5 Fast Food Meals for Vegans

Today’s Lesson: There is always an option.

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Sometimes I have to travel for work or I am in an unfamiliar city with friends or just in a hurry and do not have time to make or buy a great, healthy, delicious vegan meal. I never suffer for food, though, even on the go. Here are 5 fast food restaurants that have saved me in a pinch (many times), and exactly what I order from each to find vegan goodness when fast food is the only option.

1. Subway.

Six-inch Veggie on Italian, not toasted, no cheese. All the veggies and peppers. Instead of dressing, I ask for Salt, Pepper, and Oregano. I grab a bag of Fritos chips and a drink, too. It’s filling and I promise that sub is as tasty as anything else on the menu but twice as healthy. Remember, not all their breads are vegan. 

2. Chipotle/ Qdoba/ Moe’s Southwest Grille.

I am counting these as one restaurant because they all offer basically the same thing: burritos. Chipotle is a step above, though, because their Sofritas are amazing. Non-vegans would never know they were eating “fake” meat. Moe’s also offers tofu, which makes them legitimately vegan friendly in my book. Qdoba has no meat replacement option but they offer tortilla soup that is vegan, making them one of the only fast food soup providers I can think of.

At Chipotle, I order the Sofritas bowl with brown rice and black beans. I add hot salsa, pico, corn, guacamole (it’s extra), and lettuce. I add an additional side of guacamole and chips and I use the chips to turn the bowl into super nachos! Sometimes I change it up and have Sofritas tacos (corn tortillas).

Qdoba has two options for me. I might order a veggie burrito on whole wheat, with white rice (the white rice has cilantro-lime flavoring so this is one meal where I will choose white rice over brown) and black beans (add hot salsa, pico, lettuce, and guacamole). If I am really hungry, I will add a side of tortilla soup with tortilla strips on top. Or, I will go for the Mexican Vegetarian Gumbo with brown rice (it will be smothered in other stuff so the white rice offers no benefit here), hot salsa, pico, corn, guacamole, tortilla strips, and lettuce. This is a super filling meal.

At Moe’s, I order a “Joey Bag of Donuts” (which means “build-your-own”) burrito with a flour tortilla (I prefer whole wheat but theirs tears too easily), black beans, tofu, hot salsa, pico, black olives, fresh jalapenos, fresh cilantro, and guacamole. Sometimes I order a side of guacamole as well. Their burrito comes with chips and will fill me up for hours.

3. Panera

I like Panera because they offer Pepsi products, and Coke sucks, so sometimes I will go to Panera only for a good caffeinated sugar drink.

If I do eat, though, this is what I usually order: You Pick Two with Black Bean Soup and a Mediterranean Sandwich, no cheese or pesto on the sandwich, with chips… and a Pepsi.

 

4. Pizza Hut
It is possible to order a vegan pizza at Pizza Hut but it’s too complicated and they do not have vegan cheese anyway, so I just order Spaghetti Marinara and add mushrooms. Just set the garlic bread aside and enjoy your Pepsi (because although Pizza Hut sucks at vegan pizza, they at least have good taste in soda).

5. Taco Bell
In case of emergency, you can make a run for the border (before you make a run for the bathroom) with dinner at the Bell. I order a Bean Burrito “fresco style” (that means minus cheese, plus pico de gallo-they know that), a 7-Layer burrito minus cheese and sour cream, and Cinnamon Sticks.

It is tough to balance being vegan with having a convenient social life. You don’t want to be the pariah of your office or friends, forcing everyone to cater to your needs (or simply to avoid you). Fast food is not necessarily great food but knowing you can always find good (or at least good-ish) vegan food when you need can help.

 

 

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5 Surprising Foods Vegans Don’t Have to Give Up!

Today’s Lesson: “Vegan” does not mean “never eating anything I know and love again”.

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PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), if you have not heard of them, is a vegan organization that is an embarrassment to many vegans because of their borderline insane views and extraordinarily misleading and outrageous marketing campaigns.

Nonetheless, PETA remains the biggest and one of the best resources for vegan information, including a surprisingly comprehensive list of accidentally vegan items like the five I am about to list. They have many more than I have listed and their list is worth checking out (just ignore any crazy or sensational stuff they happen to be pushing on the sidebars). Check it out here.

Here is a list of 5 of my favorite foods I was surprised to learn are vegan when I began my journey into dead or tortured animal-free living:

 

1. Oreos and Nutter Butters!
I loved Oreos before going vegan but they are even better when dipped in a big glass of Coconut Milk. Nutter Butters make one of the best pie crusts you could ever want. Just blend or crush half a package, then mix with olive oil (about half a cup) to create a mixture you can press into a pie pan (I like to use my fingers) and cook it with the pie!

