Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tips for eating healthfully from a vending machine

While the first tip to eating healthfully usually includes staying away from vending machines, this time it's a little different.

There are about a dozen vending machine companies offering a healthy alternative for those who eat on the run, and one of them is already selling its products in Central New Jersey and Bucks County, PA. Its name is Fresh Healthy Vending, a San Diego franchise operation that offers fresh fruits, natural drinks, yogurts, soy pudding, granola and smoothies as part of its selection.

We can expect to see more companies like this one approaching school districts directly thanks to a new law, regulating schools that participate in the federal school lunch program. The new guidelines enable the Agriculture Department to impose nutritional standards on all snacks and refreshments sold in schools. These guidelines are likely to benefit companies that offer healthy alternatives on its vending machines.

Hopeful of this vision, here are a few things to keep in mind when making a selection on a revamped vending machine:

Determine if you are thirsty or hungry: This might seem obvious, but often people max-out on high caloric snacks, when in fact they are dehydrated and needing liquids.

Select fruits and vegetables first: They contain the strongest nutritional punch and are usually highest in fiber and lowest in calories.

Keep your snack at 100 calories max: Pay attention to the number of servings. You many need to share it with a friend or save it for later.

Choose water over flavored water and flavored water over soft drinks: Consider an unsweetened iced tea, milk or soymilk. Opt for a flavored water if you are craving a sweet drink.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The New Speed of Politics in 2012

President Barack Obama's formal declaration of his re-election bid Monday actually serves as a reminder that the 2012 campaign is off to such a slow start that it has shattered one piece of conventional wisdom: the notion that each presidential sweepstakes starts earlier than the last one.

Instead, although both parties expect a still-wheezing economy to produce a highly competitive race, the second quarter of 2011 has dawned without a single officially declared candidate on the Republican side. At this time four years ago, by contrast, the top three Republican candidates had raised collectively some $50 million, and the top three Democratic contenders had been running for several months.

America doesn't need longer presidential campaigns, so this isn't a bad thing for the country. Moreover, the Republican contenders are coming, and soon. But the reasons the race is slow to form say a lot about the times and the state of politics—as well as the ways that technology and pervasive communications are changing the process.

Conversations with advisers to several potential candidates suggest that the first reason for the slow ramp-up is a basic one: The coming campaign isn't for an open seat in the White House, but rather will be a race against an incumbent president.

For Republicans, the idea of running against a sitting president, even one who may seem vulnerable, is far more daunting than running to take over an empty seat, and doubtless has given some candidates—think Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels—reason to pause and ponder.

Other factors have to do with the unique political climate of 2011. Last year's midterm elections produced a Republican wave that enabled the party to take back the House of Representatives and to eliminate the Democrats' filibuster-proof Senate majority. The big event in the party became reclaiming a share of power in Washington now, not starting on an election two years hence.

One Republican campaign operative says that after the 2010 election "there wasn't a lot of political oxygen in the party for candidates to break through with interesting messages or a startling program." It seemed wise to let House GOP leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, and new Republican governors, be the party leaders for a while.

Moreover, some Republican operatives argue that the 2008 campaign showed that starting early doesn't really offer much of an advantage, and may be a disadvantage.

An early start didn't get Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination, and early Republican front-runner John McCain flamed out and had to basically resurrect his campaign from the ashes before he prevailed. Notably, the GOP Iowa caucuses were won not by one of the big early juggernaut candidates, but by the underfinanced Mike Huckabee.

"If you look at the results last cycle it's hard to argue that being early or being big was much of an advantage," says Alex Conant, an adviser to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

At the same time, some of most notable Republican possibilities—Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Mr. Daniels in Indiana in particular—are sitting governors who argue they need to tend to their states' pressing budget business before turning to presidential politics. At a minimum, it might appear unseemly to jump in before taking care of the home front.

But the most intriguing force behind the campaign's pace lies in the way technology has changed the art and practice of both campaigning and fund-raising.

A combination of Facebook, Twitter and other online organizing tools, along with perches on the Fox News Network and other cable outlets, have given Sarah Palin, in particular, and Mr. Huckabee and Newt Gingrich plenty of exposure that allows them to gather supporters and organize virtually without having to formally declare. This new reality also gives Ms. Palin and Mr. Huckabee an incentive to continue earning money from TV contracts while waiting to decide.

Perhaps as important, the Internet is a fund-raising tool that allows candidates to quickly scoop up large amounts of money, if they strike a spark with voters, without having to rely as much on the traditional, time-consuming slog through fund-raising events night after night.

It's hard to know for sure who might benefit most from the new dynamic. It may well help former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the perceived front-runner, by allowing him to stay above the fray and out of the line of fire longer. And it seems to be benefiting Mr. Pawlenty, who's taking advantage of the extra time and space to quietly line up support in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Like all twists in the political game, this delayed start doubtless comes with less-obvious consequence, easier to see at the end of the road than the beginning.