Berkeley’s food meccas: The new religion

Shopping at Berkeley Bowl: non-denominational?

We couldn’t resist hoisting from the comments this reflection by EBGuy on food shopping as religion (prompted by today’s opening of Berkeley’s Trader Joe’s) :

I have a theory about Berkeley.* With organized religion on the decline, we look to food to provide a shared communal experience. Grocery stores are our cathedrals. Feel free to make your own list mapped to a different faith tradition:

  • Farmers’ Markets: outdoor tent revivalists. This is where the Food Fundamentalists go.
  • Berkeley Bowl: non-denominational mega church. Draws from the surrounding region. You go there, right?
  • Berkeley Natural Grocery: storefront religion at its finest.
  • Monterey Market: Baptists. True believers. Schisms.
  • Trader Joe’s: Assemblies of God. Fervent believers. Growing fast.
  • Safeway: Mainline Protestants. Trying to revamp but slowly dying.
  • Andronico’s: high church Episcopalians.
  • Farm Fresh To You CSA: Jehovah’s Witnesses

*This post should not be read by the humor impaired.

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  • Jane Superstar

    Don’t forget Whole Foods: Unitarians. Backsliding food fundamentalists who don’t want to feel any guilt when shopping for convenience.
    (Yes, I shop there for all non-produce items — which I procure at the farmers’ markets.)

  • What, no Jews?

  • EBGuy

    Curses… thanks Jane, I knew I’d forget a big one. My take —
    Whole Foods: Catholics. Pope, err CEO, John Mackey; need I say more.

    @Jill, As a gentile I couldn’t do a Jewish list justice. That’s why I said ‘Feel free to make your own list mapped to a different faith tradition’. How about it? I’m sure Berkeleyside readers would appreciate some Hasidic humor.

  • Maureen Burke

    Shintos go to Tokyo Fish Market.
    Presbyterians go to Grocery Outlet.
    Hindus go to the San Pablo/University markets.
    Secular humanists aren’t sure where to go.
    Atheists grow their own.

  • I think the Cooperative Grocery is the Judaic temple.

  • Love the list and the additions.
    Pagans gather huckleberries and miners’ lettuce in the woods.

  • Cliff Magnes

    Jill & EBGuy: I doubt I can provide “hassidic humor,” the few Hasidim I have met are funny, but not intentionally so.

    As for shopping options for the chosen people, there just aren’t enough grocery stores in Berekeley to fit the range of where the ultra-orthodox might shop versus … whatever we call the other end of that spectrum. It keeps shifting further and further away from orthodoxy (or maybe it’s orthodoxy that is red shifting), but I think it might be called “Budhist” by now. Now maybe if we were in Brooklyn …

    Why is this grocery store different from all others? Feh, who knows? Who cares? For this we have computers to talk and write more than two letters on the Sabbath? Eat, eat, you should come for Shabbat and kvetch about the challah? Isaiah said the lord would provide, so why am I always doing the shopping? Oy gevalt!

    (Not) seriously, I too was disappointed that the jews had been forgotten, lost once again in the desert aisles of the grocery diaspora. On the other hand, I’m not sure I want to get into why this grocery store or that one might be different from all others.

    For myself, I have resigned myself to the fact that Elijah is never coming (nor the “rapture”), that if you hide the afikomen too well it’s the aunts that find it, that Chanukah will never be the same as Christmas, and that halal is the same as kosher.

    I shop everywhere I can find good food, but my favorite place to shop in Berkeley is Monterey Market, a store run by the same tribe that provides my family with both a fine tradition and an excellent Christmas supper.

    Mazel tov!

  • Maureen Burke

    A Catholic parsing:

    Irish Catholics shop at Beverages & More and complain about the Joyce quotes.
    Italian Catholics shop at Genova’s Delicatessan and buy more than they need.
    Opus Dei Catholics shop at Natural Grocery Company while lecturing patrons on the impurities present.
    Jesuits shop at Lucky because they’re open 24 hours and they can get in their shopping before 6 a.m. mass.
    Convent of the Sacred Heart sends the glove-clad hired help to Star Grocery.

  • s z underwood

    Anti-Zionist Jews shop at Halal Food Market because it makes them feel less “oppressive”

    e.g., “Naim loved that I am a Jewish peace activist, and was particularly delighted when I told him about an action that my organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, had taken at a local Caterpillar dealership.”

