The General Must Have Pineapple

About a month ago, I bought a pineapple from Costa Rica at Meijers. It was over 5 pounds and cost something like $1.50.

The fruit was lovely. But the price got me thinking about how pineapple has become one of those things in globalization that must be too good to be true. If they can grow, ship to Michigan, and market a 5 pound pineapple to me for just $1.50, then someone–probably multiple someones, but especially the people harvesting these heavy, spiny footballs–aren’t getting paid nearly enough to bring me my pineapple (to say nothing of the invisible subsidies shipping must include).

Pineapples used to be a $7 delicacy everywhere but the most expensive hotels but now, with globalization, they’ve become cheap and easy.

Which is why, after having a great laugh at the list of demands David Petraeus makes on CIA stations around the world when he visits, I also got cranky.

Among the items:

  • Fresh pineapple each night before he goes to bed (not canned)
  • Sliced bananas for his cereal in the morning
  • Someone to accompany him on his morning runs, and a route devised that preferably avoids crossing any streets.
  • Also, he noted, the former General doesn’t open doors. “All doors have to be open when he arrives,” the former senior CIA officer said.

It appears the war hero can’t keep up his legendary running pace if he has to cross streets like normal people (though I agree the CIA Director should be accompanied on his runs lest he end up in a gym bag somewhere). But it’s the comment one of Laura’s sources makes, that Petraeus demands that CIA personnel in places like Tblisi and Helsinki–where pineapple isn’t at the Meijers for $1.50–bring him that pineapple every day in any case that brought back my $1.50 pineapple.

It seems appropriate, I guess, that Petraeus demands what to me has become a symbol of too good to be true globalization rather than make do with whatever local fruit is available, like berries in Helsinki. We can’t have our CIA Directors interacting with the unique spots they visit in such a way that they develop an understanding of the place. Better to rely on the underpaid laborers in Costa Rica and the harried office workers at the station to ensure you have a generic, now cheapened pineapple every day.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

33 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Poor baby. Can’t open doors, can’t even peel and slice his own bananas. Should he be in a playpen or a wheelchair?

    (The last able-bodied people I heard of who demanded that doors be opened for them were the then-executives at Countrywide.)

  2. PeasantParty says:

    David, David, David. Act like a King much?

    Who shines the crown for you and is it spit shined?

  3. justbetty says:

    Not exactly the point you were making about King David, but I have to comment on the pineapple thing. I live in the East Caribbean where the WTO with the able assistance of the US has essentially destroyed the agriculture sector of these small islands. You are right that no one can produce pineapples and deliver them to Michigan for that price without a lot of help from someone. Free trade, bwahaha, as they say.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @P J Evans: Actually, that one I don’t mind as much.

    In the Czech lands, I was always taught it was a key manner for men to walk in pubs first. The idea behind it was that if there were a fight going on, the man would catch the brunt of it before the woman.

    The principle here is the same. There ARE undoubtedly doors that Petraeus walks into behind which there might be all sorts of surprises. So you have someone else open them. Can’t have him end up in a gym bag, as I said.

    What really seems to be going on is that Petraeus laid out all this stuff that came naturally for general with his many staffers. It’s almost a testament to the differing wealth of our NatSec agencies.

    Of course, Michael Hayden made the same KIND of transition before Petraeus. I guess NSA directors don’t go through so many scary doors as CentCom generals.

    Though of course, Gareth Williams–the guy who did end up in a gym duffel–was working with Hayden’s branch of the miltiary, not Petraeus.

  5. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    IIRC according to Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert, Petraeus is a piker compared to Floyd Dominy of the US Bureau of Reclamation in the mid-20th century. He required his minions to arrange for the companionship of “Ladies of Negotiable Affection” on his visits to the outposts in his fiefdoms.

  6. PeasantParty says:

    Seriously, and not beside the slavery issues and dignity of humans across the globe; this is yet another example of why war forever is drowning America in debt.

    We have too many Chiefs/David’s that think they are to be knighted with coronations of grandeur while the rest of the world is thinking what a failure this is. How is it that the World’s largest and greatest Military cannot contain a group ill begotten radicals within 12 years?
    Could it be that the leaders are spending too much time thinking of Latin women with hats full of fresh fruits?

    No wonder the warz carry such high price tags. Pineapple in the dessert, carved and sliced is VERY expensive. Halliburton must be paid well for the services of food to the King, er Generals.

