Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon, I’m the founder of Sounds True, and I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit soundstruefoundation.org.
You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is LaRayia Gaston. LaRayia is a former model, actress and founder of the nonprofit Lunch on Me, an organization dedicated to feeding organic, healthy food to those experiencing homelessness. She filmed a documentary, 43 Days: On Skid Row, which shows her time living in Los Angeles’s Skid Row area, and it shows a true picture of what life is really like in one of America’s largest homeless communities.
With Sounds True, LaRayia is the author of a new book. It’s called Love Without Reason: The Lost Art of Giving a F*ck. Love Without Reason is a book that quite honestly blew my heart open, as does this conversation with the immensely generous and loving LaRayia Gaston. Listen:
To begin, LaRayia, and by way of introduction to our Sounds True audience, let our listeners know the origin story, whatever that means for you, of Lunch on Me. How did you come to run this organization that’s now fed a quarter of a million meals to people? It’s amazing.
LaRayia Gaston: Thank you. It started with being exposed to the nonprofit world. I had been serving food for ten years and I felt like I could do more. I wanted to do more. I felt like my resources were limited, and my idea of charity and nonprofits, I thought they were the ones taking the big bulk of the goodness and distributing. So I went into the nonprofit world trying to just help as a volunteer, and being there I felt there was a disconnect with the infrastructure of how nonprofits worked—when it came to impacting people, I felt like the humanity was removed from it.
And so I made this impulsive decision one day. I was literally crying while I was serving food, and I said, “I don’t know anything about the nonprofit world, but I do know how to love people,” and I knew that was my superpower. I knew that love was a bigger impact than numbers in that sector of social good, and so I decided I wanted to pick up the tab on love and healing and holistic food for anyone that I could, and that’s why Lunch on Me was simple. I watched my grandmother pick up the tab and I thought I would do the same, so I did.
TS: It’s an amazing statement, “I knew how to love people.” What does that mean to you? I don’t think, I don’t know if I’ve heard very many people say that, “I know how to love people.”
LG: I think I came across some of the missing links and disconnects between people and their hearts, and I’d learned long ago I had never betrayed my heart. I had sat with my heart my entire life. And also, with the steady example of my grandmother, I had an example of someone who had something that most people longed for, and it was that level of love and understanding, and really a relationship with your heart and humanity, and that was the one thing I was never confused.
I have always known how to love people, and with everything, and I always knew the weight and responsibility that love carried when you said that. And I believe that that was the difference, is that’s what I know most. I feel like you have scholars and scientists and gurus in so many different things. I feel like my superpower is love.
TS: I’ll tell you, LaRayia, the moment in reading Love Without Reason that something really shifted for me. It was in the early book, and it was when you talked about not setting out necessarily to solve the problem of homelessness on Skid Row, or to solve the problem of hunger, but actually going out and connecting with a person named Kevin or a person named Mary, and that it was about this individual connection with real people, and that that made all the difference for you and how you approached the work. And I thought that’s just so powerful, because it takes out of this abstract idea and brings it into just person to person. So I wonder if you can talk some about that. Especially to people who maybe feel that these issues, when they think about homelessness or hunger, feel so big, how it can become really person to person.
LG: Well, the first thing I think of is, when we look at the problems of the world, anyone can be overwhelmed. I don’t think it’s—it’s no one person’s responsibility to solve the world problem. I think that we are supposed to focus on our real estate, and that’s what’s in front of us, and to me I felt like, if I work on it daily, I’m not overcome by the magnitude of the problem because I’m chipping away at it every day.
And I think that’s the difference is every day I’m doing something towards something better, and I think it comes from being intentional, and that’s where my mind stays to focus, because you can look left and right, and be overwhelmed and you can feel unempowered. A lot of times that’s crippling, when you look at the numbers—58,000 people are homeless in one city. So when you hear that, it makes you not want to feed the one person in front of you. You’re so overwhelmed with those numbers, we’re so focused on just news and the headlines and what this world is that we lose sight of what we are, our position in it, and I think that’s part of being present, right?
My focus was, I can’t solve world hunger tomorrow, but the person in front of me I will buy a meal for, I will share a moment, I will be loving every step. And that’s the space I tend to stay in, because I feel empowered by solving a problem in front of me, and sometimes it’s small. Sometimes it’s a man in front of a coffee shop that just wants a croissant, but the difference is I take the initiative to at least meet someone’s need, big or small, because I don’t know what it means to that person, but I know the intention.
All I know is, everything I do comes from a mighty place because I do it with my whole heart, and that’s it. And that is the most empowering position to be in, because you get to a place where you’re like, I don’t solve everything, but I’m solving many things.
TS: Now, I want to talk about that person in front of the coffee shop who wants a croissant, and I want to talk about the many reasons people are not in the place you’re describing. “I want to love this person. Of course, I want to get them a croissant. I can do that. I can afford $1.49,” whatever it might be. But, instead, we have a lot of other reasons that go through our mind. One might be “I’m in a hurry. ” The other thing might be, “Why don’t they go get a job? I’m on my way to get a coffee to go to my job. They could go work.” I’m sure you know what the objections people have, that really, that keep our heart hard. Talk to that person. Really, quite honestly, talk to me. I’m in a hurry. I’m going to my job. I don’t have time for this.
LG: I think that mindset and that idea is very valid and very common, because it’s the infrastructure of our world. To dismantle that, we have to really go into our inner child. We have to go into when we were more souled and being human. And it’s important that we have to remind ourselves, I think it’s an intentional thing. It’s be intentional daily. Sometimes we’re so consumed in what to do next or even just being on the hamster wheel. I call life in this consistent thing, we just get on this hamster wheel, and we have to decide to separate from that and say you know what? We can be present daily.
