When I first started In Search Of Lost Answers earlier this year, I asked friends if there were any people in their networks I should consider interviewing. One of the obvious ones was Leah Lizarondo, the founder of Food Rescue Hero, a technology-powered, community-driven platform that helps redirect surplus food to those who need it most.
Her team’s efforts have already helped redistribute over 9 million meals from over 2,000 food retailers to over 900 non-governmental organizations, not surprisingly earning the app Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Award in 2020.
This isn’t just a job, it’s a calling, so I wanted to learn about what inspired Leah to leave her corporate trappings behind and follow her heart. Thank you, Katie Quinn Harvey, for the introduction, and thanks, Craig Newmark, for inventing Craigslist so that the two of them would become roommates way back when they were youngsters living it up in New York City!
Nish: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Leah: Living fully in the present.
Nish: What was your worst job ever?
Leah: Oh man, I don’t think I’ve ever had a job that was so bad I can call it the “worst.” Lucky that way.
Nish: What was your first job ever?
Leah: My first job ever was in the Philippines right after I graduated from college. I don’t remember what my title was. It was before the “Chief of Staff” title was en vogue, but essentially I was (one of the) Chiefs of the Staff for the President of one of the biggest telecom companies in the Philippines. The highlight was traveling everywhere with him, going to all the events -- and understanding the power of being the gatekeeper to one of the most influential men in the country. Ha! I enjoyed it but quickly decided that wasn’t for me. Lasted 6 months.
Nish: What was your best job ever?
Leah: I would say I have two best jobs ever so far. Which makes this grammatically incorrect but (shoulder shrug emoji).
The job I went to after that first job is one. I worked for Colgate Palmolive in Brand Management. Hands down one of the best learning experiences that I have ever had (that I still trade on to this day!). I learned I absolutely love managing a P&L and getting a cross-discipline team to work in concert. I also learned how much companies study us to get us to buy their products. That was the most illuminating thing! We talk so much about “human-centered design” these days like it’s such a new concept but consumer goods companies have been doing it for years. I learned so much about human behavior and how we can be shaped, it was actually pretty scary. And with technology and direct-to-consumer, it’s so much easier to be even more precise.
This experience opened a whole can of worms for me. And began my obsession with Herb Simon and bounded rationality/satisficing. It’s partly why I ended up at Carnegie Mellon for grad school.
This leads me to the job I have now, which is my other “best job.” I moved to Pittsburgh after NYC. 412 Food Rescue and Food Rescue Hero combine all of the things I love - technology, food, and creating a social movement to solve three big challenges at once - food waste, hunger, climate change.
I would say though that the fourth challenge is getting people to actually DO SOMETHING. So that they get out of the sense of despair that these problems are too big and know that there is actually something they can do to make an impact.
Nish: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Leah: I procrastinate on some tasks - whether it’s one that is super important, something I have to have my A-game for so I keep on waiting for the “right moment” or a task I don’t like. This means I need deadlines. And also means that for these tasks, you can expect it at the eleventh hour. I’ve been using Sam Harris’s Waking Up app for meditation and he has some gems he calls “Moments” that get pushed to you every day and there have been a couple that I’ve been trying to internalize so I can stop this very annoying habit.
Nish: What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Leah: Ah, this is a hard one too. In my 40s after everything I’ve been through, I’ve been more forgiving of our humanity (including mine) for sure. Understanding that the horrible things we do all have their roots in fear gives some measure of mercy. Bigotry and hate. Anger. Worry. Name other traits and emotions that don’t serve us. You’ll see fear right there at the bottom of it. Of course, fear has utility for survival but I suppose if there is a trait that I wish we could get a better grip on, it’s fear.
Nish: What’s some advice you’d give to yourself at 23?
Leah: Buckle up, lady.
You’re going to move to the other side of the world and give yourself a VERY wild ride for the next 23 years. You’re going to go through the highest of peaks and deepest of valleys but don’t worry, you’ll regret none of it.
Nish: What is your greatest extravagance?
Leah: Food. I love food. Food as a medium for the senses. Delicious in every way. Two of my favorite books are Isabel Allende’s Aphrodite and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate - the film based on it is also one of my favorites.
Nish: You have dinner reservations for 4 at Noma, excluding family and close friends, who are the 3 people (alive, dead or imaginary) you’d invite?
Leah: These types of questions always stump me and then the answer always comes at the most inopportune times. I don’t know! I would totally have to break the rules and invite my dad who passed away in 2001. He loved food and he passed that on to me. He never dumbed food down for me and my brothers. No kid menus, no compromises. If you asked me as a kid what “intermezzo” meant, I wouldn’t give you the definition as a musical term. I would say “it cleanses your palate in between courses.” Noma would absolutely blow his mind. I can’t even imagine how he would react. I would have loved to see the wonder in his eyes with every bite.
Nish: What is the theme song of your professional life?
Leah: I don’t know that I have one. But since Daft Punk split up this year let’s pick Harder Better Faster - although I would say that would have been more appropriate for my professional life in my 20s. I like to think I work with more grace now.
This is one of my favorite ads ever. It’s for a Kenzo fragrance and my 14-year old showed it to me. Definitely, how I feel in many events I have to go to and in general lately! With the work that I do, I have to be restrained all the time --I definitely miss the anonymity of New York City sometimes!
Nish: What is your motto?
Leah: Do your best. But be very discriminating in the things you choose to do.
Nish: What is something you’re really excited about right now?
Leah: Summer. I love summer. I love everything about it. Right now, I’m answering this questionnaire at my favorite park by the river, blanket on the grass, under a tree, a robust breeze. Perfect.