 

2. Cinnamon Life and Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch!
I love cereal and I am just crazy enough to mix both of these for Cinnamon Peanut Butter Crunch Life! Best with Almond-Coconut blend milk.

 

3. Laffy Taffy and Junior Mints!
Most taffy is not vegan but good old Laffy Taffy is, even in the non-banana flavors! I am not a fan of Junior Mints, personally, but in most theaters, they are one of the few vegan choices (along with original red Twizzlers and Swedish Fish).
4. Bagels and English Muffins!
Be sure to double-check the ingredients but almost every plain, blueberry, and cinnamon raisin bagel should be vegan (no eggs or butter are needed to make bagels but, obviously, an Asiago cheese covered bagel probably has… well, cheese). Thomas’ original English muffins (the original and best if you ask me) have always happened to be vegan. Great toasted and topped with a little olive oil, cinnamon, and sugar!
5. Manwich Sauce!
Hunt’s Sloppy Joe and Manwich sauces are vegan. That’s right. Vegans can enjoy gross, messy, strangely colored orange brown saucy burgers, too! Heat with either Tempeh or ground tofu. If you can’t find vegan hamburger buns, use English muffins!

Being vegan does not mean never enjoying many foods you already know and love. A lot of heavily processed foods are “accidentally” vegan, meaning it is simply cheaper to produce them without animal ingredients. It is a wholly different conversation around morality and your personal commitment and reasons for being vegan to decide if you should be supporting these companies and accidentally vegan products. Still, it is good to know (especially when you first adopt a vegan lifestyle) that when you need your cookie or Sloppy Joe fix, you’re covered.

5 Common (Hidden) Animal Ingredients

Today’s Lesson: We are what we eat. Maybe we should care a little more about both.

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Here are 5 common animal-based ingredients I wish I knew about when I first went vegan. Unless you are a food scientist, you would not recognize the names without doing research. There are far too many “secret” animal ingredients to list (and other people have done a great job of it–just search for “vegan ingredients”). I will try to save you time with this short list of common animal ingredients, the names of which are really just another way of saying, “the gross parts of animals we could not sell you directly as food”:

1. Gelatin. Crushed up animal bones and throwaway animal material that can not be consumed otherwise (like hooves, bones, skin, cartilage, etc.). Gelatin is in Jell-O. It creates the gummy texture in marshmallows and “Gummi Bears” but also shows up in many cosmetics and cereals like Lucky Charms (the marshmallow bits). There are great vegan substitutes such as Agar-Agar or Arrowroot powder but it is much cheaper to feed your kids yummy horse hooves.

2. Whey. Basically, milk powder. This is the same stuff you hear weightlifters talk about for bulking up (rice protein would do the same thing without torturing animals) and it turns up in many places you would not suspect, such as “Non-Dairy” Creamers. Ironically, “non-dairy” creamer absolutely contains dairy. Look at the fine print below the ingredient list and see for yourself. Watch for whey in sauces, powders, and breads.

3. Glycerin. Also known as “glycerol”, this can be made from vegetable oil but it is usually more economical to produce it from animal fat. Because it is a sweet, colorless liquid it shows up in a lot of desserts and dairy-based foods like yogurt. It also helps add moisture to skin so you will find it in most soaps (who doesn’t like to rub a little animal fat all over their body?) and many pharmaceuticals (including the “casing” around vitamins). If the label does not specifically say, “vegetable glycerin”, it almost certainly is animal-derived.

4. Casein. This is another milk protein, like whey. It shows up mostly in cheese, butter, ice cream, and other dairy-based products. Just for kicks, it is also used in many adhesives and paints. Casein is also a tricky one for new vegans because it shows up in a lot of “vegetarian” products you might assume are vegan, such as soy-based cheese.

5. “Natural” Flavors. This is the worst of the worst, in my opinion. It is like listing “stuff” as an ingredient. Listing “natural flavors” is a way to help protect a company’s recipe from being reverse-engineered, but it does not help the consumer. The problem is, the phrase is so loosely defined by the FDA that it essentially means, “anything”. From the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 21, Section 101, part 22, revised April 1st, 2014):

(3) The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

Blecch! What the hell is natural about that?!? 

If we are what we eat, I suggest we care a little more about both.

New vegans or pro vegans can still be caught by vague, misleading, or downright deceptive ingredient names. Remember, the food manufacturers interest is to sell us food, not ensure we are healthy or taking care of our fellow creatures and the environment. That is not a stab at food manufacturers. I am only saying it is our responsibility as individuals to take care of our bodies and world (though it would be nice if the manufacturers employed more ethically conscious people to help with that).