I think that love is a discipline, so even showing up, it’s a discipline, like anything else. If you have a career, if you are a doctor, you’ve had to put in a lot of work. It’s a discipline to get to that space, to acquire that knowledge. And I think that being intentional and loving, even on a micro scale, is a discipline. And I think it’s a part of my spiritual practice, and it’s deciding that we’re adding to our spiritual practice.
Yes, there’s times when my life is derailed and there’s many things I should be doing, but I realized, what is more important than what’s in front of me? What’s more important? And sometimes it doesn’t sit well with me, the idea that I could have done something, but my hands were in my pockets and my mind was somewhere else.
I think the biggest issue is we miss the small moments that are the grand ones, and I think we have to remind ourselves that every time we’re too busy to show up for each other, to be loving, we have to decide that we’re not happy with that. I don’t know that many people who are happy with the state of the world that we’re in, and so in order to have a different world, we have to hold accountability on our habits. We have to understand our habits got us here collectively, and I think it’s a change of habits and it’s a decision to make those changes.
And I don’t think it has to be big. I think that it has to be small. With every time you go to a coffee shop, seeing if there’s anyone around that can’t afford a coffee. Even someone in line; it’s the most wonderful thing to spark up a conversation with someone next to me and say, “Hey, can I get you a coffee?” Who doesn’t love that feeling? It doesn’t matter where on the scale you sit, from privilege or to be underserved, who doesn’t like to feel loved and taken care of, even if it’s a fleeting moment? And how hard is that, to take five minutes?
TS: Now, I want to talk a little bit more, though, about this moment, because I think probably most of our listeners, we’ve been through it. You walk by, you don’t put a dollar or a couple dollars in a cup. You don’t buy the person a croissant, and then afterwards there’s a justification process, and that justification process could include things like, “I don’t like giving money to people, because what are the odds they’re going to spend it on dope or alcohol, or something like that? ” We have all these stories that we tell ourselves, but yet I also want to say there’s also this feeling of, “God, I feel a little hardhearted right now. I don’t feel very good, but I can’t contradict this story that I have even though I don’t even know if the story’s true.” So talk to me about that analysis that people go through that justify why we don’t give.
LG: I think that is probably the biggest issue, because, how can we sit in that mindset and say that we’re good people or that we are grateful? How can gratitude reside in that space if we aren’t—it’s an action. I don’t think you write what you’re grateful for in a journal, and you talk about all the things you’ve collected and hoarded. I think gratitude is an action, like love is, and so we have to understand that nothing about that sits in the space of gratitude and even spiritual oneness, to not take that moment.
In those places, we have to take accountability that we’re judgmental. When we judge people, we don’t know what people have gone through. It is the most beautiful space to go in, to see someone in front of you and to clean your mind of anything that they could be, so that you could just actually meet the person.
That’s what I have to do, and even with what you give, you cannot be attached to the outcome. The point isn’t that. I always tell people, if I give to ten people and nine of them use it for the wrong way, I’m more worried about missing the mark for the one that needed it and me not showing up when I could have been showing up, than the nine people. I’m not attached to that space. I’m attached to my duties to help serve and distribute, and to give and to practice gratitude.
So that’s a decision we have to make, and when you said that people don’t feel good, no one feels good withholding their love. I have not met one person who finds joy in that. What I’ve learned is there’s a prison. All we’re doing is putting chains on ourselves. And so what I’m asking people to do is you’re actually taking off the chains of judgment. You’re taking off the chains of—there’s so much energy put in resistance. The amount of energy that we put in resisting helping is taxing on our soul, because it’s betraying our soul.
That’s not our natural expression. That’s what society and the environment we’ve grown in has allowed us to grow accustomed to, and we identify as those things, but that’s not our core. That’s not anyone’s core. That’s what life has done to us, and I think that we have to take accountability and responsibility for deciding, do we want to still live that way? And is it sustainable?
Because I’m talking about real soul work, and I think it’s daily. I don’t think it’s just meditating and grounding. To me, the meditation, that grounding, that connectedness is when I’m reaching out to someone. When I’m seeing them with no judgment and I’m allowing them to show me who they are, and I’m showing them who I am by being vulnerable and willing to being disappointed. Willing to not have any connection to the outcome, but doing it because I have more love to give and it needs to go somewhere.
TS: Now, I want to dig a little further into this notion of gratitude being an action, because the practice of gratitude now, it’s popular. It’s been popularized. There’s science that supports it. It’s a popular practice, and in my gratitude journal at the end of the day I write down—I’m in bed now, in my comfortable bed with my whatever, down pillows and everything. And I’ve got my journal and my nice pen, and I’m writing down the three, four, five things that I’m grateful for. My children, the beautiful meal I had, the sun on my face today, whatever it is. I feel all good, and I’m like, “I love the practice of gratitude” But you’re talking about something different, and in the book, Love without Reason, you also express some questioning that the type of gratitude practice I just described, which just changed your brain—it does, in that moment. You feel good, but you’re saying no, that’s actually not good enough, in a certain way.
LG: It isn’t. I think that, that is, it’s a surface demand. I think it’s not connected to our soul. I think it’s connected to surface emotions we feel. I think that, to me, an act of gratitude is how I show up for life that’s been created. The gratitude of my life. Whoever the artist is that curated all of this, I’d like to honor that, and I think that honor comes from that expression of unconditional love. To me, that is what gratitude is connected to. Not all the things I have. Or if I’m grateful, then why aren’t I sharing?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is so many people are grateful for the wealth and abundance they’ve acquired, but they have not shared or distributed any of it, which is why none of it can make them happy. That’s what I’ve noticed. The people who have the most, that give the least, are the most miserable, and I think that, that comes from withholding.
We’re not meant to have everything to hoard. We’re meant to distribute and share, and I think that that gratitude comes from that sharing. That is the expression that we all should have something and we all have something to give. And it’s not measured in the amount, it’s the energy and intention. That’s why buying someone a coffee or handing someone a granola bar, just being thoughtful and intentional, to me, that is my act of gratitude. I’m grateful for life and everything that exists. I don’t just say it. I show it.
