Organic food companies are now testing vending machines in high schools.
Perched next to the Coke and Doritos machines at Cranston High School
West in Rhode Island, is a new vending machine with soy chips, rice
snack bars and organic yogurt. Stonyfield Farm, an organic dairy product
producer, has placed similar machines in schools on both US coasts.
Attesting to the overall potential of these programs, Gary Hirshberg,
CEO of Stonyfield said, "This could be the tip of the iceberg." Profits
are divided between the schools and machine operators.


After compiling over 100,000 laboratory tests, the Environmental Working
Group has released a list of conventionally grown produce that is the
most and the least contaminated by pesticides. Among the worst were
apples, peppers, celery and cherries. Among the best were asparagus,
avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, kiwi, mangoes, onions,
papayas, pineapples and sweet peas. Of course, the safest course of
action is to buy organic fruits and vegetables. 
Download the full list here:


Over 6,000 low to middle income New Yorkers have discovered how to
afford fresh organic produce for their dinner tables -- cut out the
middlemen. Buying clubs and CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) are
enjoying unprecedented growth, bringing the farmlife to the innercity.
Organic family farmers are successfully bypassing distributors and
supermarkets and literally delivering their food firsthand to families
in neighborhoods like Harlem and Brooklyn. As a result, the fruits and
vegetables are organic, fresher and less expensive than the produce at
supermarkets, yet the farmers see a better profit from their crops.
Members of these urban buying clubs are even organizing weekend trips to
visit the farms where their food is grown.


Monsanto, the creator of PCBs and Agent Orange and the world's largest
purveyor of genetically engineered seeds, has temporarily bowed out of
the biopharm industry (genetically engineering plants to grow
pharmaceutical drugs). The company says it wants to continue its focus
on what it claims to be a profitable venture: genetically engineered
foods. Contrasting its PR profit claims, the company recently closed its
4th quarter with a $188 million loss. Last year Monsanto lost almost two
billion dollars on total sales of $4.5 billion. Monsanto is currently
laying off nearly 10% of its employees worldwide. US farmers growing
Monsanto and other gene giant's "profitable" frankencrops lost so much
money last year, taxpayers had to shell out $12 billion in subsidies
for corn, soybeans, and cotton.


The Perfect Fire 

By Mike Davis

Sunday morning in San Diego. The sun is an eerie orange orb, like the 
eye of a hideous jack-o-lantern. The fire on the flank of Otay Mountain, 
which straddles the Mexican border, generates a huge whitish-grey 
mushroom plume. It is a rather sublime sight, like Vesuvius in 
eruption. Meanwhile the black sky rains ash from incinerated national 
forests and dream homes.

It may be the fire of the century in Southern California. By brunch on 
Sunday eight separate fires were raging out of control, and the two 
largest had merged into a single forty-mile-long red wall. The 
megalopolis's emergency resources have been stretched to the 
breaking point and California's National Guard reinforcements are 
10,000 miles away in Iraq. Panic is creeping into the on-the-spot 
television reports from scores of chaotic fire scenes.

Fourteen deaths have already been reported in San Bernardino and 
San Diego counties, and nearly 1000 homes have been destroyed. 
More than 100,000 suburbanites have been evacuated, triple as many 
as during the great Arizona fire of 2002 or the Canberra (Australia) 
holocaust last January. Tens of thousands of others have their cars 
packed with family pets and mementos. We're all waiting to flee. There 
is no containment, and infernal fire weather is predicted to last through 

It is, of course, the right time of the year for the end of the world.

Just before Halloween, the pressure differential between the Colorado 
Plateau and Southern California begins to generate the infamous 
Santa Ana winds. A spark in their path becomes a blowtorch.

Exactly a decade ago, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 7, firestorms fanned by 
Santa Anas destroyed more than a thousand homes in Pasadena, 
Malibu, and Laguna Beach. In the last century, nearly half the great 
Southern California fires have occurred in October.

This time climate, ecology, and stupid urbanization have conspired to 
create the ingredients for one of the most perfect firestorms in history. 
Experts have seen it coming for months.