In an increasingly complex food system, another piece of old, traditional advice from grandma still holds true: “watch what you eat.” (Because no one else is going to.)

5 Super Easy Vegan Meals

http://foodiesfeed.com/
http://foodiesfeed.com/

Today’s Lesson: Priorities are different for each of us. If cooking is not your thing, but health is, create ways to have both! 

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I think I am one of the laziest vegans in the world. I am always busy with work or other projects (like this blog and a new, upcoming one!) and I need meals that are easier than ordering from Chipotle or eating canned food–like, literally, right out of the can.

I imagine you might have the same struggles or you are just beginning (or are curious about) your vegan journey and need easy meals to start. Here are a few super-easy vegan recipes I use for every day meals, and I mean SUPER-easy. These work for me and maybe they will help you, too. They all take less than half an hour to make from start to finish, including chopping time. You might notice I do not really measure anything, so take the measurements as suggestions. I just use however much I need, depending how hungry I am.

 

1. ORZO WITH GREENS. 

Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta available at almost any grocery store (sometimes hidden in the “international” food aisle). An environmental advocacy expert who owned an all-vegan grocery store shared this with me and it has been a staple ever since.

Ingredients:

1 cup Orzo

2 handfuls of pecans, walnuts, or Almonds (sliced or chopped almonds)–raw nuts are best, but salted is fine, if you prefer.

2 big handfuls of greens (Arugula, Kale, or Spinach); 2 handfuls is about 2 ounces or half a normal sized blister pack from the grocery store

1 cup sliced or chopped tomatoes (I like to halve about a big handful of cherry tomatoes)

1 Tablespoon Olive oil

Salt, Pepper, Nutritional Yeast, to taste.

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–Boil one cup of orzo for 10 minutes (add a few drops of olive oil to the water to keep the pasta from sticking to itself). The water will foam if it is too high, so keep an eye on it and reduce heat if necessary but keep a rapid boil going.

–While the orzo is heating up, I take the pecans or walnuts and crush them in my palm over a medium-heat skillet (if sliced or chopped almonds, no need for further crushing–just toss them in the pan). Add a little olive oil and heat them for about 5 minutes.

–When there is 5 minutes left for the orzo, put the greens in with the nuts and stir. Put in a third of the greens at a time, mix with the nuts until the greens wilt, then add another third of greens.

–When the Orzo is done, turn the heat off both pans. Drain the orzo. Pour the orzo over the greens. Place the tomatoes on top and mix it all together.

–Add salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast until it is perfectly delicious!

 

The great thing about this recipe is it is completely versatile. If Orzo and Arugula are crazy sounding ingredients to you, just trade them for any pasta and Spinach, and follow the same recipe. Or instead of Arugula, try baby kale one night. You can add mushrooms, or tofu, or onions and garlic, or broccoli. Change up the spices. Add soy sauce and you have a stir-fry. It is always quick, easy, and delicious!

 

2. SPAGHETTI ARRABBIATA.

“Arrabbiata” is a spicy red sauce. You can use Marinara instead if you don’t like the kick. You can make excellent sauce from scratch with a can of tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped basil, crushed garlic, sliced onion, and red chiles, but screw that. We are going for quick and easy here. Just buy your favorite sauce and pay a little more for the one that has a bunch of veggies and no dairy ingredients (watch for “whey”, which is milk, and cheeses like Romano or Parmesan being mixed in). Try to find one without sugar, too, because grandma never made it that way.

Ingredients:

Jar of your favorite vegan spaghetti sauce (if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, they have excellent options).

Frozen, canned, or fresh mushrooms (however much you want)

Black or green olives (however much you want)

4 cloves fresh crushed garlic or garlic powder to taste

Chopped small onion or onion powder to taste

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Cook the spaghetti according to instructions on the box. Put the veggies in the sauce and heat it. Pour the sauce over the spaghetti. Spice to taste.

For easy garlic bread, drizzle olive oil over a few slices of bread. Sprinkle Paprika powder, garlic powder, basil, and oregano on top. Place in the oven on aluminum foil with the spices facing up and cook at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Change the recipe to make it seem new again by adding different sliced veggies to the sauce such as zucchini, broccoli, green peppers, or carrots.

 

3.  STIR FRY

Maybe the easiest and most versatile of all dishes!

Ingredients:

Ginger powder (or fresh, shaved ginger root) to taste

Soy sauce to taste

Brown Rice

Assorted vegetables. Choose any 5, but I like: Bok Choy (bagged and chopped), Broccoli (frozen or fresh), Red Pepper (sliced long), mushrooms (any kind you like), fresh basil leaves (whole, plucked off the stem)

1 heaping Tablespoon of Peanut Butter (creamy or crunchy, your preference)

Optional: Corn Starch (if eating with chopsticks, to thicken the sauce)

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If you have a wok, great. If not, just use the biggest saucepan you have.