It’s like when someone has to say, “But you know I love you.” If someone has to constantly say that, it’s because none of their actions have delivered it. It’s only been a thought. And that gesture to me, I just feel that, that’s not an infinite source. I think it has its limitations. I can’t just tell someone I love them every day and not show them. What difference is that to showing up for the entire world? Being grateful for each other, to exist, to even have—I mean, no one wants to be in this world alone. We’re not even made to be that way, so why aren’t we honoring life on a daily basis?
People don’t create this create space of comfort, this resistance and disdain. I’ve noticed that energetically, people walking in that space, and I’m like, “But aren’t we here to share these moments and look at each other, and marvel in the fact that we both exist in this time?”
TS: OK LaRayia, but I’m also going to once again represent that withholding mind, and unfortunately, I know it well. I know it well, and part of it comes also from a place of, I’m afraid that I don’t have enough, so I don’t feel like I have enough to give, even though that’s not a rational calculation. It’s just a feeling of, I still don’t feel like I’ve banked enough for me and my family, so I don’t have this extra. And one of the really interesting parts when I was reading in Love Without Reason, you write that people who have less give a greater percentage of what they have than those who have the most. So you’ve really looked into this, and help me understand that. Why is it that people who actually have less give a greater percentage?
LG: Because what you have financially is not connected to your mentality on scarcity versus abundance. They’re very different, and I think a lot of times we equate abundance with the amount of money someone has and scarcity to what they don’t have, but I believe it’s a mindset. Mentally.
I know people who are homeless. I have watched homeless people give their last to someone else and say, “Something will come to me tomorrow.” I’ve watched it. And then you see someone with everything. They’ll die and leave everything to their cat, and helps not one person while they were living, because their mindset—and you have to decide where you sit. From abundance or scarcity, which one do you think contributes to your expression of love and giving? Which one’s connected to that?
It’s not what you have. It’s what you choose to do with it, and it’s mentally how you view what you have. People who have the most a lot of times still think they don’t have enough. Millionaires go to be billionaires and they try to be trillionaires. It’s like they always feel like they don’t have enough. But there’s such an emptiness in that game, because I think it’s still dealing with scarcity. And then there’s abundance, where people have had nothing, but felt like life was enough. Literally.
TS: You’ve worked with a lot of people who are interested in transforming a scarcity mindset. What works? What works to transform that mindset?
LG: Well, when I look at the root of it, I really truly believe the root is connected to issues of control, and I say that because issues of control is very disconnected from faith and trust. So from a spiritual practice and a spiritual principle, you cannot need this control and think you’re going to collaborate with miracles and infinite things. So it’s really another shift that has to happen, and I think it comes from the place of surrender and release.
Surrender isn’t just, “Oh my god, I’m going to do something different in my career.” Sometimes it’s I’m going to trust that, “Even if I gave everything away tomorrow,” and I’m not saying having to physically do that, but mentally you have to already release things before you do. And I say that, because that’s also a prison, when we sit in a space where it’s like, “Oh my god, I don’t have enough. Who knows about tomorrow?” You don’t trust that whoever created the ocean, the moon and the sun, and all that’s here won’t fill your stream, that your cup is too big to be filled. I think that that concept is, again, scarcity opposed to abundance, control.
If you come from a place of trust, so many things we’re not responsible for, like existing, and yet we want to have trust issues now that we’re here? We can’t figure out when the soul enters the womb, we can’t figure out when we depart, what happens next, but we’re going to start trying to reach and grab things now? I just think it’s such a false space to be in, and it’s a prison, and it’s a lot of misdirected energy. This energy should be going into the idea that abundance is possible, and for everyone. Even coming from the mental space of, if I’ve been blessed, why wouldn’t I want to share? Because every single person that’s been blessed, it’s been a gift from somewhere else.
And that’s a thing I think people forget. It’s like you remember when every blessing that’s come to you, and opportunities. I mean, blessings could be a job that you weren’t qualified for, but someone took a chance and allowed you to actually grow into the position, or a discount for something you really needed for school, or your parents paying for your education. These are all blessings and they came from someone being generous.
Why do we stop with our generosity, but we accept everything? That sounds like a taker and not a giver, and we wonder why we’re miserable. We wonder why we’re pained with all the beautiful things around us. We can’t find the beauty because we’re locking it away. The beauty is the distribution, the beauty is the sharing, the beauty is releasing of the chains. That’s the difference. You’ve got to surrender and let go and trust, and that contributes to your spirit’s expression.
TS: Now, LaRayia, you mentioned earlier in our conversation your grandmother, and how your grandmother was this figure of unconditional love and this overflow of love. But I know from reading Love Without Reason that you also had a difficult, very difficult relationship with your birth mother, so it’s not like you were just surrounded in this early childhood experience of unconditional love everywhere you turned. In fact, it was a pretty mixed environment. So I’m curious, what in you gravitated? Why did you gravitate towards this positive role model, and not—in your own self-reflection, and not land up, instead, “Oh, I’m going to be bitter because of the experiences I had with my birth mom?” You were exposed to both early on.
LG: Yes. I think that was the gift. Being exposed to a woman who allowed bitterness and resentment and lack of love eat her alive. I got to see the road to that. I got to see what it looks like to withhold love. I got to see when the intention of love should be love, and yet it’s destruction. I wanted no parts, because it didn’t bring life. It took life, and I saw that. I had a grandmother who breathed life into you and I had a mother who would take your spirit if she could. I wanted no parts in that.
From an early age, it was simple, what felt right and what didn’t feel like it was spirit.
