll put it in the bowl as long as it's balanced and nutritious. - As much as I'm interested in food waste and stuff, at kind of a philosophical level, it's a discussion about beauty. What does a society throw away? Whether it's a piece of vegetable or a person? To me, this is the greatest waste. Food waste is one thing, but this idea of wasted life. So you know, there's kind this wrinkled food, wrinkled people kinda construct we're playing with, and if I can lure people closer with this and then maybe get them to see that thing that they don't want to see maybe in a different light. - [Roy] Every 14 weeks, a new class of students enter the culinary program. Theresa Farthing was valedictorian of the first L.A. Kitchen class. - My background is jail and drugs. I've always wanted to go to culinary school, but after I felt I destroyed my life, I thought that dream was over. I found myself as a resident at the downtown women's center. And after living there for about a year, that's where I heard about L.A. Kitchen. They had a free culinary program for women over 40 with a criminal background. Crimes, the jail, the drugs, it's almost 11 years old. - Wow. - The way I look at food is if you throw it away, that's somebody that didn't get to eat. Maybe the last person in line. - That's real smart. - But if you try to use every part of the food, then that's that many more people that you're able to feed. - [Roy Voiceover] Theresa also mentors new graduates, like Alisha Larsuel. - Sometimes when you get down, you got like a team one to go to, and she can say, "I've made it through, "I know you can make it." - Yeah. - Because we're all just trying to do it. She did it. - This is the second time I met you. Tell the world who you are. - What led me here to L.A. Kitchen was I had a felony on my record, and it was assault and battery with a deadly weapon. And it sounded worse than what it was. In my mind, I was thinking, I know for a fact that I can't get a job with a felony on my record. - But here, it doesn't matter if you have a felony. - No, here it doesn't matter about anything. I mean, some of my classmates is fresh outta jail, they made it to a home, and they just wanted to come to the program just to have something to do and get under their belt, because they're fresh out. - And how long ago was that. - Started in January, I started in January and graduated-- - Just this past January? - Just this past January. And I graduated in April. - Man. - Yeah, and I got the chance to-- - That's just six months. - Just six months. - Your life is now never gonna be the same. - And it changes completely, like you change as a person here. Like I told them before, I said, I felt like I came in like a little caterpillar and now I'm out of my cocoon like a little butterfly, because they really change your life. - Amazing. That's an amazing story. - Mmm. - Yeah, I want a group hug. - This place almost feels, in a way, evangelical. - There's kind of a spirituality to the food waste side of what I'm intrigued by. You know, out of the trash heaps of the world we can pull out, you know, people and food and meals and opportunity and actually belonging. What's exciting about watching people who work side by side with the Theresas or all the other people here, and suddenly people realize, wait, you were in prison? You know, you were homeless? I can't, you know. And that's kind of what I'm after, a gentle kind of nudge, so that people can kind of let go of some of these stereotypes or bigotries we all have. - Good morning, everybody. - [Volunteers] Good morning. - All right, I'm so happy you guys are here. We have 2,600 meals to get out throughout the week and 810 snacks to get out for kids. Some people don't get a meal every day. Some people don't get three-course meals. We do everything we can for somebody to feel like they're gonna eat tonight. So that's what L.A. Kitchen is doing with you guys' help, so gives yourself a round of applause. - So the idea is we have donated food coming in, using that to train younger people out of foster care, older men and women home from prison. They're processing donated food into balanced meals. They in turn teach volunteers. So it's kind of this cascading knowledge. Because the real power is sending all those volunteers back out, transformed. I mean, all those volunteers leaving saying, "I don't even know what to say about this experience." They don't see a felon, they don't see a homeless person, they see somebody who's about to teach them. - Heart surgery, that way. - How are you guys doing down here? Oh, you all got Roy Choi in your group. You all kinda cheatin'. It's kind a little bit of a cheating. It's a little cheating. - It's like the celebrity basketball games where they got one pro player. Got one pro player, and then the rest. - If we teach you guys a better way to cut it. You can chop and share your teaching. We cut two cases of the cabbage, we cut turnip, we did mints, the lovely little girls did the seasoning, bam. And so with all that, we are ready for half of our week next week. All because of you guys, so give yourselves a round of applause. - [Volunteers] L.A. Kitchen, we do this! - All right guys, we're gonna take a group picture-- Come on and take a picture. - Has the needle been moving the right direction? Yes, we've done a lot of good, but is the world really that different? - Well, you know, A, I'm a big believer in relentless incrementalism. You know, it's the small ripples. If you can get your head around it, it's like, I went to work and I did good work today. Somebody got a decent meal today, man. These are things that are really triumphs for us, so we celebrate that. - What are some of the difficulties? - You know, scary-ass moments where you think, how am I gonna make payroll? This thing's gonna fall in. - L.A. Kitchen spent six years feeding the homeless, the elderly, and communities in need all across the city. They trained and transitioned more than 500 people that were formerly incarcerated, homeless, or aged out of foster care. Giving them an opportunity when no one else would, and they did it all while processing millions of pounds of food destined for the landfill every single day. This is the model that every city in this country needs right now. But after we turned the cameras off, Robert told me the saddest of truths. It hit me in the gut, hard. Because of a lack of funding and political support, L.A. Kitchen would have to close its doors by the end of the year unless something miraculous happened. But nothing did. So on October 30th, 2018, that's exactly what happened. I was there at the opening of L.A. Kitchen. We just filmed with Robert a few months ago. And now I'm sitting here eating tacos after talking to him. I had no idea. If he can't make it, then how the hell are we going to make it? The only thing I can take solace in is sitting here on the corner, Belmont Tunnel eating tacos, you know. Right now this is our campfire, and we're just kinda making camp for the night and figuring it out. What do you do when your guide up the Himalayas fell off the cliff, you know? So you gotta kinda like, you know, L.A. Kitchen was one of the guides, you know, and so... To be honest, I'm just still in shock.