  7. Eureka Springs says:

    Five dollar pineapples are a terrorist plot. The last one I purchased a few weeks ago appeared perfectly clean in need of couple more days of ripening… by the time It warmed to room temperature on the kitchen counter a cloud of fruit flies appeared.

    Facing certain kitchen overthrow I hurled that five dollar I.E.D. (insect explosive device) into the yard and vowed never again!

  8. Petrocelli says:

    *cough* … The U.S. Army paid $400 for a Gallon of fuel, so this is really quite a bargain.

  9. bsbafflesbrains says:

    He just wants the same lifestyle he had at the Joint Chiefs Pentagon Gentlemans Club. Not really too much to ask for./s

  10. Bill says:

    In Costa Rica several years ago, a farmer told me he makes one (1) penny per pineapple. So clearly the $1.50 is leaving a healthy margin for profit.

  11. emptywheel says:

    @Bill: Shit, really? I believe it, but obviously that’s not sustainable. What kind of labor does the picking?

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Petraeus the pro-consul needs fruit flown thousands of miles away and paid underlings who not only know what’s behind every closed door in his vicinity, but who will open and close them for him? Why, instead of running for president, he seems a more likely candidate to become chairman of Goldman Scratch. Seriously, that’s just routine CEO behavior these days, except that the taxpayers do not directly fund their direct and indirect compensation.

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @Bill: I would quibble with the idea that the profit margin is “healthy”. It may be “healthy” from the perspective of a monopolist retailer. It is not healthy from the perspective of the grower or field hand. Heavy tropical fruits require significant labor to plant, tend and harvest. Pineapple plants, in particular, have hard, sharp bits to them that shred gloves and hands of the unwary or even skilled. They must, of course, also be shipped huge distances, often using government subsidized fuel. The margin is only healthy if one concedes that labor and suppliers should be paid only a tiny fraction of the value it and they generate.

    More importantly, I would quibble with a general-cum-CEO who makes his campaign life so comfortable and self-referential that he has no incentive to shorten his campaign and return to domestic peacetime existence. His job, after all, is inherently built around death and destruction, and the political intimidation consequent to both.

  14. pdaly says:

    Sounds like David Petraeus is telegraphing to the world that he suffers from acid reflux. Should he be doing that?

    Or maybe it suggests at least that he has read the website which touts fresh (and not canned) pineapple to treat reflux:

    In any case, if Petraeus is eating fresh pineapple “each night before he goes to bed” then he is doing it wrong. Pineapple should be eaten before or during a meal to help digest the proteins.

    Fresh pineapple contains the enzyme Bromelain, (aka: Bromeline, “Anas comosus”, Bromelin). In addition to tenderizing meat or digesting proteins, it can thin the blood. Canning pineapple inactivates this enzyme.

    So we also now know that Petraeus is not taking a blood thinner.

    And time to suggest belt tightening measures. How many days does a Petraeus pineapple cover? Even though $1.50 per pineapple is cheap, according to my internet search, the cost of omeprazole (generic Prilosec) via internet pharmacies is about 50 cents a day.

  15. orionATL says:

    what strikes me about this is the strong suggestion of rigidity in petraeus’ personality.

  16. P J Evans says:

    @Eureka Springs:
    That’s when it has the best flavor.
    You can grow a pineapple from the top; it will take a couple of years, but it’s an interesting plant to grow, if you have a place that won’t freeze in the winter. The flowers are nice, though not really showy. It can fruit more than once, also.

    Why yes, I did grow a pineapple plant.

  17. Petronius Arbiter says:

    Gets me to thinking about other Generals. MacArthur was widely knowns as a prima donna, nicknamed “The Proconsul.” Everybody agrees he considered himself a couple of levels above God. I seem to recall seeing photos of him in uniform. One row of ribbons, maybe three. How many rows of ribbons does Petraeus wear? A dozen? Maybe only ten? Anyway, when I was in the Army the only way you could be awarded that many ribbons was to be briefly assigned to headquarters staffs, like for a couple of weeks. Then I got to thinking about some criticism of one of the Generals during The Crimean War, maybe Lord Raglan. He was known for the magnificent dinners he gave in his palatial tent, ten courses with excellent vintages to accompany each course, while the troops were literally starving to death. He pointed out, correctly I guess, that if he had chosen to suffer it wouldn’t have helped the ordinary troops any. The more I learn about these guys the more I realize we’re doomed.