–Heat the brown rice according to bag or box instructions. Keep it warm.

–On medium high-heat, add the veggies and soy sauce. If you are using fresh veggies, start with the heaviest, densest first (broccoli), then when they are about 3/4 done, add the next heaviest (mushrooms), and so on.

–When you are close to the end (the veggies are soft but firm and the colors are bright), add the peanut butter. It is the perfect peanut sauce! Crunchy is great if you like to have peanuts in the sauce. If you plan to eat with chopsticks, add a little corn starch to thicken the sauce and help the veggies stick to the rice.

–Add ginger to taste.

–Either stir the rice in with the veggies or serve them separately and spoon the veggies over the rice.

 

To change it up, trade the soy sauce for half a can of canned coconut milk (in the “international food” aisle of almost any grocery store, be sure to shake the can really good) and trade the peanut butter for curry powder. Now, it’s a tasty Thai dish! 

 

4. SOUP

One of my favorites because it requires the least amount of supervision!

Ingredients:

Pick any 5 vegetables. If you want a hearty red soup, make sure stewed or chopped tomatoes (canned) are in there. For example, I might use a can of stewed tomatoes (not drained), potatoes (chopped), mushrooms (fresh or canned), spinach (frozen or fresh), and celery (sliced).

Pick one or two legumes. Any bean you like (black, navy, pinto, garbanzo, etc.). I usually just toss a whole can of chick peas in, not even drained. Can’t get easier than that.

Veggie stock (liquid, cubed, or powdered). Or, make your own stock by steaming some veggies, such as broccoli, carrots, and asparagus (as a side dish for another meal) and use the water as stock, supplemented with spices of your choice.

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–Slice all the veggies, if needed. Put them into a big pan. (If you used frozen veggies, ignore the instructions on the bag. Just put them in the pan, ice and all.)

–Throw in a couple veggie bullion cubes or your own veggie stock with spices (or both).

–Toss in the beans.

–Fill the pan with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer. Cook on low heat for at least an hour but the longer the better.

 

To change it up, try different spices with different vegetables. Add a half can of coconut milk, curry powder, and paprika powder for an Indian-inspired soup. Add basil, oregano, and thyme to make it Italian. Use red chili paste, lime, and a little soy sauce and now it’s an Asian-inspired soup. Make it yours.  

 

5. MIX-INS.

Best tip ever, from No Meat Athlete! Take leftover soup and pour it over rice the next day. Add canned chickpeas (if not already in the soup) and it’s a completely new dish! Use your soup as the base for the rice dish.

Instead of red sauce with your pasta, try tossing pasta with olive oil, garlic, basil, salt, pepper, and a couple fresh veggies (like chopped red pepper and mushrooms). Light and delicious!

For a super-powered breakfast, pour some raw oats in a bowl (not the 1-minute oatmeal, use raw oats). Chop a banana. Add some dried cranberries and pecans. Stir in a big tablespoon of peanut butter. Pour some Coconut milk over it (not canned, the refrigerated kind) and enjoy. It will fuel you all the way to lunch!

 

I am a super-easy type of vegan. I like to keep it simple. I love food but I love spending time on other stuff, too. Hopefully, this helped you super-busy vegans or vegan beginners with some quick lunch or dinner ideas to get you started or keep you going!

 

5 Super-Easy Ways to Be Vegan

Eat the Rainbow, by Markus Spiske / raumrot.com / CC-BY

Today’s Lesson: Changing your life is scary, but your life is truly a matter of life or death. Making your life better does not have to be all or nothing and it does not have to happen all at once. Just take one step. Then another. Stumble. Try again. Remember, that worked for learning how to walk…

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Friends and family often come to me for advice on how to be more vegan or adopt a more vegan-friendly diet. The question has come up lately–“How do you do it?”, which means, “How can I do it?”

Usually someone is asking for advice on eating a plant-based diet to enjoy some of the many health benefits I have experienced being vegan (needing less sleep, thinking faster, losing weight, having more energy, lowering risk of diseases, etc.).

I think better health is a fine reason to go vegan. I hope that also leads to more people thinking about a better system of care-taking for the world’s other inhabitants. It would be pretty cool, I think, to have as many cow friends as people friends, or deer friends that have become dear friends. I remember the thrill of learning our cows and pigs had names when I was a kid, and then the horror of learning we were going to eat them. That was long before I would become vegan but it stuck with me.

The mistake most people make when considering being vegan (or vegan-ish)  is thinking it is an “all or nothing” game, that it is going to be a drastic and miserable life change. It can be, but it does not have to be. I see all change in life (positive or negative) as simply a system of habits. Eating one bad meal won’t kill you. Eating one good meal won’t heal you. It is the habitual practice of one or the other that will lead you to your results (good or bad).

