Community//

Alison Mountford of Ends+Stems: “I’m on a mission to reduce household food waste; Choosing to waste less food will have a ripple effect across our communities, our local governments, and eventually across the entire nation and globe”

This is not a theoretical question for me; it’s my daily work! I’m on a mission to reduce household food waste and help people cook at home with less stress while saving money. Choosing to waste less food will have a ripple effect across our communities, our local governments, and eventually across the entire nation […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and though they are reviewed for adherence to our guidelines, they are submitted in their final form to our open platform. Learn more or join us as a community member!

This is not a theoretical question for me; it’s my daily work! I’m on a mission to reduce household food waste and help people cook at home with less stress while saving money. Choosing to waste less food will have a ripple effect across our communities, our local governments, and eventually across the entire nation and globe. There are a billion people without enough to eat though we produce 3x enough food to feed everyone…we just waste it. If everyone at home were a little more aware of this and how their actions compound to exacerbate the problem, we could begin to fix the systemic issues that distribute food so unevenly. AND we might be able to mitigate the effects of climate change in time to preserve life as we know it for future generations.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alison Mountford. Alison is the Founder and CEO of Ends+Stems, a meal planning service designed to reduce household food waste and stop the effects of climate change. Alison turned 15 years of professional chef and entrepreneurial experience into a solution to help eliminate both weeknight dinner stress and food waste in one clever step. Alison is a passionate problem solver and approachable leader with a dual vision; to get households cooking again and to save the planet. Before building Ends+Stems, Alison founded Square Meals in 2005, one of San Francisco’s first prepared meal delivery companies. Square Meals was first to market and helped define the trend of chef-prepared meals delivered to your door. For 10 years, Alison grew Square Meals into a successful cafe and catering company and had the opportunity to cook for celebrities, politicians, and many influential companies. After selling Square meals, Alison had a short stint as Procurement Director for a food tech company, solidifying her passion for reducing food waste. Alison has been named a Rubicon Waste Fit Champion, was a finalist for the Roddenberry Foundation fellowship, and has appeared on many podcasts and radio shows, and works as a food waste consultant.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Alison! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in high school, my mother worked as a tutor in a culinary school. Over Thanksgiving and some other holidays, she invited some of the international chefs to eat and cook with us. It was the first time cooking looked like art to me. I was intrigued by how creative they were and how they moved through the kitchen so confidently. The two chefs I remember most clearly were Jamaican and Korean, and they shared stories of their family food traditions. Fast forward about a decade, and I had graduated from college and was working a random sales job; I was looking for direction in my career. I came across an article about starting a personal chef business which spoke to another interest of mine. The idea of combining food and entrepreneurship was new to me, but I knew I would pursue it instantly. Four weeks later, I was in culinary school, drafting my first business plan.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I have a four-year-old, and the entrepreneurial lifestyle often blends into your family life. One week, I was presenting a food waste lesson at a local school, and my daughter came with me. The following weekend, I had a booth at the farmer’s market, and on the way there, my daughter said from the back “mom, are we going to talk about food waste again?” A day later at the dinner table, she reprimanded her one-year-old brother for throwing food on the floor saying “mama’s working hard so we can’t waste food. It’s not good for Earth.” I obviously think she’s adorable, but her understanding of the lesson and my mission are incredible. I never feel guilty about working and parenting, sometimes at the same time, because I know I’m teaching her to stand up for what you believe in and to work hard to make things better around you.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My first business was a prepared meal delivery company. I was learning everything for the first time while growing this business, and I was very hesitant to spend more money than I made, so I felt chronically underfunded. I had heard the trope “it takes money to make money,” but that was difficult to put into action, especially when I knew I had the skills and could do everything myself for free. I eventually learned that doing everything yourself for free is only a recipe for burnout. One day, I was in the kitchen cooking furiously for a dozen families, and I went to the walk-in refrigerator to get supplies. I didn’t have time to make two trips, so I piled my arms as full as possible. While reaching up to grab one last thing, two eggs came tumbling down from the tall shelf and cracked wide open on my head. I can see how this is very funny now (though it was not at the time!) so I remember that moment as a lesson to ask for help, hire a team, and plan out a budget for growth well before you burn out and wind up with egg on your face (sorry for the pun).