  18. rg says:

    Can’t help but wonder if the leak of this information will give rise to the moniker:Pineapple Petraeus?

  19. kendiz says:

    I don’t trust anyone that demands things, and eats the same food every morning and every night. Creepy.

  20. BlackOblivion says:

    I imagine, just like the concept of cracking down on the exploitation of migrant farmworkers by employers not providing them benefits and good pay would raise the cost of produce, all of the sustainable goodies that would make fresh fruit more expensive would also result in a lot of complaining and indignation from a society used to cheap, quick and available food.

    Like paying more for gas inspires one to invest in green vehicles, instead of concern for the environment, the impact on our wallets always hits home first. For some it is a matter of eating or starving, not just being cheap or penny-wise while being within the upper income levels of society.

    I would not mind paying more for fruit with the thought that the workers were being treated like human beings, even though I am low-income. I would also do the same for gasoline, considering travel to be precious and worth the expense, if I knew it went towards cutting back our dependency on fossil fuels. I would love to buy local organic produce if I had the money to afford it.

    But having less money to pay for organic produce does limit my ability to sustain a healthy diet so I cannot always have healthy, organic food. It would be nice if the industry could find a way to make healthy, organic local food without the pricetag for the rich.

  21. P J Evans says:

    I really don’t understand why he can’t slice his own damned bananas. You can do it with a spoon, for Ghu’s sake, and if you peel it only a little at a time, you don’t even get banana on your fingers. (In other words, he isn’t even thinking through his own wishes.)

    Also, you got picked up by MB for the Late Nite post over at the Great Orange Satan.

  22. Rob says:

    OK, I have nothing for the pineapple thing but the rest is actually rational:

    Bananas – He is a serious runner and like most runners consumes lots of bananas. The pre-sliced thing is about time.

    Running partner – He has been doing this since he was a Company Commander. This is not a leisure trip either. You had better be able to run fast – 6 minute pace, 6 mile minimum – and keep up a conversation/take notes. He will give tasks during a run and expect them done the same day, sometimes before lunch. The crossing streets thing is about not stopping. Nothing kills a run like waiting for traffic.

    Doors – Its about time, not being an ass. If you have ever worked in secure areas you know that doors are a HUGE pain in the ass. The worst I ever had it was 7 doors. Each one had a badge swipe/pin pad/other security. He goes to the most high security places we have and if he was spending 30 seconds at each door, it would add up to a lot of wasted time.

    I have worked for/around a lot of General Officers and I can tell you that if they have a good staff, they can get maximum use of every minute of the day. When I first got exposed to what the personal staff does I recoiled in horror like many here. It all seemed too much. But fact is we pay these guys a LOT of money and expect a lot from them. If making sure all the doors are open creates 20 hours of saved time a year, do that. If pre-slicing bananas cuts a minute of breakfast, thats another 6 hours. And this is not about saving time so they can punch out at 5. These guys work insane hours – 14 hours a day 7 days a week is pretty normal. I kept up with my General for 10 months once and it nearly killed me. When the next guy came in he brought in more staff and I was able to ease up a bit and I took one day a week off. I got called a slacker.

  23. JohnT says:


    Hey Rob, I get it but …

    Don’t expect me to cry him a river (or whatever the equivalent is of cry me a river). I’ve worked 14 hour days 7 days a week, and nobody treated me like prima donna, and I never expected to be treated like one

  24. P J Evans says:

    I work in a building where we have to do that to get in the building, to operate the elevator to most floors, and to get out of the elevator lobbies on most of the floors. Not to mention the password-protected software….
    My heart breaks for Petraeus, not, because he’s been doing this stuff for enough years that he should know better than to demand things like pineapple and bananas in Central Asia.

    (Also, if he has a low-potassium condition, there are other foods besides bananas that help, and he can even get potassium tablets.)

  25. Bob Schacht says:

    Dole has basically closed down its pineapple operation in Hawaii–probably because, as you suggest, labor costs have risen far above what they can get in Asia.

    Bob in AZ

  26. Brenda Koehler says:

    “He is a serious runner… The crossing streets thing is about not stopping. Nothing kills a run like waiting for traffic.”

    It never killed it for me. I just ran in place till I could cross. It’s an inconvenience that breaks your concentration, but so what? I guess everything has to be special for Little Prince David.

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