Americans ate an average of nine pounds of pickles each last year, which means one of you had 18, because I didn't eat any.

I deposited most of mine on the steaming concrete of fast-food restaurant parking lots across the South.But that's not the point.

The point is: Times have changed and pickles with them. Pickles' britches have grown so big that they have left a sour taste in the mouth of some of America's great institutions, including the Pickle Packers Association and the Vinegar Institute.

It seems the Rodney Dangerfield of the food world has been not so innocently disrupting the pace of life in some quarters. The tension is documented in a recent issue of the Federal Register, that daily tome published by the U.S. government which explains the rules and regulations of almost everything.

Now you may wonder why pickles need to be regulated when, for instance, day care doesn't, but that's not up to us. Write your congressman.

Anyway, it's all there, and the implications are clear - without pickles, 200 bureaucrats would be out of work.

This is a true story, filed under everybody's favorite category: Your Tax Dollars at Work.

It seems that the Pickle Packers, located at One Pickle and Pepper Plaza, St. Charles, Ill., petitioned the Department of Agriculture a few years ago to revise the standards for grades of pickles, outdated, they said, since their adoption in 1954.

The proposed changes were published in the Federal Register and - you probably anticipated this - the Vinegar Institute objected.

A proposal to change the term "vinegar solution" to "acidic solution" in the definition of a pickle jolted the Atlanta organization.

Think about it - even more jobs at stake, but the government adopted the wording anyway. Or so we think - the Federal Register being really boring and us falling asleep halfway through it.

Among the standards adopted by the USDA were appropriate levels of acidity, requiring the inclusion of yet another bureaucracy - the Association of Official Analytical Chemists - which deemed proper a pH 4.6 or lower.

That tricky problem solved, much of the rest of the rules and regulations of pickles are but semantics.

For instance, for a pickle to be considered "curved," it must bend at an angle between 35 and 60 degrees. A pickle is considered "crooked" if the curve is more than 60 degrees.

Another point of contention in the pickle revisions centered on whether a stem on a pickle is considered a blemish or an asset. You may have your own feelings on this highly personal matter, but the government says "stems longer than three-eighths be scored as a defect."

Now you know.

But why would you care?

For an answer, we called the Pickle Packers in Illinois, where secretary-treasurer Fran Kass said she would normally refer press inquiries to the organization's legal counsel, but "he just up and died not too long ago."

They may have lost their attorney, but the Pickle Packers have not lost their sense of humor.

"Pickles make people laugh," Kass said. "They like the sound of the word. I don't know what it is about pickle."

She doesn't, but we do. Some facts:

Pickles have been traced back 4,500 years to the Mesopotamian region, and Cleopatra believed eating them improved her skin quality.

Bing Crosby's first job was as a pickle salesman.

Peter Dowdeswell, of London, holds the Guinness Record for pickle eating - one pound of gherkins in 41.6 seconds.

Not to take anything away from Dowdeswell's commitment to pickledom, but his appetite runs more in favor of gluttony than pickles, because he also holds world records for eating potatoes, pancakes, spaghetti, strawberries, prunes and sushi.

True pickle people can see Dowdeswell as a mere pretender. It's a guy like William R. Moore, the former head of Pickle Packers International, who wins pickled hearts. "Bill the Dill" as colleagues knew him, was the most recent inductee into the Pickle Hall of Fame, for 40 years of dedicated service.