It didn’t feel good to me. It didn’t feel good to not be loving. It didn’t matter that I have gone through so much in my life. I have endured beyond the measure of pain, but I didn’t want to give that to someone else. That’s not a gift. And I think that, for me, I didn’t want to be a part of something that wasn’t a gift, and love is the gift. It’s not being that way, and I think that the biggest gift we can give ourselves is forgiveness and release, and I wanted to do that and I did.
And for me, you get to a point where—because obviously you go through trials and tribulations, and you learn moments where you’re angry and you’re hurt, and then you realize, why would you carry that weight? It doesn’t matter what you’ve gone through, if you see two people being in the space, you can’t tell who the victim is and the attacker. You don’t know when people are being the exact same energy. I didn’t want to be a part of that. I chose love because love felt like the closest thing to my spirit, and anything outside of that I wanted no parts, and I’ve seen what it does.
Look at the destruction of the world. That was a micro version of what’s going on collectively in the world. It’s a choice. You have two women who choose to be who they want to be. They show up, and you decide, do you want to be a good person? Do you want to withhold your love? Do you want people that you love to not be able to find the love inside of you, or do you want to make it clear and transparent by dealing with your things? Showing up and doing the work? You decide that.
I had a very hard upbringing. I went through hell and back. But the difference was I trusted that love was enough. My grandmother’s example was enough for me to endure half of my life in hell, because I got a glimpse of what love could be, and that was enough. That was enough. That was the mustard seed.
TS: Now, LaRayia, I know that as part of making a documentary, you actually spent 43 days on Skid Row. And I want to understand more, first of all, what inspired you to spend 43 days on Skid Row?
LG: I think that was like a personal pilgrimage. When my grandmother passed away, I was really trying to make sense of not having that energy in this world, because I felt like growing up, that energy justified all the darkness the world could have, because I knew that there was a contrast. I knew everything wasn’t that way, and so for me it was—I really had to, I was looking for the light, and it was her, and in my meditation I kept praying and just connecting with her spirit, and she told me to go to Skid Row. That I would find the answers. And through sometimes you do things where you have no other choice. Sometimes you take irrational spaces. I knew that I didn’t want to sit in pain. I knew I didn’t want to have resentment, I didn’t want to have anger for the world. I didn’t want any of that.
So I just followed what I heard in my spirit—going back to spiritual practices, that came up in my meditation, and so I went. And there’s always been comfort when I go and serve the community, because I’m just, everything’s washed away. It’s soul to soul. When I go there, it’s not about status, money, anything that you could have. It’s about people sharing space together, and time. And so I pitched a tent and I decided to document it, because I didn’t know where I was being led.
And that was one of the most transformative moments, 43 days in my life, because, the thing I’ve seen. I saw life, I saw death, I saw resentment. I’ve seen everything that this world is experiencing, existing, I’ve seen in 43 days without one corner unturned. I’ve seen death, I’ve seen life. It was the most extreme space I have been in. With all of it, with all of the chaos and the things that come from being in such an intensive environment, the one consistent thing I saw was beauty.
I saw humanity in every corner, in every person. I have seen people lost and become found. I have seen people take their last breath. It was the most transformative moment for me, because I went there thinking, maybe this is another moment I can serve and help, and what I gained the most is they helped heal my broken heart. That experience literally lifted the weight of losing the most important person in my life, and it showed me that—
TS: Can you tell me, how did that happen? How did that experience lift the weight off your heart?
LG: Because I remembered, first of all, life and death is but a door. It’s a sheet we walk through, but that life goes on and that sometimes we can be blinded by our own suffering, and I didn’t get … I didn’t spend a day being blinded. I looked up and I went into the world and saw that there are people to be loved, and that, I learned that ,even with that time might be over with my grandmother, but there’s so much love to give.
And people showed up. People showed up in their own pain. People are hurting, so I felt the most connected to them, because they had been broken down by the world and I had been broken down from a loss, so it was all these broken people collectively coming together, still just trying to show up for each other. Being kind.
The first week I got there, everyone was so excited from the community, that I know that they had literally rewired a telephone pole so that I could have electricity in my tent. They spent all day trying to learn how to rewire. Something so simple and so thoughtful. Everyone was bringing me things, just wanting to connect and share. And it was so beautiful, because people with nothing, with abundance mentally—how they shared, how they gave, how they showed up consistently, all day long. People wanting to bring me blankets, even though I didn’t really have much. I Literally just took a tent and a yoga mat. I didn’t take anything. Like one pillow.
And people just showing up and being present, and the amount of love that was just present, I’ve never seen that any other place. I’ve never seen that level of love in 43 consistent days in any place I’ve been in this world. And it was so healing, because it was resilient spirits still showing up, being crushed. I saw very hard things. It wasn’t just easy. I’m watching police brutality, I’m watching overdoses happen. I’m watching everything that you could think of, and yet all I could fathom and think about were souls trying. Trying to show up, trying to be better, trying to be good, trying to heal.
I just had never seen so much—just the will, the audacity to just show up for life and be crushed every day. It felt like sacrificial lambs that were just still showing up for the war, still showing up trying, smiling, dancing, putting on music, celebrating, waking up.
That was one of the most spiritual spaces I’ve been in. The most spiritual people I’ve seen have not been in wellness conferences. It’s been on the streets with people really at war, and still showing up and having something to smile about, and not angry at the world.
They’re not even the ones angry at the world. With the most—they have the most right to be. It was humbling. I felt, if they could be that way, I would be able to get past this pain. And I didn’t want to be a prisoner of it, and they helped me with that. They showed me how to show up even when you’re in pain, and being loving. It was just beautiful. It was hard, but it was beautiful to see people and spirits that way.
TS: Now, you went on this pilgrimage with your tent and a yoga mat. You didn’t bring any money with you of any kind, so—
LG: No money.
TS: Just double checking. I don’t like to be more than a few feet away from my wallet at any given moment, so—I’m exaggerating, but still, that idea sounds terrifying to me, but that’s OK. How did you eat? What did you eat? How did you get through 43 days?
