There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Muckraking exposés about businesses are of limited interest even when the business under discussion is engaged in some evil enterprise. Still, there is a pleasing irony in finding out that the people who make M&Ms are vengeful, paranoid recluses. Potomac, Md.-based journalist Jan Pottker’s Crisis in Candyland: Melting the Chocolate Shell of the Mars Family Empire (National Press Books) dishes the dirt on Mars Inc., the McLean, Va., conglomerate that makes Milky Way and Snickers bars (as well asM&Ms, Uncle Ben’s rice products, and Kal Kan pet food). The privately owned, $12-billion company is known for its secretive ways (a sixth-grader once wrote to ask how the Milky Way got its name, only to receive an icy notification that the information was “classified and confidential”) and for its tendency to fire any employee who speaks to the media; Pottker found that even disgruntled ex-employees tend to respect their former employer’s obsession with privacy (“It’s a self-selecting group,” she says). Still, a number of candymen and -women helped Pottker chronicle Mars family members’ eccentricities and semi-miserly behavior. As to why the third generation of Marses continues the management style of its forebears, Pottker posits, “They think this is normal. They were raised in the company.” And she says that Crisis‘ publication hasn’t melted the Marses’ impenetrable candy shell: “I haven’t heard from them. I don’t expect to hear from them,” she admits. “[But] it did surprise me that they did not take up my offer to fact-check.” While basically a laundry list of the foibles of the Mars family, Crisis does contain some entertaining tales of sweetness gone sour. It’s published by National Press Books, 7200 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, MD 20814.