Awake Woman Interviews: Margaret Tung of PareUp


This week, I'm so excited to be interviewing Margaret Tung, the co-founder of PareUp! PareUp is an app designed to reduce food waste by connecting consumers to excess food at restaurants and grocery stores. Using the app, businesses can post when they'll have excess food for sale at discounted prices, and consumers can search their area to discover the food on sale. Margaret was recently featured on NPR, and PareUp is currently in fundraising-mode. They are currently in NYC, with plans to expand. You can download their app here!

In the United States, up to 40% of food is thrown away between the farm and fork. This leads to $165 billion dollars of unused food. Margaret saw this problem, and decided to actually do something about it. 

There's so many times when I get angry about a problem, and feel totally helpless. Like I want to do something to help, but I'm not sure what to do. Margaret has really found a problem she's so passionate about, and she's making solid strides towards change.

Throughout this interview, I'd love for you to think about the problems you see every day, and what you might do to fix them. We all have the power to make positive change in the world. We really do. 

So without further ado, here is Margaret!

10 years ago, how would you have imagined your life right now?

I thought I’d be a badass in a corner office at the age of 26 going on 27 (I know, so young!)--maybe a senior editor at some high-flying magazine, because I love to write, or calling the shots at some Fortune 100 company, because that’s what I thought being successful meant. A big part of me also wanted to be Sidney Bristow, saving the world one ancient puzzle at a time, because I have a bit of a savior complex and a penchant for mysteries of old, but that’s not something my immigrant parents encouraged. Unless my savior complex applied only to paychecks. 

How is your reality different now?

Oh gosh, well, my ambitions are much bigger than fitting into someone else’s dream, or fulfilling someone else’s vision. I don’t get any pleasure out of that. In fact, I think it makes me antsy and miserable. I have a lot of clarity when it comes to what I want out of my life because I spent so many years feeling antsy and miserable. You know what? Screw the corner office. I want the whole damn building. Okay, now that I got that out of my system, I also  want to say that it’s really important to me that my work has a sustainable positive impact on two things I really care about: social and environmental justice. 

I just realized that I answered these questions as though they pertained only to my career. Which probably says a lot about how I feel about my personal life at the moment. 

What inspired you to start your business, PareUp? What was your greatest fear getting started? What is your greatest hope?

My mom always says this thing to me whenever I call her after a bad day that basically summarizes who I am as a person, in a good way, I think. She says, “Honey, why do you always want to do something that is so hard?” She’s right. I pick difficult problems. I choose challenging adventures. I get bored easily. I think the world’s problems are my problems and I feel a responsibility to try my best to solve them. Or at the very least, to not make them worse. There wasn’t a job description within reach that checked all those boxes, so I got a couple of like-minded friends together. After a bit of research and a lot of scrappy hustling, here we are.  

At PareUp, we’re trying to get retailers to rethink how they see and deal with surplus. We’re also trying to increase the amount of information consumers have to what’s accessible nearby. Our app incentivizes food vendors to reduce food waste by giving them a tool to ping potential consumers nearby that discounted surplus is available at their location.    

In terms of whether I was afraid of when I was first starting out...I actually don’t recall being afraid to get started. I was actually really excited. I knew I’d made the right decision for myself, and I felt like I’d hit on something huge that just made a lot of sense. I think the thing I’m most afraid of right now is that someone will do this better and faster than I can. My greatest hope is that if that happens, we learn from our failures and compassionately join forces or crush them. 

What do you enjoy most about your work transforming the way we buy and consume food?

I’m building something I believe in. There are a lot of ups and downs, but I’m never bored. And I’m meeting so many people who know so much more than I do--folks who have tons of hope for the future and are leading the way to a world where food is grown, processed, and consumed intentionally, with the earth and all of us in mind. 

If you could revolutionize one thing about the way we buy and consume food, what would it be?

Oh man, I don’t know where to start. There are incredible movements, people, and businesses that are trying to build a better food future. I think farmers and farm workers are some of the most undervalued people in our society. They’re doing some of the hardest work a person could do--in many cases, at great personal risk. I’ll leave out all the other things I think we should address (there are many), and just say this: foods that don’t increase our risk of X terminal illness or Y disease should be more accessible. One of our goals with PareUp as we move through our beta phase is to figure out how to make this possible. 

What have been the most influential books on your path?

This might be kind of corny, but if I never read Sheryl Sandberg’s line, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I don’t know where I would be right now. Probably in a (not) corner office not wanting to show up for work the next day. 

One of the best books I read recently that helped me through some tough introspective times was Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. It was about the incredible cruelty of beautiful love that we can have for others, yet sometimes withhold from ourselves because we feel undeserving for what we perceive to be real, valid external reasons. But obviously those “valid external reasons” are things that we’ve made up that keep ourselves from being A-okay with who we are. 

I think the world’s problems are my problems and I feel a responsibility to try my best to solve them.
— Margaret Tung

And Anne Lamott, whose words are relevant to me every day: “Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen...Shoot the moon.”

Who are your favorite role models and inspirations?

Dave McClure, for believing in and championing people who do amazing things and don’t look like him. Elizabeth Warren, for trying to live her truth in politics, where it is virtually impossible to do so these days. My family and my close friends who show me what it means to be a person every day. Everyone I know and don’t know who understands what it’s like to start your own business and can be vulnerable about it. Khutulun, Kublai Khan’s niece who kicked ass in a man’s world. 

If your future self would give you one piece of advice right now, what would she say to you?

Focus. Be kind to yourself. And illegitimi non carborundum (don’t let the bastards get you down)! 

10 years from now, what do you hope to be doing?

10 years from now? Well I was wrong the last time, but I hope I’m right this time! I want to raise my own fund and travel the world, investing my time and resources in nurturing other people's awesome solutions to real-world problems. I’ve also always wanted to be a photojournalist, so I’ll be doing some of that on my travels. Oh, and I want to be in love. 

There we go! If you are in NYC, here's a link to download the amazing PareUp app! If you try it, let us know how it goes.