I have five tips to offer that will help you on your way to taking the first step (which you will practice, and stumble, and practice again–remember, it worked for walking–it works for eating). I want to note, however, these are not necessarily healthy tips. These are to help you take the first step. I am not going with full-on tofu love and crazy-sounding ingredients (except one) to make you vegan like a pro just yet. This is for those of you who do not live in vegan meccas or even really have an idea where to start. These tips are training wheels to get you moving the right direction. That being said (and apologies for the long intro), here are 5 Super-Easy Ways to be Vegan (or more vegan-ish):

1. A vegan meal is just a regular meal with one or two things traded out. It’s not all tofu, tempeh, and seitan with Nori salad. Check this out.

Non-vegan plate: steak, mashed potatoes, and a side of corn.

Vegan plate: baked potato with broccoli and McCormick Bac’n Bits (the original–they have always been vegan!), corn, and a side of asparagus (or just an extra helping of corn).

Non-vegan plate: burger with beef patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard. Crinkle-cut french fries. Pepsi (because Coke sucks).

Vegan plate:  burger with Portobello mushroom cap patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard. Crinkle-cut french fries. Pepsi (because Coke still sucks). To note, the buns probably are not vegan, but just worry about the basics for now.

2. Replace meat with potatoes. Potatoes are hearty and filling like meat. If you feel like Spaghetti Marinara is not real spaghetti because you need meat sauce and meat balls, then chop up some potatoes, pan-fry or roast them, and then toss them into the sauce. Add a few other veggies too, like, zucchini, mushrooms, and green pepper. Or make gnocchi instead of spaghetti. (If you have never had gnocchi, they are like ravioli but made with potatoes and super-easy to make from scratch–just search online). With all the other flavors and hearty starches, you will never notice the meat missing.

3. Replace butter with olive oil. Many top chefs already do this and the idea has been advocated on America’s Test Kitchen. Olive Oil is heart-healthy and delicious. In fact, it is not actually oil like other refined oils (including vegetable and corn oil). To make olive oil, you crush olives. That’s it. Olive “oil” is really just olive “juice”. It can replace butter on anything. Try a little olive oil instead of butter on toast (it’s awesome!). Use it on popcorn, mashed potatoes, literally anywhere you would use butter.

If a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of butter, just use 3 tablespoons of olive oil. There are many kinds and flavors of olive oil. Find the one you like best. Most grocery stores charge outrageously high prices for olive oil and I have no idea why. You can find absurdly cheap prices if you have a Mediterranean grocery store or deli nearby (Italian deli or Arabic grocery store, for example).  If nothing else, even Amazon.com has better prices than most grocery stores, including shipping.

4. Replace cheese with Nutritional Yeast. This is the one weird-sounding ingredient that is an absolute must in our house. Nutritional Yeast is a flaky, yellow powder that adds a tart, cheesy flavor to anything. You can sprinkle it on macaroni and stir it in with olive oil for a light, zesty mac and cheese flavor. Use it on soups, salads, pretty much anything. If you can not find nutritional yeast at your local grocery store, order it online for a pretty good bulk price. In my experience, no specific brand is better than any other so just go with the cheapest (although you might prefer flakes over powder, but they taste the same).

5. Replace dairy milk with any other milk. In most local grocery stores, you can now have an abundance of non-dairy milks, either in the health food aisle or in the refrigerator section. This was tough for me, at first, because I used to drink cow’s milk with every meal. Now, this is one of my favorite parts of being vegan. There is a type of milk for every meal!

The choices are amazing. The biggest part of this tip is to try them all until you find a few that you love. You have lots of milk choices here and they are all healthier than normal cow’s milk (which was made for baby cows, not baby humans): Soy, Oat, Almond, Coconut, Almond-Coconut Blend, Hemp, Flax, Rice, etc. They are all great. My personal preference is unsweetened Almond-Coconut for cereal, Soy for coffee/lattes, Oat for drinking with dinner or just as a treat. Think of them as flavorings for whatever you are eating.

Also, you might find you like a particular brand of milk over another. They are not all created the same, so take your time trying different types of each milk. There is definitely something for everyone.

If you live where there are no store-bought options or if the alternative milks are still outrageously priced, consider buying a milk powder from Amazon or other online retailer (there is soy, almond, rice, etc…). The powders can be mixed with water and you get a lot more for your money, but in my opinion, they are not as tasty (you have to get the water to powder ratio just right!). Nonetheless, they are often a better value than what you will find in the store.