LG: Well, first of all, experiencing the food there, I always knew we had amazing food at Lunch on Me, what we do, because we do vegan, organic. But when I tell you, I understood the magnitude of what we do. Even me, I didn’t know. I just showed up and wanted to help. I learned it from being in the space of going into million-dollar nonprofits that are feeding expired food that was making me throw up.
The food was the worst part, literally, and I understood when people would say, “I waited all day to eat your food.” I didn’t understand it till I was going there and getting sick off so much food that was being distributed, that I realized that’s why people wait. Some people have waited two days to get our food, and I realized just the magnitude of how much love is not being put into the infrastructures of nonprofits and showing up for our communities. That was the most difficult part, because I literally was sick every day when it came to the food.
The beautiful part was when churches and stuff would show up, and they would give water and things like that, so you’d see people trying. The beautiful part was I was seeing people making an effort to show up and help, and that was absolutely beautiful, but the resources for healthy, fresh food, good things, it’s just—there wasn’t love in that space.
And people knew it. Someone had said that to me one day, and said, “I can tell how someone feels about us by the food that they serve us, and sometimes I think that they hate us.” And his name is Scotty, he told me that, and I understood it, because love is in the details. I got to see that the nonprofits aren’t putting enough love into making sure that we’re nourishing each other. It’s just “Here, eat this. This is subsistence, so that you don’t die,” and it’s like you don’t get any choices.
And that was the difference too. I learned, because, for us, we ask people, “Would you like this or this?” And they’re not used to choices. They’re used to, you get what you have. Don’t complain, and I just feel like we shouldn’t even treat humans that way. It just doesn’t feel good in the spirit, and I learned that I kind of just had to just what they have.
And that was the hardest part for me, because I do like to eat clean. I don’t like to eat crazy stuff, and I was eating expired food. It was pretty bad. It was absolutely terrible. That was probably the worst part, because you just realize that there’s no value set for people who are poor. They’re just treated as though they should have scraps and that’s it, and that’s really what I was eating for 43 days. I had to panhandle. I was learning all the tricks of the trade to be able to live. I was recycling to get a couple dollars.
But I didn’t have just water. You had to wait till someone showed up with water. It was very interesting to be in that space where you realize how many missed opportunities, where people could be more loving or giving better resources, and they’re not, because they’re viewing the people they’re helping as lower than them. There’s no integrity there, and I learned that we were the only place I’d ever seen integrity when it came to food being served.
TS: You mentioned that at Lunch on Me, you’re serving fresh food, organic food, and I know you’ve come up with some really creative ways to help restaurants and grocery stores not waste food that’s on the verge of being wasted, but instead bring it to Lunch on Me and then you serve it to people. And I’d like to understand more how you set up the Lunch on Me model, and if you think it’s replicable. Could we have Lunch on Me in every city?
LG: Yes. I think that the blueprint of what we’ve done has been very unique in that way, and I figured that part out, because I do like to research. The one thing I like to do is, when I look at a problem, I think about how did we get here? What was the roadmap? I try to go to the origin of problems.
And what I started doing, what happened was I wanted to understand waste in America, and I was like, you know what? There’s so much abundance. I worked in the food industry. I have seen the waste, so what’s happening on a numbers scale? And that’s honestly how I started.
I started doing the research. I came across the fact that 40 percent of food in America never reaches the table, and I also learned, in the nonprofit world, they aren’t really concerned with giving people healthy food. Nutrition is a whole other thing. So what they want are things that don’t expire. They want canned food.
Think about it. Every person that’s ever been exposed to nonprofit, nine times out of ten what they recognize is a canned food drive during the holidays, right? That is what people understand. So all I thought of was, there’s 40 percent of food being wasted, but where’s all the good stuff going? If 40 percent is food, it’s not 40 percent canned food. It’s where are the fruits and vegetables? Where are the things?
That’s what I started digging and doing my research in, because I’m like OK, I understand that it’s a headache to deal with perishables. It’s a very hard infrastructure. We are doing ten times more work than anyone else, because we’re collecting perishables, we’re collecting things that [are] time sensitive when it comes to cold-pressed juices and the things we take.
I put together a model to make that work, but my whole focus was, if 40 percent is going bad, I want the 40 percent of all the good stuff going bad. That was my focus, and so for us it’s been like now we have fruits, vegetables, adaptogens, tinctures. We waste so much food in America. And the food—and it’s so crazy, that you would think with all these progressive companies, that they would have came up with ideas, and no. It was little old me showing them a way to make this possible and work, because the food that I’m talking about, the healthy stuff, was going to landfills. It wasn’t going anywhere else, and other nonprofits weren’t even taking it,
So you’re talking about six years ago I was doing this. I’d created this infrastructure and vegan wasn’t even a commercialized word yet. So they were just like, “Wait, you just want the fruits and vegetables?” It was such a mind-boggling concept. No one understood, because there was this idea that healthy food was for the elite, for the rich. There’s this idea that if you’re eating healthy, if you’re eating clean, just price-point wise, you have to be at a certain bracket. And for me I’m like, “But wait, it all grows naturally. Why aren’t we all able to eat healthy food?”
And so my focus was that. I’m going to make sure—and so within, when we first started, we grew in a year and a half from 500 meals a month to 10,000 a month. And that was just off of—70 percent of the food that we distribute is redirected waste, and 30 percent is purchased. Just because, when you’re dealing with redirected waste, we had to make sure that we’re able to purchase things to make a full meal. It’s like a potluck. We have to work with what we have and get really creative. It’s a lot of strategy, soul in a zero-waste kitchen.
