Sustainable Meal Planning Has Arrived. Interview with Ends+Stems Founder Alison Mountford

By Sandy Daenerys

Pork Tenderloin with Peach, Basil & Jalapeno Quinoa. Recipe by Alison Mountford for the Ends+Stems web-app. Photography by Sandy Daenerys.

Pork Tenderloin with Peach, Basil & Jalapeno Quinoa. Recipe by Alison Mountford for the Ends+Stems web-app. Photography by Sandy Daenerys.

37.6 million tons. That’s the equivalent of 75.2 billion pounds.

75.2 billion pounds of food waste was disposed of by Americans in 2015.*

This colossal amount of food waste ends up in landfills around the country and creates an outstanding amount of methane gas that is then emitted into the atmosphere, causing global warming and climate change. One individual is taking a stand to help decrease the amount of food waste that gets created. Her name is Alison.

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Alison Mountford,

Founder of Ends+Stems

Customized meal plans that save time & reduce food waste

Alison Mountford is the founder of a popular web app called Ends+Stems. Launched on June 4th, Ends+Stems is a unique website that offers one-of-a-kind weekly meal plans that include a variety of fresh, fun-to-make and well-balanced dishes by Alison, a professional chef and entrepreneur. The Ends+Stems tool has enabled users to easily prepare quick and nutritious meals while reducing household food waste.

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“42% of all food gets wasted, mostly in our homes”*. According to the EPA, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “about 94 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. In 2015, we disposed 37.6 million tons of food waste.”* Food waste that ends up in landfills creates an immense amount of methane gas, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. “Excess amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane, CO2 and chloroflurocarbons absorb infrared radiation and heat up the earth’s atmosphere, causing global warming and climate change.”**

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By reducing wasted food, you get to save money, reduce methane emissions,and conserve energy and resources. Continue to learn about how to reduce food waste by checking out the different resources within the Ends+Stems site by going to the “Reduce Food Waste” tab.

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If figuring out what to cook tonight overwhelms you and causes you stress on a daily basis, Ends+Stems can help prevent that by taking all of the guesswork out of what to cook every day. The Ends+Stems web app is updated every Friday to include the upcoming week’s Meal Plan; it includes 3 new original recipes created by Alison. You can click on the “Generate Grocery List” button on the right side of “This Week’s Meal Plan” on the Home Page and a list of all of the ingredients for this week’s 3 recipes will populate on a grocery list that you can check off as you get each ingredient.

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The weekly “Grocery List Generator” includes items to shop for the week; it guides you through what to buy and how to use all of the groceries that you purchase. You can also add extra items or cross off what you already have. That’s going to decrease stress by giving you some peace of mind, and it will save you time, from having to figure out what you need to buy.


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The “Find Recipe” section of the Ends+Stems web app allows you to search for recipes by a term of keyword. You can also browse recipes by category, with drop-down options for you to filter by “Dietary Needs” (Omnivore or Vegetarian), by “Ingredient” (such as Chicken, Pork, Tofu, Broccoli, etc.) and/or by “Amount of Time” (30 minutes or less, 30 - 60 minutes or 60 minutes or more).

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With the Ends+Stems web app, you will be cooking more at home and trying out new and interesting recipes. Not only will you save some money, but more importantly, it will yield a healthier body and lifestyle by having you partake in eating out less and eating more balanced meals. According to Ends+Stems, “an average family of 4 throws away $2,100 of edible food in the trash every year.” Now, that’s A LOT of extra food that don’t need to go into landfills, and A LOT of extra money you and your family could be saving.

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Each step-by-step recipe is fun, fresh and dynamic. The instructions are clear, easy-to-read and concise. Every recipe comes with a section for substitutions, so you can switch out an ingredient that you would prefer more, or use up something that’s already in your fridge. Effortlessly change the amount of servings for each recipe, whether you are cooking just for yourself or for a family of 8, whether you are making just one meal or making multiple meals for the rest of the week. You get to be more efficient with your time by having several meals in the fridge that are ready to be heated up in an instant.

