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Book-Talk with Leah Lizarondo, Food Waste Fighter

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1 in 7 people goes hungry while 40% of food is wasted – these should be contradictory facts, right? They’re not. It’s just a dark side of the reality we’re living in.

The following book-talk is with Leah Lizarondo, a food waste fighter working at the intersection of food and innovative technology. She’s the co-founder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue, an organization with a mission to end food waste and hunger.

Since it was founded, 412 Food Rescue has prevented over 2 million pounds of perfectly good food from entering the waste stream, and, instead, put it into the hands of those who need it most.

How? Through technology that mobilizes more than 3,000 drivers – the food rescue heroes 🙂 who collect surplus food from retailers, wholesalers, restaurants, caterers and other food providers, and transport it directly to nonprofit organizations that benefit those who are hungry.

Another interesting thing is their use of food that would otherwise be wasted and creating innovative products with it. Last year (in 2016) they launched LOAF – craft beer from surplus bread, and FORAGED – pommeau liqueur from rescued apples. This year, they created Lemon Mulberry Reserve, a creamy creation featuring harvested mulberries from city trees.

Founded in 2015, 412 Food Rescue is one of the fastest-growing food recovery organizations in the U.S., and it’s set to expand globally.

I reached out to Leah after I learned about her story thanks to Going Deep with Aaron’s podcast. Keep on reading to find out more about the books that inspired her to want to work on an a social enterprise, make a difference in food policy, what book she recommends to people, how she chooses what to read next, and what “tsundoku” means.

P.S. After you finish reading our interview, do watch her 2014 TEDx Talk, “Why the farm is not getting to the table“.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

Enchantment – Guy Kawasaki
I read a lot of nonfiction and business books – but this is the one I keep on going back to. Enchantment is a mindset–and if you approach your work, each interaction, with this in mind, it will change everything. My copy of this book has dog-ears everywhere. If I could keep it in my bag everyday, I would.

Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey Moore
People congratulate me all the time for “launching” 412 Food Rescue. My reaction is always to say — wait til we scale. I don’t think it is hard to launch things. Its fairly easy to launch something. And it’s easy to get drawn in by all the media and excitement around launch. But pushing out bright shiny objects is a canard for achievement. Scaling is hard. I’ve had this book since it was released and it’s one of the classics on my shelf.

Lean Startup – Eric Ries
One of the most important things that sets people who are successful at being part of startup teams is how comfortable one is with uncertainty. I have heard people say even working at a big corporation is about dealing with uncertainty — not the same. This is about incremental progress and establishing radical metrics that go beyond vanity. I have always hated long and laborious business plans that try to project too many years out — the market moves too fast for that. The ability to act and iterate quickly (and being comfortable with that) is as important as setting the “strategy” for a company.

Blindness – Jose Saramago
The version of dystopia in this book is provocative but truly, the style and structure is what makes the book even more memorable. I always think about our humanity and how fallible we are. I love that this book tackles that but ultimately, our true core–what is good–triumphs. That is pretty much how I look at life.

Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
Given free time to do anything I would read fiction. This book took me out of a long dry spell because it is a collection of short stories that I could read while in the bath. Each story is written so beautifully, I still remember putting the book down from time to time, just to close my eyes and absorb what I just read.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

Such a simple thing. From Enchantment. I give many, many presentations and I pretty much have one deck I work from. But I learned one simple thing that really goes a long way into drawing in each audience. Change the first slide. Make it about your audience. Customize it to your audience. Then you start drawing them in.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

The three books above.

But also Michael Pollan‘s books, Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, Globalization and Its Discontents by Joe Stiglitz.

These books propelled me to want to work on a social enterprise and underscored my passion for making a difference in food policy. I believe we can build an innovative company that has deep social impact. That we can use the same mindsets that single bottom-line companies have to build successful triple and quadruple bottom-line companies. It is the holy grail — for your work to present the challenge to be creative, innovative, quick on a daily basis but also at the end of the day, the knowledge that you are making a real difference in people’s lives. I feel extremely fortunate to be in this position right now.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

Not sure about my career path specifically but truly to understand your own personal power — sure, read the success doctrine books to inspire you. But one book I give to people to balance out all those is So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. The subtitle says it all “Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love”

I think what is lost in many success books is the utter honesty that to be good at something, you really have to invest time and effort. The universe will not conspire in your favor unless you do so. You can’t magically conjure up work that you love. Passion gets you to a certain place, then it’s just old fashioned “work” that moves you forward. This is also a great book for entrepreneurs who have found their “passion” but there are days when you need more than that passion to keep going.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

Reading fiction is one of life’s simple pleasures that I used to have so much time for. I still buy books with the hopes that one day I will read them. There is actually a Japanese word for buying books you don’t read — tsundoku! I still prefer a physical book – there is something about turning a page that is so satisfying. Plus I am always working on my laptop and my phone, I really don’t want another device.

How do you make time for reading?

I don’t make enough time for reading at all–especially fiction, which I think is so important. The one thing I appreciate about work travel is that it allows me the time to read.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I do highlight when I read for work. I take notes.

How do you choose what books to read next?

It’s a lot about “what problems am I trying to solve right now?” And I look at the best resources to help me figure things out. For fiction, that is harder. I have bought books that I start and never finish because it fails to keep my attention. It is also a lot about my state of mind at the moment.

Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

Ah, a few. But like I mention, it’s a lot about my state of mind right now — how I decide which books to read.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

I am reading Nir Eyal’s “Hooked” – how to build habit-forming products. I have this overarching question in my head — how do we use technology as a tool to make doing good a habit for someone? Then I also want to read Andy Weir‘s new book, Artemis.

I am also reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz. As 412 Food Rescue grows and I have more and more people on the team, it really becomes clear who will become successful at this organization. I think managing people is the hardest part about organizations and being honest with yourself and your staff about what it will take to be part of something is important. Striking a balance between being unapologetic about this and being sensitive is key. There are a lot of “hard things” about starting and growing something–I have so much respect for entrepreneurs, it truly takes something different to opt for this life.

Links where you can follow Leah Lizarondo or find out more about her projects:

Books mentioned by Leah Lizarondo in this interview:

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