    Anti-Zionist Jews also proudly boycott Israeli products at Trader Joe’s:

    As a reactionary statement, Zionist Jews now ONLY buy Israeli manufactured couscous and feta at Trader Joe’s by the caseload (they survive on nothing else), consuming them to such a wearisome excess that some family members have joined the Jewish Voice for Peace in protest.

    Conservative Jews mainly shop at Andronico’s, but being somewhat nostalgic for a mythical past, they still wistfully refer to it as Park N’ Shop. Reform Jews also shop at Andronico’s on Shattuck, University and at Whole Foods on Telegraph but pretend it’s still the old Berkeley Co-op to balm their forward oriented conscience. They’re still surprised when they see non-UFW table grapes on the produce shelves (but buy them anyway if they’re a good bargain…).

    Orthodox Jews have limited local kosher shopping options, so much of their shopping is perforce done via mail order, including such stellar options as “Supreme Kosher” and “Rubashkins”, which used to be a foremost source of kosher meat in the USA:

  • Cliff Magnes

    s z underwood,

    That’s some funny material!

    You’re so right, though, I try to give the clerks at Whole Foods my Co-op number when I check out, but they look at me like they don’t know what I’m talking about. I haven’t gotten my dividend in over twenty years! And what happened to the yearly flea market? The kiddie-corral? Winchell’s? I blame Marci and Mayfair. Sigh.

  • s z underwood

    Thanks, Cliff. I can still recall a great scene at the Telegraph Co-op, must have been in the early 1970s. There was the usual interminable line (not sure why the check out service was ALWAYS so slow at the Co-op) and it included a couple of grizzled old timers who looked like they had stepped out of an early Sierra Club “Diorama” exhibit.

    One of these gentleman arrives at the checkout and calls out some absurdly low Co-op membership member number (indicating that he was practically a charter member) – I think it was less than 100. He bellows the number as loudly as possible, clearly hoping to impress everyone else in line and looks back to see whose face registered astonishment and respect. As he gathered his bags, the next Co-op pioneer behind him in line now gets to sing out even more loudly and proudly his Co-op number to impress the crowd and he one ups the last fellow with an even lower number (>50). I’m sure he enjoyed his moment of fame, even if he was missing out on edible grapes and useable papertowel.

    p.s. I do recall a few years where the Co-op was able to generate a fairly pitiful dividend, but in later years, of course, this was rarely the case. In the swansong days of the Co-op, the Express ran a long piece about its demise (possibly authored by Paul Rauber) which included an embarrassing anecdote about two longtime Co-op board members running into each other at a nearby Safeway on Shattuck buying non-UFW grapes.

  • Cliff Magnes

    s z underwood,

    That could have been my father (we had a low number, but it was still four digits)! I remember seeing similar scenes of people with low numbers, but that is one hilarious story. Still, the co-ops really were something in their day. You had to be there to know just how special (try getting a home mortgage from Whole Foods, Safeway or Andronicos).

    Yet for all the pretentiousness that we laugh at now, our own and others’, isn’t that what makes Berkeley such an incredible place? There’s just something about this city that seems to refract human nature in a really weird and wonderful way.

    Anyway, I don’t want to get too far off this thread, I’m sure there is more good riffing to be had on EBGuy’s religion of food (food of religion?) theme. Maybe another thread will open the door to more funny stories about what Berkeley was like … back when (or maybe this all belongs on Your Mom Is So Berkeley!).


  • So, was “Park ‘n Shop” where Ginsberg shopped when he wrote America?

    America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
    America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
    I can’t stand my own mind.
    America when will we end the human war?
    Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
    I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
    I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
    America when will you be angelic?
    When will you take off your clothes?
    When will you look at yourself through the grave?
    When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
    America why are your libraries full of tears?
    America when will you send your eggs to India?
    I’m sick of your insane demands.
    When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks? [….]

    (Got that copy from )

  • Or this one (that I forgot about):

  • Cliff Magnes

    Thomas Lord,

    Clean up in aisle 3, Lorca’s in the watermelons and Ginsberg is in his cups (or maybe just out of gourds). Could he have found the mushrooms?

    This was before he finished Howl, although he might have been working on it, even that night .. it sounds like a trippy night in some Berkeley supermarket. Telegraph and Ashby is a fair walk from Milvia and Lincoln, maybe his weeping coughing car was drivable that night, but the references to the bright lighting make me think it was the Pak n Save on University, don’t know if it was a Lucky’s back then.

    You sure make some interesting connections in your postings!

  • You sure make some interesting connections in your postings!

    It’s kind of a religious thing, with me. ;-)

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  • I’d like to see the folks up on Holy Hill at the GTU get in on this conversation. :-)