Bonus Tip: The more colors, the more nutrients. Since this applies across the board, I am not considering it one of the 5 tips. Both non-vegans and vegans have heard this advice: “Eat the rainbow,” which basically means the more colors your meal has, the healthier it is likely to be. The reason is the colors of fruits and vegetables is determined by the amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients within them (their only ingredients).

A dark, leafy lettuce, for example, will likely have more vitamins than a lightly colored leafy lettuce (it will also have a stronger taste). Have fun with colorful meals. Try to have at least 5 colors in each meal: white potatoes, red tomatoes, green broccoli, yellow corn, and orange pepper, for example, could make an interesting veggie soup! Purple shredded cabbage, brown mushrooms, tan chickpeas, dark green spinach, and blueberries might make a great salad!

 

There you have it. Some super easy starter-tricks to start adopting a healthier, closer-to-vegan lifestyle. You can worry about getting good and reading ingredient labels later. You don’t have to fall in love with tofu to start (or ever). Just focus on the big three for now: meat, dairy, and cheese (I know “cheese” is dairy but a lot of people do not–it really is practically its own food group).

In the future, I will share a few super-easy vegan recipes I use for every day meals, and I mean SUPER-easy. I am the laziest cook in the world because I am busy and I need meals that are even easier than ordering from Chipotle! I’ll share a few that work for me and maybe they will help you, too.

Feel free to toss questions my way via your social media of choice (I’m “Michael Salamey” everywhere) and share with your friends–having a supporter can help you go a long way. Plus, questions help me create new blog posts without having to come up with ideas myself!

Good luck on your journey to better living.

It’s Easier Than You Think

Today’s Lesson: The hardest part of walking is taking the first step.

*****

Anything ever created that we can think of was impossible before it wasn’t. No one knew how to build a car until somebody tried and failed. The first two-story home (or hut) had to offer the terrifying aspect of walking across the just completed elevated floor, hoping no one fell through the ceiling of the room below. Then, the first 100-story building… how many two-story houses were built before someone tried to build toward the sky? The first plane, the first sports stadium, the first mp3, the first traffic system, etc… even the first person to adopt a fully vegan lifestyle… all those things were unimaginable for much more of human history than they were imaginable.

The thing is, somebody took the first step, probably knowing they would fail, maybe suspecting they would never even live long enough to see if their idea eve succeeded. But they did it. They said, “I don’t know what will come of this, exactly, but I will give it a try.”

What would the world look like if we all imagined what the unimaginable future looks like and then took the first step toward it?

(I know that is a paradox–that’s the point. No baby imagines a future where she can walk until she takes the first step.)

Is Money Really The Root of All Evil?

"The Root of All Evil" by artist Dan Tague.
“The Root of All Evil” by artist Dan Tague.

Today’s Lesson: People, not money, are the root of all evil. We are the root of all good as well. Each decision you make each day contributes to your being part of one or the other. So before you decide to pay for something (metaphorically or literally), decide which side you are on.

*****

“Money is the root of all evil.”

If a man tells you this, run away for he understands neither evil nor money, or chooses to be willfully ignorant of both. Whichever it is, his intention is not to contribute to your Life.

Money is not the root of any evil. Money does not corrupt. Money has no inherent morality, desire, ethical premise, or secret agenda. At its core, money is paper (or digital code) with a mutually agreed upon value. It only exists as an agreement between the values of two people. If the value is not mutually agreed on, then money has no value to either side of a transaction.

Those who disavow the use of money are likely the same people clamoring for promotions in their careers and overspending their financial and moral credit. They scrabble for every dollar while cautioning you of the evil money poses in their world.

The truth is money does not care about evil. Money does not care about you or the people who claim money is the root of evil. What money does is allow the freedom for a man to show, in concrete terms, his own benevolence or malice.

Money brings out whatever was there already. Money provides Man with the means to take action on his own moral standing and trade his brute strength with a bludgeon for mental prowess and calculated risk. Money transforms bloody battles over property with clubs, stones, teeth, and claws to respectful, peaceful exchanges between two factions. It is an exchange of respect instead of fists.

I think money is one of the top ten greatest inventions in human history–an agreement among people that frees us from a crude system of barter. Without money, what would you trade for your smartphone or video game console–wool socks you knitted yourself? If you were lucky enough to have raised sheep? And if the guy with the smartphone did not already have sheep, or socks?

Only with the power and agreed upon value of money, created by and dependent on the will and honor of men, have we been able to rise from a feudal past to a glimmering future where nearly every person who wants to can own a car, a place to call home, and a way to communicate with the world.

If someone tries to sell you the idea that earning value by trading your time and effort to seek your own enjoyment in life is evil, then you can only respond properly by giving that person directions to where he can find the supporters of his notion:

“Go to hell.”