So that’s literally how I started doing this work. I started it like being an artist. I started being creative, figuring out how we can maximize resources, and figuring out—I mean, we’ve been eco-friendly and green for six years. We started that way. We were giving out plant-based vegan food day one, and that’s because I had already been eating that way for almost ten years. So in my mind it was, I’m not going to give someone less than. I’m just going to give them what I eat, and if I like cold-pressed juices and fresh things, why wouldn’t I serve that? And that was very questionable too. You have a lot of people who’d eat that way, but they’re not sharing that. They’re bringing cans. It’s like, you don’t eat this at home. Why are you giving this away?
And so that’s what we did. I figured a way to do it, and again, 40 percent of food. We can end hunger with waste alone, just waste alone. So it’s deciding that we care enough to make sure that people have access, so no one goes hungry. There’s no reason for people to be hungry. Not in America. I can’t say that the model would work in every country, but in America, this is solvable problem. But no one’s taking the initiative.
TS: Just to make sure that our listeners fully understand the model, you have an outlet—you call it a bodega, in Los Angeles. So that’s where people, they can either get free meals or pay 99 cents. How does that work? How do you distribute the food to people who need it?
LG: Yes, so we basically created—our bodega was a melting pot space that allows anyone. So the whole focus was, before creating the bodega we were focused on homeless and foster youth, making sure they had food. All that’s happened, I also learned one in six children go home to an empty fridge. So there’s also disparity that’s happening, and lack of resources, that we don’t necessarily see because they have access to showers and things like that. Not everyone wears poverty the same.
And so I created the bodega where I wanted to create an organic 99 cent store that allowed everyone a chance to eat, and I call it the Goodwill model of food. So when I looked at the infrastructure of Goodwill, what is Goodwill? It’s literally a store based off of recyclable things, right? An entire—we’re the Goodwill of food, and if Goodwill could do that with food, I felt like I could … if they could do that with clothing, I felt I could do that with food.
And that was the whole idea, is this can work. It can be a sliding scale price point, just like Goodwill is, right? Everything that’s donated, you figure out what’s a dollar? And it’s wonderful because we get access to so many different things where sometimes you can get ashwagandha for a dollar. Adaptogens, chlorella. All these wonderful things. Cold-pressed juices. We sell Health-Ade Kombuchas for $2. We’re partnered with them.
So we’re able to get all this wonderful food. Think of literally what Whole Foods carries. We’re able to get this food and allow everyone to eat, and it’s not about money. When someone doesn’t have money, they can still get a meal. It doesn’t matter. If someone wants to give, because there’s a lot of people that just can’t afford that type of food, so they come to buy things and that money goes right back into the programming.
So the bodega is this melting pot of being able to distribute food. It’s our Goodwill model and it allows our programs to run, because we’re independent. We’re not government funded or affiliated. We’re completely independent. We literally work with individuals, angel investors, corporate sponsors, and that’s how we’re able to do what we do, and our bodega was our blueprint. We’re going to be opening a second one. We’re working on opening one in Jersey next, but my goal is to have one in every city.
TS: Right. That was my question. Just like most cities have I think Goodwill outlets, that’s the vision here, huh?
TS: It’s amazing. There’s no reason it couldn’t work, LaRayia. No reason.
LG: I feel that way.
TS: I want to let our listeners know that if you’re interested in learning more about Lunch on Me it’s lunchonme.org, and if you’re inspired to donate and support what they’re doing, please do.
Now, LaRayia, I want to talk about this phrase you have, you mentioned it, “micro gestures.” That we can make these small gestures. That it’s not about necessarily saying as a person, “I’m going to wake up today and do what I can to end world hunger,” but “I could do these small things.”
You mentioned in our conversation, it stuck with me in reading the book as well, that a person could stock their car with water bottles and granola bars, and then you always have something to give out that’s healthy, and you don’t have to go through that whole mental calculation of, “What do I do and where’s my money going?” It’s like, “Here’s a granola bar and a water bottle.” That’s great. What are some of your other favorite micro gestures of generosity that people can start exercising as we grow our discipline here? Discipline of love.
LG: Oh my god, yes. One of the things, of course, I love to do, is I’m an avid coffee drinker, so I always bring up the coffee shop. Because every time I go to a coffee shop, as simple as it is, I always buy someone a coffee, whether they’re homeless, whether it’s a kid studying in the corner, I always like to get someone something. And I think that, that’s just the awareness of my environment. Seeing someone and saying hey—or even at a gas station. A lot of times, depending on what kind of city you live in, Los Angeles or New York, very common to have homeless people frequenting the gas stations, the grocery stores. And a lot of times, even when I go into a gas station, I’ll say, “Hey, I’m grabbing water and gas. Can I get you something inside?”
Something super simple. And I’ve learned nine times out of ten, something as simple as a water, or someone wanting an orange juice. Those small moments just … It’s the idea of picking up a tab and just taking care of someone. Very simple ways to do it. It’s showing up, even if you work, if you work from a cubicle—I know it’s a little different, because of social distancing now. Life’s crazy. But offering to get lunch for someone that you sit next to. Something as simple as “Hey, I’m grabbing this.”
Or sometimes, a lot of times my favorite concept is, it’s beautiful to give when asked. It’s much more impactful to give unasked through understanding. And my favorite thing, I feel like that is one of my favorite things, being attentive to peoples’ needs by just showing up and doing something, whether it’s learning someone’s favorite drink or someone at your job, if you know you always see them with this drink, bringing it one day.
Things like that, they’re such small gestures, but they literally shift and redirect someone’s entire day. How many people have worked all day long and maybe are craving their favorite drink or snack? Couldn’t go get it, but someone paid enough attention to see what they usually get, because we are creatures of habit, and you just bring it. I do that all the time. Our team and our community, even with our team, if someone goes to pick something up, if we’re all going to an event or whatever, no one ever comes back without bringing everyone something. And it’s something simple, but our team does it and it’s been such an impactful thing. Where it’s five of us, so every person will buy five of something, and just sharing.
