Food Diplomacy on the Campaign Trail

After Monday's rally in Paul Ryan's hometown, his traveling press corp was treated to aluminum lunch boxes filled with fresh pasta from one of the vice presidential candidate's favorite restaurants: Italian House.

Cheese ravioli, chicken parmesan, pasta alfredo, vegetable pizza -- at 2 p.m., a caloric free-for-all was at our fingertips after the adrenaline rush of frantically filing notes and video back to headquarters.

News agencies that cover presidential candidates are, as a rule, billed by the campaign for the food that's provided at work spaces. The staff orders, our companies pay. The upside is we never go hungry; the downside, we never go hungry. Reporters routinely exchange unscientific advice on how to avoid the inevitable spare tire effect on our waistlines: skip dinner, don't eat fries, stop eating breakfast, never finish your plate, drink more water, always remember: free food is not calorie-free.

At his first media avail for the traveling press, Paul Ryan carried a platter of "Crumb and Get It" cookies (made by the baker who had declined a visit from Joe Biden), and proceeded to offer them row-by-row to reporters on his campaign plane.

"We try to eat pretty well here on the road," the candidate remarked as he encouraged us to indulge. Ryan, a health nut and gym rat, had just hours before declared to a local reporter in Roanoke, Va., that "Having a piece of cake is just like having asparagus as far as I'm concerned, so I'm like well eat the asparagus then."

"How long does that take to work that off in P90x?" asked a reporter, referring to the heaping plate of cookies.

"You know this will take a while to work off on P90x," he responded. "Cheers" he said as he bumped his macadamia nut cookie with mine.

P90x creator and fitness guru Tony Horton has a list of foods to avoid in your diet: processed sugars, alcohol, caffeine, animal products, gluten. If it feels nearly impossible in every day life, my opinion is that it's definitely an impossibility on the campaign trail. Early in the primary season when we had to drive ourselves everywhere, I lost weight zipping from one stop to another past dietary moonscapes, interrupted by the occasional highway truck stop and fast food counter. But now that there's campaign-arranged transportation, we're treated to an endless buffet line worthy of Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast: food on the campaign bus, food on the charter plane, food during holding time, food to be consumed within the five minutes left between filing a story and being rushed onto the next location.

"Is this lunch number two or dinner number one?" the Ryan press corp asked in Boston, where we found a pile of pizza boxes awaiting us our filing room. The cheesy surprise turned out to be "Dinner Number One of Three," to be followed by a meal on the plane, and a buffet spread in Pittsburgh. I was embarrassed to tell the hotel catering staff waiting for us after our 10pm arrival that no one was going to touch the food because we had no appetite left: "The food looks amazing, honestly, we can't possibly eat anymore."

A cynic might call all this food a conspiracy to make the press fat and complacent, but in many ways, building time into the schedule to provide meals for the press are also a foray by the campaign into diplomacy with reporters. For the most part, we eat whatever the Ryan staff eats, and as one aide remarked to the agreement of the press, he's never eaten more vegetables than before he joined this campaign.

The day after Paul Ryan came back to the plane to talk with us, a reporter rolled to the front of the plane an orange bearing this Sharpied message: "Hey Congressman, Thanks for the visit. Don't be a stranger!"

His traveling press secretary, Michael Steel, wrote back: "Eat your fruits + veggies if you want more cookies."