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((If you want to read the best speech ever given about money and what inspired me to write this post, read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Or, for the short version, click here to read the speech given by my favorite fictional character of all time, Francisco D’Anconia.))

Listen Long

Today’s Lesson: Be generous with your ears.

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I am always surprised by the amount of time and attention my boss gives to his team members. He is a very busy and ambitious successful business owner, yet he seems to overflow with patience and curiosity. When I sit with him, I can not help but be aware of how much our chit-chat is costing him.

While we share stories about our weekend or our thoughts on leadership, I can almost hear a clock ticking in my head because I know I am keeping him from dealing with people or issues that affect the multi-million dollar enterprise he is responsible for running.

Yet, I always appreciate his graciousness and generosity with his time. I value it and I always walk away having learned something. As a leader, I think I have usually been good with giving my best people my time but I have also been guilty of cutting a conversation short so I could complete an assignment on time (or because the conversation had become circular).

I am reminded that a leader’s time is more valuable to his or her team than nearly anything else. Sometimes the greatest thing you can do as a leader is to just sit and talk with people (and spend more time listening than speaking).

 

How Do People Know You?

Today’s Lesson: Know who your strangers are.

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I have been blogging a long time (about ten years) so it is no surprise that I my blog has an audience, despite doing virtually no promotion for it, other than sharing on social media when a new post goes up.

Other than my friends sharing posts they like, I have no idea how people find any of my articles amid the deluge of information on the internet. Incidentally, I do not think any other bloggers know where their audience comes from, either. Even those who do a lot of shameless promoting or advertising are usually just shooting in the dark and hoping something hits.

What is interesting to me, though, is where most of my audience comes from. Every day I post, I share it on Facebook and I can see when some people “Like” it, or comment, etc. WordPress (my platform of choice) and Google Analytics offers cool statistics, too, like how many times a particular post has been viewed and from what country the click originated (Brazil loves me for some reason–I’ll have to visit one day!). Sometimes (not very often to be honest) someone will +1 my post on Google or “favorite” it on Twitter.

Oddly, though, most people who like my blog do not come from Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. They come from Tumblr, where I do almost zero interacting. My posts automatically connect to my Tumblr blog, which I set up a year ago and have not looked at except in passing since. If you are looking to start your own blog or want to share quirky thoughts, art, or quotes, Tumblr might be a good place to start.

 

I am glad to have an audience. It’s cool that people like what I am doing and occasionally share it. It is even cooler, though, to learn how strangers learn about you and how far your life actually extends.

 

3 Ways Leaders Sabotage Companies

Today’s Lesson: Know what you want. Know how you will get there. Treat your best people best.

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There are 3 ways I see leaders sabotage the success of their company:

1. Leaders want results, but do not know what “results” are (and do not have a legitimate path or plan to achieve them). Every company I know of has a goal, that trickles down as a never-ending demand, to “increase profits”. There is nothing wrong with making more profit except “make more profits” is a wish, not a goal. Cutting expenses, for example, would seem to help increase profit for a company but if the line-items being shaved are at the expense of employee morale, saving those pennies can actually undermine the goal of  profitability.

I once worked for a company that required a request form be completed when employees wanted office supplies, including standard disposable pens. Employees, of course, began bringing their own pens and other supplies to avoid the rigamarole. The policy worked. The company did save a few bucks, but also many employees eventually left for better companies that valued team members more than they valued disposable pens. No one cited the request form as a reason for leaving but former employees still bring the story up when they get together.

Results drive profitability; pens do not.

Leaders can fail at understanding which results are being driven or even how to identify a result. A result, I say, is the outcome (positive or negative) of actions taken to reach an objective. Knowing the results a company or team is striving to bring to life helps your team know if they are winning the game. So the first rule to defining a result is, there must be an end in sight or a way to know the game is over.

A desired result must be attainable, realistic, and tied to a goal. Imagine if marathon runners were told to run faster and faster (the desired result being to reach the finish line) but were never told where the finish line is or what path to take. They would lose steam quickly, not knowing when to tap their energy reserves to push forward. Some would run the wrong direction. Some would stop too often while others would never know if they should ever take a break. Many would quit after a short time. Team members need to know how to win, and what winning looks like.

A result must also be actionable. Running a marathon is obviously actionable. You strap your shoes on and run. But what about selling more widgets? The obvious action is not always present. A good leader reduces the workload and narrows the vision of the goal until the next action is so clear it seems stupid to do anything else. Telling your marathoners to “run that way really fast until I tell you to stop” is not clear. Pointing out the fastest, most direct route to the finish line, noting where a team should be at what point in the race, and encouraging them to move forward when they are tired (keeping updates on where the goal is, how far they have come, and how close they are) creates an actionable map to success.