It’s something super simple and it can be done. If you have kids in school, just bringing something for a teacher. Just honoring, who’s teaching your children? Being thoughtful in that way. I’m big on getting people massages and going to spas, so a lot of times I’ll give people gift cards and things like that.
And everyone can decide what that micro gesture is for them, but those are really big things to me. Handwritten letters. I still write letters and notes and cards to people, because it’s thoughtful. It’s intentional, and they’re small things. You don’t have to do something big. Sometimes, even baking, if you’re a baker, people pass out cookies. That was something that happened back in the day, where people would bring their neighbors cookies and food. I just feel like we have to go back to our basics. This isn’t a new model, but it’s really a lost one.
TS: One of the chapters in Love Without Reason is called “Micro Gestures Will Change the World.” And I thought, when I saw that, “Micro gestures, really? These things that you’re talking about, they’re going to change the world? LaRayia, how do you see that?”
LG: Yes, because they change us. We make up the world. If we’re changed, the byproduct is the collective changing. And I think that’s the difference is, we separate the idea of what is the world? It exists of all the souls that encompass it, right? So these micro gestures, you’re talking about internal work.
Every time we grow and we become better, doesn’t everyone around us benefit from that? When I learned to be more patient, when I learned forgiveness, when I learned how to just overcome obstacles with grace and be gracious to others, who benefits from that? Our community, our environment, our family, our coworkers. So that’s what changes the world. When we change. And I think that we need to not put it on the world as though it’s this separate thing, but it’s really us.
That’s how it changes, because when we’re all doing this work, if we’re all walking around being intentional and kind to each other, and seeing each other, and not too busy to hold the door or buy someone a coffee, energetically, what does that carry? What does that transmute? How many of us just need sometimes, that moment? I feel like every single person has witnessed a moment where someone has been kind and loving, and it lightens your heart, those gracious acts. It’s not just you doing it, but people around you. You’re setting an example, a precedent of how to be.
TS: You talk about how in enacting these micro gestures, the energy of exchange is primary. The energy we bring to it. So if I have the water bottles and granola in my car, I can’t just throw them out while I’m driving. It’s the energy of the exchange is critical. What are your guidelines for successful energetic exchange that will really lift up both people?
LG: Well, the first thing I always tell people is we have to remember that every time we approach someone it’s a 50/50 chance. You never know. All of us have guards. All of us have guarded, have been guarded towards people who love us. All of us have. So we also have to recognize that sometimes people are afraid to accept that type of love, because it is an act of vulnerability.
Nine times out of ten I get a positive response, but we have to remember there are moments that it might not be that, because we don’t know where people are. And what I’ve learned is, when I go in, I’m not connected to the outcome, and if know the outcome could be someone rejecting love, I start with grace and empathy, because they’re withholding the best thing. They’re withholding a moment that can be shared.
And a lot of times when I’m rejected, I’ve gotten to a space—I’ve practiced this so much where the rejection actually inspires me to show up again for the same person. But a lot of times when I am rejected I tell them, “It’s OK. I love you and I’ll try again tomorrow.” And even that grace—because a lot of times when we’re discouraged what happens? We fight fire with fire, or we’ll get discouraged and don’t want to do it. No. Sometimes, even to break that barrier, it takes time, but it happens.
I’ve never met someone who doesn’t give in when someone’s consistent. Just being loving, and that’s what I’ve learned. Sometimes the difficult ones are the most wonderful, because they’re protecting the most genuine, innocent, childlike love. The hard ones, they’re the soft ones.
And so when we go in, we cannot be attached, and we also have to come from a place of joy and excitement, and it’s not easy. It gets easier as you do it. That’s like any practice, right? What you practice becomes a habit, and then practiced habits become innate. Then it gets to the point where it’s with no thought. It’s who you are. You’re not separate from it. I don’t know how to not show up and give someone something, or bring gifts, or help and care, but it started with being OK when moments happen and people reject that love, have empathy for them, because we’ve all been there. And that has to do with pain. That has to do with the unhealed part, so when someone does that just remember we don’t know all their battles, and even if we don’t know their battles, we can still keep that energy and hold it for them.
That’s what I do all the time. I’m like, “I still love you boo.” You just never know what someone’s going to do, but most of the time—because energetically, when you can get to that piece, it’s going to be—your interactions change, because people feel the warmness from you. They can feel it. It’s undeniable, because what you do, that carries you. Your energy, your aura, everything changes. When people feel that warm energy. I get that a lot. I get the, “I feel your warmness, I feel your kindness,” because I’ve been that more than I’ve been anything else. And it’s a practice. It is the discipline.
And don’t be discouraged, because sometimes love takes time, but it’s worth it, and have the peace of knowing you’re doing your part. Don’t worry about the outcome, because you’ll have rewarding moments where people just let you in. Everyone’s different. If you’ve done this with ten people, you’re going to get a different response from every person. That’s why you don’t give up easily. You can’t give up on the first try. Sometimes the first try is super easy. Sometimes it’s difficult. Try again.
You have to show up. You can’t be discouraged. You have to know that what you’re doing is the right thing. You’re bringing love. When is that ever wrong? You can’t look at it from a space of, “Oh we’re taking advantage.” No. You cannot, no one can take advantage of a love that’s coming from an infinite source.
Again, that scarcity versus abundance. I don’t look at my love as there’s only so much. I look at it as there’s more to give. It’s infinite. You cannot deplete me of it. It replenishes itself through every action. This is all mental reframing. We have to show up in that way and understand that that yields different results.
TS: I have to say, LaRayia, that as I read Love Without Reason: The Lost Art of Giving a F*ck, what I found, and it built as I continued to read the book, was I felt my heart continuing to expand, and, to be honest with you, it hurt a little. It hurt.