First of all, there is an extraordinary supply of perfectly cured,
fuel. The weather year, 2001-02, was the driest in the history of 
Southern California. Here in San Diego we had only 3 inches of rain. 
(The average is about 11 inches). Then last winter it rained just hard 
enough to sprout dense thickets of new underbrush (a.k.a. fire starter), 
all of which have now been desiccated for months.

Meanwhile in the local mountains, an epic drought, which may be an 
expression of global warming, opened the way to a bark beetle 
infestation which has already killed or is killing 90% of Southern 
California's pine forests. Last month, scientists grimly told members of 
Congress at a special hearing at Lake Arrowhead that "it is too late to 
save the San Bernardino National Forest." Arrowhead and other 
famous mountain resorts, they predicted, would soon "look like any 
treeless suburb of Los Angeles."

These dead forests represent an almost apocalyptic hazard to more 
than 100,000 mountain and foothill residents, many of whom depend 
on a single, narrow road for their fire escape. Earlier this year, San 
Bernardino county officials, despairing of the ability to evacuate all
mountain hamlets by highway, proposed a bizarre last-ditch plan to 
huddle residents on boats in the middle of Arrowhead and Big Bear 

Now the San Bernardinos are an inferno, along with tens of thousand 
acres of chaparral-covered hillsides in neighboring counties. As 
always during Halloween fire seasons, there is hysteria about arson. 
Invisible hands may have purposely ignited several of the current 
firestorms. Indeed, in Santa Ana weather like this, one maniac on a 
motorcycle with a cigarette lighter can burn down half the world.

This is a specter against which grand inquisitors and wars against 
terrorism are powerless to protect us. Moreover, many fire scientists 
dismiss "ignition" -- whether natural, accidental, or deliberate -- as a 
relatively trivial factor in their equations. They study wildfire as an 
inevitable result of the accumulation of fuel mass. Given fuel, "fire 

The best preventive measure, of course, is to return to the 
native-Californian practice of regular, small-scale burning of old brush 
and chaparral. This is now textbook policy, but the suburbanization of 
the fire terrain makes it almost impossible to implement it on any 
adequate scale. Homeowners despise the temporary pollution of 
"controlled burns" and local officials fear the legal consequences of 
escaped fires.

As a result, huge plantations of old, highly flammable brush 
accumulate along the peripheries and in the interstices of new, 
sprawled-out suburbs. Since the devastating 1993 fires, tens of 
thousands of new homes have pushed their way into the furthest 
recesses of Southern California's coastal and inland fire-belts. Each 
new homeowner, moreover, expects heroic levels of protection from 
underfunded county and state fire agencies.

Fire, as a result, is politically ironic. Right now, as I watch San Diego's 
wealthiest new suburb, Scripps Ranch, in flames, I recall the 
Schwarzenegger fund-raising parties hosted there a few weeks ago. 
This was an epicenter of the recent recall and gilded voices roared to 
the skies against the oppression of an out-of-control public sector. 
Now Arnold's wealthy supporters are screaming for fire engines, and 
"big government" is the only thing standing between their $3 million 
homes and the ash pile.

Halloween fires, of course, burn shacks as well as mansions, but 
Republicans tend to disproportionately concentrate themselves in the 
wrong altitudes and ecologies. Indeed it is striking to what extent the 
current fire map (Rancho Cucamonga, north Fontana, La Verne, Simi 
Valley, Vista, Ramona, Eucalyptus Hills, Scripps Ranch, and so on) 
recapitulates geographic patterns of heaviest voter support for the 

The fires also cruelly illuminate the new governor's essential dilemma: 
how to service simultaneous middle-class demands for reduced 
spending and more public services. The white-flight gated suburbs 
insist on impossible standards of fire protection, but refuse to pay 
either higher insurance premiums (fire insurance in California is 
"cross-subsidized" by all homeowners) or higher property taxes. Even a 
Hollywood superhero will have difficulty squaring that circle.

Mike Davis is the author of City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear, and most 
recently, Dead Cities: and Other Tales

Copyright C2003 Mike Davis