The criteria for a result, then, is: it must have an end; it must be attainable, realistic, and tied to a goal, and you must be able to take clear action to achieve it.

What kind of map does your organization provide when asking for (or demanding) results?

 

2. Leaders have goals that are not actually goals. I have yet to come across a high-performing team that has met its primary objective. As my ROWE friends will tell you, many leaders and business owners operate under an archaic notion that the appropriate reward for work done well… is more work.

If you do not have a resting spot or reward zone for your high performers when they achieve results (which presumes the results are defined, reachable, and actionable), then your team is in jeopardy. Your true goal as a leader at that point has become simply to burn out your best people–to drain every ounce of effort from your top team members until they finally give up (and become middle or bottom performers), move up (being promoted so they can start the cycle over) or move on (to another career altogether). If that is where you are headed, then that is a goal worth re-thinking.

Many leaders I meet believe that “More” is itself a goal. “Our goal this year,” they say, “is to do even More sales than last year”. I challenge this by asking, “When is ‘more’… ‘enough’?”. Rather than create a goal for your team of “increase profit and reduce expenses”, define the terms. Set a profit goal of 30 million dollars and provide regular updates on which team members are helping most and how close you are to the goal as a team. Even better, add a clear incentive: “If we reach 30 million dollars in revenue by September 1st, the top 10% of our employees as judged by (X metric–widget sales, maybe, or customer return rate, etc.) will receive a one-time bonus check of $4,080 (or a two dollar-per-hour raise paid out in October if the goal is hit by September 1st). Does your team know what the stakes are and what the payoff for winning is? Perhaps most importantly, are the stakes and payoff commensurate to the effort you are asking of your team?

 

3. Leaders force top performers to work in the same cookie-cutter rule set as bottom performers, but continue to expect top performance. One of the biggest fallacies in work culture is that everything has to be fair. All workers have to follow the same rules, the same way, or you will be making exceptions all the time. The problem with this should be blatantly obvious, yet nearly every company institutes this erroneous idea to a fault. If every employee were the same and every work rule and practice were always the same, then results would always be the same… but they never are. Some weeks or months are more profitable than others; some employees are better at some tasks than others.

Leaders often refuse to acknowledge the reason “fair” does not work is because some employees are better than others. Go ahead and pick your cup off the floor–I said it and it is true. Some employees are better than others. If you prefer more politically correct phrasing, you can trade that for, “some employees provide greater value to the organization”.

I remember my first day working for a consulting firm that hired me for my innovative ideas on how to achieve the company’s vision and bring their mission statement and values to life. I watched the leaders of the company give a 3-hour power-point presentation to a large group. Afterwards they asked what I thought. I said, “I would get rid of the Power-point presentation or reduce the number of slides to 10 or less and remove most of the bullet points in favor of eye-catching pictures.” I was told the power-point has to stay as it is and I needed to learn their way instead of create my own. Although I gained invaluable experience, I did not last long with that employer because I was not a good fit for their cookie-cutter role. Within only a few months, they realized they did not know what to do with me. In the end, I lost a great team and they lost one of their greatest advocates and a committed employee… that might have become a great employee.

Effective leaders, I think, are effective because they know the distinction between a goal, a result, and a wish (a result, as stated previously, must exist in time and space–that is, a result is the measurable end of a cause/effect relationship in reality). A goal, on the other hand, is the desired end sum of results. It is what the results amount to. Great leaders understand that “More, Better, Different” are not goals (if your goal starts with any variation of those terms–“We need to make more widgets this year… we need better materials… we need a different approach…”, then you can stop there because you do not have a goal).

Goals set the end-point of results just as the finish line sets the end point of a marathon. The reward for meeting results and achieving goals should not be a never-ending raising of the bar. Top performers want a moment to enjoy their victory and look proudly over their kingdom–they need rest and a comfortable spot from which to observe their achievements once in a while.

Finally, great leaders throw out the cookie-cutter. Just because a company has done something the same way for 40 years is no justification to keep doing things the same way (“old” does not mean “effective”). Allowing your team the freedom to experiment and fail, and rewarding top-performers by treating them differently, with ever more freedom to do things their way, is a sure path to victory. Even if it seems crazy and no other person or team is doing it like your top performer… if he or she is producing the agreed-upon results and moving you toward your goal, don’t knock it; find a way to leverage it and improve it. Not forcing others to follow suit creates a little chaos, but it is exactly the right recipe for growth and innovation.

But don’t take my word for any of this. Ask your top performers what they think. Then listen, and step to the side of these 3 pitfalls.

Define results. Remember, the sum of defined results should lead to a goal. Reward your top performers with more freedom instead of more assignments.