Saturday 7 April 2012


You are looking at the citrus fruit section of my local grocery store here in Berkeley. It lies only 5 minutes walk from my flat at Stuart Street. Whenever I enter this temple of abundance I start feeling sorry for myself, for never having learned to cook. Whatever ingredient you would need for you favorite recipe, I am sure you could find it here.

For instance, whilst my Swedish shop usually carries about 4 types of citrus fruit, I am counting about 20 different variants here on this yellow-red row. And this is just citrus fruit! Row of row of fruit and vegetables of any possible variety cater to the craving customer.

Of course, not all grocery stores in Berkeley exhibit such an abundance of riches. In fact, this shop, called Berkeley Bowl, is rather unique. It just so happens that I live close by it. As I learned from Joshua, a newly-won friend here in Berkeley, it started out as a simple fruit-and-vegetable shop, located in a former Bowling Hall near my apartment. The bowling lanes were converted to "sidewalks" and along them crates of fruits and vegetables were stapled for the customers to choose from. Eventually, a steady flow of satisfied customers outgrew the premises. When a Safeway Shopping-center down the block got emptied, the company decided, prompted by the active neighborhood organization in the area, to move into its premises. Its name,  Berkeley Bowl, still reminds of its more humble beginnings. As explained to me by Karl Reeh, the coordinator of the Stuart Street neighborhood organization, it took some nudging for the company to widen its range of goods sold, so it became a fully supplied grocery store.

I am shopping here every four days and my fellow shoppers usually are astounded, when looking at my small shopping bag. Besides some apples, tomatoes, bread, cheese and milk, the bag is empty; I am buying only essentials for my simple breakfast. It almost seems a waste of effort to enter this commercial wastness, but there is no smaller store in the neighborhood!


Lars Werin said...

No, Emil, a fruit and vegetables store shouldn’t look like Berkeley Bowl. It is too well-organized, to hygienic, too neat, too well-lit. It’s dull. Think of Hötorget in Stockholm. Or why not Mårtenstorget in my home town Lund. For instance, does Berkeley Bowl have Rubens apples that are just on the point of becoming scrumpy? It may have 1000 kinds of citrusfruit, but does it have blood oranges from Sicily?

Hans Ekdahl said...

Hello Emil

Warmest Easter greetings from San Antonio, Texas, where I'm traveling with my old friends Dag and Helena Lindskog.
Your latest blog entry brought back old memories from my own student days at UC Berkeley in 1973-74. I entirely agree with you that the abundance of vegetables and fruits at US supermarkets and produce markets is overwhelming for anyone coming in from Sweden. One would just hope that more people in the US would take full advantage of this rather than buying all the junk food you
also see sitting right by.

All my best greetings

Ken W. said...

I’ve lived in the East Bay since 1950. I grew up in Berkeley and lived in North Oakland from 1976 to 1996, when I moved back to Berkeley. I have seen all the changes that have happened since that time. I also think the East Bay is a marvelous place to live. I actually got more information than I expected from your book. I’ve lived here all my life and never thought to research many of the facts you present in your book.
Thanks for sharing your wonderful journey,
Ken W.

Emil Ems said...

Dear Ken,

This comes a bit late, but never late than never. I was very pleased to see that you are sharing my fascination with the East Bay. But more so, since you also appreciated reading my book Fiat Lux!

I am taking this occasion to thank you kindly, for gifting a copy to the Oakland Public Library and asking them to invite me to give a presentation. I should have thanked you already two years ago, but it somehow slipped my mind; I am very sorry about this, since the evening at the library was a great success!

Yours sincerely