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I was invited to try out one of Alison’s recipes from the Ends+Stems web app. I had some quinoa and jalapenos that were in my house so I decided to make the Pork Tenderloin with Peach, Basil, Jalapeno Quinoa Dish. It was easy, nutritious and delicious. What more can you ask for from a meal?

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I was able to substitute peaches with nectarines as those were what looked fresh at the grocery store that day. The flavors of the meal were well-balanced; the sweetness and tartness of the nectarines paired extremely well with the savoriness of the pork tenderloin and the zucchini. The spiciness of the jalapenos within the quinoa added a kick to the dish which was interesting. The basil added a unique and aromatic freshness to the dish. The textural contrast between the firmness of the pork tenderloin and the tenderness of the soft quinoa offered a dynamic culinary experience for your mouth.

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With the “Ingredients” List on the left side and the “Substitutions” List on the right side, you can easily see the information that you need. The experience was a very user-friendly one. The information was concise, helpful and straight to the point. There’s also a “Rate This Recipe” option on the bottom of each Recipe, as well as a “Share With Your Friends” that includes an easy way to share the recipe with your friends and family via several social media buttons that you can click on.


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The Ends+Stems “What’s In My Fridge / Recipe Finder” is another neat feature that helps find you recipes with the ingredients that you already in your fridge. Just plug in two of the ingredients that you already have, and the Recipe Finder will showcase easy recipes with the two ingredients that are in stock.

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There is also a section within the web app that showcases “Individual Impact” as well as your “Collective Impact”; they are displayed in a measurement of pizza slices. Each slice of pizza equals to 1.045 CO2-E (kg) of carbon.


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In an interview with us, Alison shares more about her goals for the Ends + Stems web app, her take on food waste within our current ecosystem and how the Ends+Stems web app goes about to help reduce food waste.

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INTERVIEW WITH ENDS+STEMS FOUNDER ALISON MOUNTFORD


FONT KEY / Bold Text: Questions by Sandy Daenerys / Non-Bold Text: Answers by Alison Mountford

1. What inspired you to create Ends+Stems? What are your goals for this web-app? 

I’ve been a professional chef and entrepreneur for 15 years - my first business was a meal delivery and catering company based on Polk Street in SF. Given the high cost of food when running a farm to table style food business, learning to not waste anything edible is just good business sense. I sold the company in 2015 and right around that time the first reports started coming out about the huge environmental impact of all of the wasted food in our landfills. I knew I had something unique to say about it and I began to map out a business. 

My goal is to close the gap between what food waste advocates recommend and how people at home actually shop and cook. Advocates say “meal plan and shop from a list” but home cooks don’t have the skills or desire to spend 90 minutes on meal planning weekly. My platform makes it simple to reduce your food waste, save money on groceries, and cook simple healthy meals on a busy day. 


2. How did you come up with the name Ends+Stems? 

It’s a riff on the phrase “nose to tail cooking” which obviously refers only to animals. Because eating more plants is a good thing for the planet, I wanted to refer to vegetables and incorporate the idea of cooking with all of the edible parts. 


3. What is your perspective of food waste in our current ecosystem? 

Ooh, how much time do you have? The reports from both government-run organizations (IPCC) and private organizations (NRDC, reFed and Drawdown) name reducing food waste in their lists of the most important actions we must take asap. We need systemic change to get where we need to be yet 42% of all food wasted happens in our homes. Additionally, 44 million Americans, many of them children, are without enough food to eat on a daily basis. And, the average household of 4 puts as much as $2200 of edible food in the trash annually. 

It can be overwhelming as a “regular” person without a background in advocacy to know what to do. It’s easy to give up and do nothing at all, but I’m a firm believer that individual actions matter. Ends+Stems is not only a tool to provide recipes that use it all up and make meal planning and shopping easier and less wasteful, but we’re also a community.

I run 2 facebook groups, The Great Food Waste Challenge, and a mailing list to give people around the world a sense of connection. There are thousands of people participating. When you know that your own home isn’t an island and your literal and virtual neighbors care too, we start to change culture and communities. That grows to changes in our government and that’s what it's going to take to save our planet beyond 2050. 


