My first afternoon here, on Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues, I might have been in any white, liberal town of the US. Like Asheville, North Carolina, or Northampton, Mass. Places I happen to love, where people check out my grandfather’s hat, youthful eyes curiously question my sexual orientation, and the source of my coffee cup represents a certain style, ideology, and economic standing. Surprisingly, the exclusive edginess of alternative culture failed to appear as it might have, and often does, snaking through dreadlocks, coating café tables, and hanging in hand-rolled cigarette smoke. But Berkeley begged for another day of first impressions. I felt like I could have been anywhere.
Twenty-four hours later, there was no more confusion.
In the morning, accidentally, I came upon a (somehow familiar) community of growers and buyers of locally consumed food, who made for the best welcome a Brooklynite could have received. They connected the coasts. The woman selling Cultured raw sauerkraut at the Berkeley Farmers Market knows and admires Hawthorne Valley Farm in New York. The guy selling Happy Girl Kitchen pickles outside the Ferry Building has personally met Rick of Rick’s Picks. Nathan, inside the Ferry Building, informed me that his Stonehouse Olive Oil is sold near South Street Seaport in Manhattan. And despite mental recognition that it’s not remotely local, I was somewhat proud to see Jasper Hill Farm’s Bayley Hazen Blue at Cowgirl Creamery, as well as Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson.
Not only was I cheerfully welcomed to California and stuffed with each farmers’ product at every stand, but there were details of the market we just haven’t made happen in the East: “Cheap” crates of particularly ripe fruit ($0.75/lb persimmons, and $1/lb apples), compost bins beside the recycling and regular trash, coffee stands with fair trade, organic beans brewed fresh for the market shoppers, boxes of used brown bags (for anyone to add to or take from), various voter registration stands within just one block, and samples, of everything, everywhere, at all times.
This really might have been enough. But of course it also appears that buckwheat might be the only thing that doesn’t grow in California soil. At the Berkeley market, tangerines piled up on various tables, and pecans and pistachios, almonds and walnuts, oranges, lemons, mandarins, persimmons, and dates (six kinds, all of which I tasted). Local olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Legal raw milk. And all the roots and fruits and greens we have back East. “No my dear, buckwheat doesn’t grow here,” the lady at the honey stand told me. I made a mental note of one New York perk.
And I recognized that this is not Asheville, nor Northampton. It’s not like anywhere I’ve been since coming of age. I’ve already been warmly welcomed to look around Chez Panisse; no one objected to my copying down notes from the The Cheeseboard Collective Works on a busy Friday night at the pizza collective; and I’ve been reminded to visit each of the three farmers’ markets in my neighborhood alone. To the East: I love you and I will come home. But there is much to observe here, and to learn from and enjoy. Basically, stay tuned….there will be much written on this place.