Lens on Leadership: Irene Li

July 19, 2021 Updated: January 18, 2024

From our Board of Directors, to our Culinary Panel, to our Friends Advisory Board, we’re fortunate to count so many strong leaders among our lot! Every month, we introduce you to one of them.

This month, it’s Irene Li: Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ Culinary Board member and supporter. She is the Co-Owner and Chef of Mei Mei, which operates in the Greater Boston area.

How did you first get introduced to Lovin’ Spoonfuls? 

Seeing the trucks driving around Boston! Plus, we were SO honored to be invited to the Ultimate Tailgate starting in 2013 and Brian Mercury’s OVERKILL event that same year. As a new food truck business, it was incredible to be welcomed into Boston’s restaurant community at events like these.

What is it about Lovin’ Spoonfuls and/or the issue of wasted food that speaks to you personally or professionally?  

I grew up in Brookline and was privileged to never personally experience food insecurity. As I’ve learned more about social inequality, it’s become very clear to me that, with most things, the problem is not that we lack the resources. The problem is that they’re distributed unequally. Food waste is the perfect example of this because we produce enough food to feed everyone. The way Lovin’ Spoonfuls connects abundance with need has always spoken to me on a personal level.

I love the way that Spoonfuls’ work is so tangible. Food waste can be very abstract, but seeing a truck full of bananas really brings it home for me as a consumer and a chef. It ties together these huge issues of social inequality, environmental destruction, budgeting and spending, all in a way that you can see and touch. 

How have you involved your restaurant in our work? 

Mei Mei team members have had so much fun participating in the Ultimate Tailgate year after year and contributing dumpling class tickets, cookbooks, and other treats to help fundraise. And, when we have surplus products or ingredients, we always call Spoonfuls first. Prior to COVID, I also had the opportunity to provide cooking demos and workshops to a variety of community groups in Boston, which was a very special way to connect with home cooks and empower them in their kitchens.

What are a couple of tips you have for fellow chefs committed to wasting less food? 

For me, it’s all in the planning. If you have standby menu items and you know there will be scraps, off cuts, or waste, develop a plan that allows you to utilize everything. Tracking waste is also a great way to get everyone in the restaurant involved in your goals around food waste. Setting up a scoreboard and some small incentives around reducing waste can be a fun team effort.

What are a few ways people can support restaurants/restaurant workers as we enter the next phase of pandemic “reopening?”

Tip well. The cheaper the restaurant, the higher I tip. 

Support small and locally-owned restaurants. If you’re not sure if a restaurant is a chain, look it up.

If you order takeout, avoid the big third parties and use Toast or Chownow. Or, call the restaurant and ask if there is a favorable delivery option. 

Tell us something exciting going on at Mei Mei!

We’re evolving Mei Mei into a dumpling company and our new dumpling machine just arrived. It can make 10,000 dumplings an hour! Look for us at your local farmers’ market.

For more from Irene and Mei Mei, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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