It’s not very often that a city allows its residents the opportunity to name something. So when Berkeley, California opened up the polls to rename a two-block stretch of Shattuck Avenue, the suggestions came rolling in, scribbled on a public chalkboard. Among them: Beyoncé, Pandaman, Wrong Way, Brie Boulevard, Fuck Jessica, I Love Theo, Old Towne Road, and, because this is Berkeley, Love and Compassion Way. There were also the names of a lot of famous dead Berkeley residents, which the city council seemed to like best—at least, those are the suggestions that made the final shortlist. But they overlooked one name—nominated by three different people—that we, The Takeout staff, none of whom lives in Berkeley, think is the most important one of all, one that speaks to the ethos and culture of Berkeley (and America in general!) at this moment in time.
We refer, of course, to Avocado Toast.
Shattuck Avenue happens to be the address of Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ legendary restaurant that kicked off the culinary revolution that got us all to embrace fresh produce prepared simply that would lead to the ubiquity of avocado toast. Okay, so Chez Panisse itself is several blocks north of the stretch of Shattuck that is slated to be renamed, and the current cheffy incarnation of avocado toast originated in Australia (though Mari Uyehara has argued quite persuasively in TASTE that the the practice of smearing avocados on carbs likely began in Mexico, where avocados were first cultivated). Does this matter? Truly?
It’s a noble impulse on the part of the Berkeley City Council to want to use the street name to honor a woman or person of color who has previously gone unrecognized. Berkeleyside has provided brief bios of several of them. But does naming a street after someone really do that? I mean, who was Francis Kittredge Shattuck anyway? (Answer: he was one of the original white settlers of Berkeley, he was instrumental in bringing the Central Pacific Railroad there, and he died in 1898 after someone pushed him off a train onto Shattuck Avenue. How’s that for irony?) But we all know what Avocado Toast is. Plus, it’s easy to remember, which is really important when you need to find your way somewhere (and you’re stuck in the backseat of a car driven by a cranky and swearing father, not that this has ever happened to me, no, no, not at all).