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Robert Lee: Rescuing Food to Serve the Underserved

Robert Lee: Rescuing Food to Serve the Underserved


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to speak with Robert Lee, CEO of Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, Inc. (RLC).

Spiffy: Welcome, Robert. Let’s jump right in. Can you tell me what challenge RLC is addressing?

Robert: Thanks for having me, Spiffy. As much as 40% of food produced in the United States is wasted. When food ends up in landfills, it emits methane gasses that are 34 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide. Such emissions disproportionately impact urban lower-income communities in terms of health, proper housing conditions, and overall quality of life, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. All the while, as of 2020, 38 million Americansthat is one in nine of usremain food insecure. In households with children, the frequency increases to one in seven.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Robert: I grew up knowing food insecurity firsthand. Working on food rescue and growing this concept so that it can be the norm rather than the exception comes full circle for me personally.

Spiffy: What would you say is the impact of your work?

Robert: Since its inception in 2013, RLC has expanded to serve nine cities and rescued over eight million pounds of food, providing more than 6.5 million meals to food-insecure individuals and households from low-income, underserved, and marginalized communities.

Spiffy: That’s very inspiring! Tell me about a recent organizational milestone or initiative. What impact does that make?

Robert: We recently celebrated ten years of RLC and surpassed 12 million pounds of food rescued.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Robert: I started RLC because smaller amounts of food weren't being rescued. Every small bit counts and every little action taken by everyone (including youth) makes a difference. Collectively, those actions can form a movement.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Robert—it’s been an honor!

Robert Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, Inc. (RLC). With a bachelor’s degree from the Stern School of Business at New York University, Robert left a job at JPMorgan Chase & Co. to grow RLC. RLC was incubated by Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood Foundation and since then has expanded across the nation. In addition, he has been honored as an Obama Leader USA, Gates Millennium Scholar, CNN Hero, Forbes 30 Under 30 for Social Entrepreneurship, NYC Food Policy 40 Under 40, and Youth Action Net Fellow. (Nominated by Chris Ashley at Teach for America. First published on the Ladderworks website on September 27, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Sujit Kunte. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.