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Pickles. Pregnant women love them. There's just something about the vinegary excess of a good pickle that caters to the unusual cravings of the impregnated - or so conventional wisdom held in the 1960s. The idea was so widespread that Michigan's Vlasic Pickles made their company's mascot a stork to capitalize on the bird's famous baby-delivering services. It was an association made in heaven, like peanut butter and chocolate. They named their new mascot Jvony the Stork and made him nearsighted.

As an brief aside, Planters' Mr. Peanut is the only other food mascot to have vision problems. He's farsighted. You may see him donning a monocle as he heads out to see the evening's show with beautiful Mrs. Peanut in her red gown made of lust and black leather boots.

Anyways. Fast-forward to the 1990s. Wal-Mart has just begun taking over the U.S., one low price at a time. You can get a gallon of Vlasic pickles for under $3. Yes: A. Gallon. Of. Pickles. For. $3. That's more pickles than even an unreasonable person would ever need to buy at one time.

Vlasic didn't price it that low because they wanted to.

It was because Wal-Mart had threatened to stop selling the Vlasic's pickles if Vlasic didn't bring the price of them down to whatever Wal-Mart asked. And that's a big (...) deal. Wal-Mart was flexing its muscle over producers at the time to make a point. Vlasic was in a pickle. Wal-Mart sells over $100 billion in groceries a year. If you're a major food company and you're not on their shelves, you're going to go out of business. It's that simple. Bottom line. Dot dot dot. Etc.

Unfortunately for Vlasic, selling their pickles that cheap killed their profit margins. Vlasic, who had always made their pickles in Michigan using cucumbers grown in the state, now had to compete with the absurdly low prices set by factories and farms in drug-infested Mexico and authoritarian China. The market conditions were very much against them. It was kind of like the Massacre at Wounded Knee, when Native Americans went into battle against the U.S. army wearing "ghost shirts" that they believed would magically repel bullets. Needless to say (but said anyway), the Native Americans were the ones massacred. The world had passed them by, and all they had left to turn to for hope was one last desperate act of blind faith. Modernity, that cruel, sophisticated temptress, had already spelled their demise. It's moments like that when we see ghost shirts and $3 gallon jugs of pickles.

By 2001, the company's owners had to sell Vlasic to Pinnacle Foods. Pinnacle Foods assumed the company's soul-crushing debt primarily so that they could get the rights to the lucrative Vlasic brand name.

Vlasic as it was known doesn't exist anymore. Their factories are still in Michigan, but for how long? Pinnacle Foods was later bought out by the Blackstone Group, an investment equity firm whose only concern is maximizing profit. For now, they feel that keeping the company in the U.S. is good public relations move and worth the extra costs. But eventually the Blackstone Group will wonder if paying American wages and prices is worth it. They've already cut Vlasic's advertising budget to almost nothing. What's next?

The pickles?

Egypt used slaves to build their pyramids. The U.S. used "coolies" to build their railroads, so a white man could drive the final golden spike into the tie. Who made your shoes?

The enormities of human progress are worth thinking about.

Edit: Apparently, this story about Wal-Mart was already told in a similar manner by Charles Fishman in his book The Wal-Mart Effect. I guess that makes this redundant.

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