TS: Yes. Not in a bad way, but like an ache kind of thing, like an aching growth in the center of my chest. And like, when you talked about this sense of being imprisoned by our own withholding, and as I felt the prison chains dropping as I was reading the book and I was hearing all of your stories, and there are sections of the book that are called “heart work,” that give you reflections and practices, and things you can deeply inquire into and consider. I was like, “Oh my god, I am having a heart workout here in the book—”
TS: And it did its work on me, I have to tell you. And I have the uncorrected proof in my hand, and in the back there’s a headline: “How to show up and make a difference in a world that tells you not to care.” And I took a moment when I read that headline, and I thought, “Does the world tell us not to care? Is the world telling us that? How did we all get this way?” I wonder if you can just explain that a little bit. How did the world tell us not to care?
LG: I think that it’s a cultural thing, right? You have Instagram, you have social media. We have technology that’s integrated into our lives now. It’s not just us. Our world is very, very digital, and we are … there’s so much more separation. We have common interests and collective, but there’s also the segregation of, what do we do when we’re on Instagram or in these spaces? We’re dealing with only like-minded people, only a certain type of space, so there’s still this separation that’s happening.
And we’re also taught, even this movement of self-love. I think that there is self-love is so important, but I also think, just like the gratitude journal thing, I feel like in some of the self-love spaces we’re also taking away the idea of loving others and just making it about us. I’ve seen that a lot too.
So a lot of things are very, it’s a fine line and it’s a dance. We have to energetically be mindful of that, and I think that the caring part comes from the idea that the world has taught us we only care for our families—even the idea that we’re separate, in the context of our tribe is only our family, our blood. There’s this idea that—blood over everything, and there’s … that already creates this idea that we’re only to be with a certain number of people, right? Naturally, like when you said, “I only have enough for my family.” Just this idea that we’re beings that are meant to be together. First of all, we’re not even separate, independent beings. We’re very codependent collectively. I don’t care how independent you are. It’s in our nature to be together.
And so the world separates those ideas. There’s a lot of separation when it comes to showing up: the idea of scarcity, the idea of heartbreak, the idea of loving the wrong person. There’s all these concepts of separation and resistance to help. The idea of the world problems being out of our hands. There are so many places that support for us to not care. It’s the idea that we’re small and not huge. That we’re so small.
We’re always talking about—I see the quote all the time where it’s we’re literally a drop in the ocean. There’s all these things that subconsciously tell us that we don’t have so much power and authority over our lives and how we’re showing up for it. A lot of things make it seem like even circumstances—that we try to control the things that are out of our control, and the things that we do have control of, like showing up, like heart work, like micro gestures, those are the things we don’t even look at, because we’re so focused on the things we can’t control.
Like the pandemic. We’re so focused on something that microscopically we can’t see. We’re fighting a battle that we can’t even see, but we’re not showing up for each other. We’re not checking in. Even just that, the separation now from the pandemic has shown me people are treating each other like they’re giant germs. The way people are just pushing—no one’s hugging. The state we’re in right now is probably the most taxing I’ve seen in my lifetime. We’re separated. People don’t even know how to hug.
So there’s a lot of things that I think need to be reframed and looked at, only because I don’t know if it’s in collaboration with our soul expression. Life isn’t. Just even the goal-oriented me-centric world. Is that really connected to how our souls are? We’re tribal beings. We’re meant to be together and in clusters, and that is our true expression, and we’re all isolated right now.
TS: OK. I just have one final question for you, LaRayia.
TS: One final question. One of the big things I got out of Love Without Reason is that when we give generously, we’re not even really doing it, in the way the book describes, for the other person, for that person who wants the croissant. That we get so much out of it, and that’s the note I want to end on. How your understanding of this lost art of giving a fuck ends up giving so much to us, to each one of us.
LG: When you come from your soul’s expression, then your cup runneth over. When you come from that space energetically, that’s science, the chain reaction, right? What you give comes right back. That’s karma. What principle doesn’t talk about this infinity side? This circle, cyclical circle of everything returning. And what I’ve learned is, that expression, every time I give, every ounce of what I’ve given has been returned to me. And you can feel it energetically. And you feel it, because you don’t have chains on you to keep you from the feeling.
That’s the difference is, you’re removing these chains and you’re expressing yourself freely. I think that comes from the innate space of—I give an example in the book, when children play in the sandbox. I’ve never met a child, a young child, who’s giving for credit, or to be good or to look good. They didn’t write a charity to make themselves seem good. It’s a different thing. They share because it’s natural. They know no other way. It’s literally, they’re literally sitting in their expression. It’s not with calculated thought. It’s being present, and there’s a gift. When you see the children playing, the gift is being open enough to seeing someone and saying, “I want to join you,” and what happens? What’s the gift? The company of another person.
It’s the same with giving. It is such an energetic heart exchange. Every time I give, it literally feels like an infinity sign from one person’s heart to mine. I can feel it, and it feels so safe and it feels … it’s such a renewing feeling.
And what I’ve learned is it’s a high. That type of giving, that type of helping, what I’ve learned is you get addicted to it. You like sharing and giving and helping. And I think that once you get to a place where you realize the chains weren’t the gift, you don’t want to go back to that, and you realize you want to be a part of the exchange. And it literally fills your cup and it runneth over.
TS: I’ve been speaking with LaRayia Gaston. She’s the founder of Lunch on Me, and with Sounds True she’s written a gorgeous heart opening new book. It’s called Love Without Reason: The Lost Art of Giving a F*ck. Learn more about Lunch on Me at lunchonme.org, and LaRayia, I’ve so, so totally enjoyed the infinity exchange of getting to be with you. What a gift to me, and a gift to the Insights at the Edge listeners. Thank you. Thank you so much.
LG: Thank you. It was so wonderful being here, and I loved your questions. You’re great.
TS: Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at SoundsTrue.com/podcast. And, if you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and also, if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world.