4. Can you tell me more about your journey as a professional chef, an entrepreneur and now an advocate for reducing waste and stopping climate change? 

I feel like all of my experiences as a chef, business owner, and my preference to be outside often and core belief in the importance of nature come together with Ends+Stems. I have 2 young kids and I want them to know the world as I have known it. I’m grateful to be fighting to save it, in some way, every day. 


5. How does Ends + Stems go about helping users "actively help the environment by reducing food waste"? 

Each week I write new recipes that fit together to use everything up. This is the meal plan. Unlike most recipe sites, you aren’t making a choice in isolation. I’ve actually cooked and tested this stack of recipes together to make sure that if you buy a bunch of radishes you’ll use the crunchy red root and also the green tops (which are edible and delicious!). 

There are so many other features baked in to reduce waste, among them: “What’s In My Fridge? Recipe Search; ingredient index for proper storage; reduce red meat gently; substitutions lists; dynamic grocery lists; portion scaling; the why’s of cooking/recipes written by a professional chef. 


6. Has your background as a professional chef shaped your current relationship with food? 

Yes, most dramatically, I prefer very simple meals at home. We eat simple stir-frys, pan roasted veggies, chicken soup, scrambled egg tacos. I also have so much respect for how each ingredient made it to my plate and I want to maximize its value and nutrition.


7. Who is your target audience for Ends + Stems? 

There are 2 main groups: 1) Busy families who want to cook at home but need help simplifying and pulling it off. 2) Anyone wanting to make changes to their culinary life to help stop the effects of climate change.



8. What is the average number of ingredients needed for a meal? 

The majority of recipes are 30 minutes or less, many with active times of 10-20 minutes. Most recipes have between 8-15 ingredients and that includes salt, olive oil, and water which are called for often. A weekly meal plan might call for around 30 total ingredients.



9. Ends+Stems is a member of 1% For the Planet with the donations going to a non profit called Food Shift; can you tell me more about this?

1% For the Planet is an amazing organization founded in 2002 by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. I’ve wanted to me a member for a decade so signing up was a no brainer. Companies pledge at least 1% of their total sales to a non-profit of their choosing and there’s an incredible roster of businesses and celebrities involved and supporting each other.

Food Shift is based in Oakland CA. They work in food recovery - taking leftovers from those who have them and redistributing them to those in need - but they also are working on the systemic issues that drive food waste. They have a full catering outlet that offers plant-based meals cooked from donated produce that otherwise would have been wasted. AND the chefs are part of a hands-on job training program that teaches them the skills to improve their lives. It’s incredible how they’ve folded so many factors into a functioning solution. If you’re in the Bay, you can order from them!



10. What books or media would you recommend for those who wanted to learn more about reducing food waste? 

If you’re new to food waste, John Oliver did a great segment a few years ago, that’s a nice short and hysterical breakdown of the issue. 

On Instagram, I love: @zerowastechef for picking, fermenting, storage, and bread baking; @joelgamoran for a “chef’s chef” cooking gorgeous food from scraps; and @savethefood is a classic 

If you really want to geek out on the problem and potential for solutions, ReFed is the place to go. It’s densely packed with stats but is user friendly and presented well.



11. What would you say to someone who thinks meal planning is difficult and time-consuming? 

I agree! That’s why I built Ends+Stems to do it for you :) If you struggle but do feel like you want to go it alone, think of it like working out. It’s hard to get in the habit, but it pays dividends once you do. Planning on Saturday will for sure make your Monday night easier. And, if you managed to save even a portion of that $2200 a year by not wasting food, what could you do with it? I’d fly to Hawaii personally.



12. As a chef, what is your favorite dish to make and why? 

I love making pizza from scratch. I love eating pizza and it’s also something that I’ve never sold as part of my business, so the process of it is all fun and something that’s only for my friends and family.



ARTICLE REFERENCES

* Environmental Protection Agency

https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home

** Move For Hunger

https://www.moveforhunger.org/the-environmental-impact-of-food-waste/

MORE INFORMATION

Ends+Stems

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Source: bit.ly/endsandstems