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My company is really unique, so it’s not that hard to stand out! Almost a decade ago, my husband and I heard about a program called 1% For The Planet. Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia founded it, and businesses donate 1% of revenue to nonprofits working on environmental protection. It was something that I thought about for years with my last company, but it didn’t make sense financially until I launched Ends+Stems. The day I signed up and posted the 1% FTP logo in my email and on my website was a great day. I’m happy that we support FoodShift, a local food rescue and chef training non-profit.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Ends+Stems just recently came out of beta mode, and the web-app is available to the public! I’m incredibly excited about the release as it’s been quite a journey to get to this point. The app helps people simplify their weeknight dinner routine and reduce household food waste. When I was developing the business model, busy families said that they liked the idea of meal kit boxes, but they did not like the plastic waste or the lack of control over their ingredients. Most didn’t mind the act of grocery shopping. Ends+Stems will help people spend less time thinking about dinner plans and help them to be more environmentally conscious at the same time. The big project now is growth and educating about the effects of food waste.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Play to everyone’s strengths. Provide enough challenge that people are engaged but enough support and time for a celebration of wins that they feel supported and appreciated. Set up rules for complaints, suggestions, or concerns in advance, so small negative issues have an outlet and don’t fester into something bigger.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

An executive coach I once worked with had me do a project. Everyone on the team had to list each task and responsibility in their week out on a spreadsheet. Then, they marked whether each item made them feel dread, neutral, or excited. When we put all of the sheets from the team together, it was clear that some employees could swap responsibilities and all of us could increase the number of exciting tasks and significantly reduce the dread category. When everyone spends more time feeling fulfilled with a given project or task, morale is high, and we all achieve more. So my advice is to listen to all employees and see them as individuals. If the team is so large, appoint smaller groups with a leader so that no one feels overlooked.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Without hesitation — my dad. We live 3000 miles apart but talk almost every other day. Though both companies I’ve founded and the many stages they’ve each grown through, he’s my constant advisor and cheerleader. My first business began as a one-woman service company and grew to a massive operation. During this time, I had to make financial projections to secure financing and also become comfortable with monthly financial statements. Finances were not my original passion. Projecting revenue just felt like a waste of time making guesses. As the business grew and I had the occasional cash flow problem, I would call him, upset and looking for support. He would always say, “show me the numbers.” For a long time, this used to be very frustrating, but with his guidance and support, I learned to keep my finances accurate and pull up a spreadsheet before getting overly emotional about it. I am a complete convert now, and I have to say, I enjoy looking at the financial statements, making projections, and using all of the data to inform almost all business decisions.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My last company brought delicious food to people. While that can certainly be considered “goodness,” I didn’t feel that I was doing enough or that there was a goal beyond growing bigger and making more money. When I sold that business is 2015, I knew the next thing I built would have to have a mission statement that was more about impact. Right around that time, I learned of the scale of the food waste problem and how it’s affecting the climate. I was able to use my skills to make a side income while building out a business model that solved a problem for busy people but let them do it in a way that was better for the entire planet. I hope that my message and education on reducing food waste encourages everyone to take a small action to be a better global citizen every day.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be Kind. You never know how things will connect. That said, don’t be a pushover or let people take advantage of you but be aware that the world is small. One of the meanest, most awful clients led to an introduction to one of my longest running and most wonderful clients.
  2. Celebrate Wins — setting S.M.A.R.T. goals means you reach them often and set new ones. If you don’t enjoy the small incremental wins, you will always be chasing a moving goal post. It feels good to enjoy an accomplishment.
  3. Don’t Assume — I can’t even count the times I’ve been surprised by an interview, an employee, or co-worker. Everyone has something unique to contribute to and discovering these things about each other is exciting.
  4. Defensive Days — some days just aren’t as good as others. It’s ok to be down or anxious but don’t get stuck there. Take a day and feel it, get a good night’s sleep and wake up with a new outlook the next day. Remember that your team needs this space too.
  5. Learn from Mistakes — make them. Fail. Try something risky. It’s all useful if you learn something and use that experience to try it differently next time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is not a theoretical question for me; it’s my daily work! I’m on a mission to reduce household food waste and help people cook at home with less stress while saving money. Choosing to waste less food will have a ripple effect across our communities, our local governments, and eventually across the entire nation and globe. There are a billion people without enough to eat though we produce 3x enough food to feed everyone…we just waste it. If everyone at home were a little more aware of this and how their actions compound to exacerbate the problem, we could begin to fix the systemic issues that distribute food so unevenly. AND we might be able to mitigate the effects of climate change in time to preserve life as we know it for future generations.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

As a founder, you have to keep moving; there’s no time for perfect. Get something good out there and keep making changes to improve it as you go. In terms of my business’s mission to reduce food waste, this still rings true. Did you waste a banana today? Don’t stress, we will all still produce some waste, but keep trying. You did not fail because you had one slip up.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Can I choose three?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is my favorite author, and I am hanging on her every word.

Lin Manuel Miranda is serious in his efforts to shine a light on issues that need attention, but he seems so lighthearted and fun in the process.

And, Chef Massimo Bottura is doing incredible things with commercial food waste, rescue, and feeding those who are hungry and in need. I would love to talk to him about my efforts to reduce food waste in private homes.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Build a team doesn’t have to mean pay 5 large salaries and have an office” With Charlie Katz & Alison Mountford of Ends+Stems

by Charlie Katz
Community//

“Sustainability and the environment” With Penny Bauder & Ry Russell

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts
Shutterstock
Wisdom//

From Farm to Landfill: Food Waste and Our Climate Crisis

by Mark Hyman, M.D.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.