Election Section

Sampling the Berkeley Bran Muffin Diet By MARTY SCHIFFENBAUER Special to the Planet

By MARTY SCHIFFENBAUER Special to the Planet
Friday August 20, 2004

So I was sitting at the café engaged in my daily matudinal session of pseudointellectual combat when, as it often will, the question arose: “Is there a God”? 

According to my habit in such colloquies, I swiftly and emphatically stood up for atheism. With a commensurate table thump, the group’s star semantic arguer N. (no, not Noam) hammered down his stake in the agnostic camp. Ordinarily, I would have depressed N. with a gloomy Schopenhauer quote; you know, the atheist guy immortalized by Ira Gershwin in these lyrics from the Broadway musical Pardon my English: 

Imagine all the lonely years I’ve wasted, 

Fishing for salmon, 

Losing at backgammon 

What joys untasted  

My nights were sour 

Spent with Schopenhauer 

However, fate played me a different tune, as I was suddenly overcome by a tidal wave of testosterone. Instead of channeling Schopenhauer, what pumped through my lips was Schwarzenegger. “You’re a girlie-man,” I exclaimed. “Agnostics are all girlie-men.”  

My ad hominem assault was sufficiently discombobulating to leave N. and the others at the table speechless. For this group a noiseless nanosecond is rare, so I was astounded my outburst had utterly terminated talk. The silence was deafening and I feared for my sensitive cochleas, already compromised during my military service. 

I knew I was in big, big trouble and paranoia paraded down the boulevards of my brain: “Had I become an Arnold clone baby? Had I, not unlike Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo, become a useful idiot for the Republican Party? Had Trotsky’s betrayal taught me nothing? Was I the Manchurian candidate, programmed to kill by Skull & Bones?” 

Then, not a moment too soon, The Saviour intervened. Well, actually, it wasn’t The Saviour, merely my savior. One of the café irregulars returned from the restroom and, oblivious to the tension at the table, casually inquired: “Anyone know where I can find a decent bran muffin?” 

Snatching my opportunity, quick as a brown fox, I replied: “Funny you should ask.” 

As luck would have it, I had devoted the prior month to researching the bran muffins of Berkeley. My intention in this endeavor was to create a Berkeley Bran Muffin Diet. Clearly, if South Beach, the Hamptons and Minsk have diets Berkeley must not remain a dietless town. And what a blow it would be to our fair city’s gastronomical reputation if we were unprepared for the inevitable Reality TV show, Dueling Diets. 

I proceeded to describe my diet system to the group, whose curiosity and attention were gratifying. Happily, my discourse on bran muffins entirely flushed out the memory of my earlier faux pas and my comrades did not excommunicate me after all. 

My guess is gentle readers of this fine newspaper would consider my bran muffin diet equally fascinating. And having just completed its formulation, I will unveil it publicly here for the first time. 

These are the three rules of the Berkeley Bran Muffin Diet: 

Rule No. 1: You’re only allowed to eat bran muffins, with beverages limited to water, black coffee and green tea. 

Rule No. 2 : You may eat as many bran muffins as you can stomach Monday to Saturday. There will be no calorie-counting in my diet. 

Rule No. 3: Sunday is a dark chocolate and red wine-only fast day. 

Some may be questioning whether a bran muffin-only diet is nutritionally adequate. 

OK, I’m no nutritionist, but think about it. Most bran muffins have raisins and walnuts, meaning you’ve got your fruit, protein and omega-3s covered. Plus, you’ll obviously be getting plenty of fiber. Additional nutrients you may require will surely be provided on Sunday, with the humongous health benefits of dark chocolate and red wine having been scientifically validated. But, hey, if you’re still worried take a multivitamin. 

In contrast to the typical complex and confusing diet regimen, the Berkeley Bran Muffin Diet is simplicity itself. Also, it’s vegetarian! Furthermore, I’ve devised a schedule under which you’d consume a bran muffin crafted by a different baker each of the six B.M. days. All the purveyors sell their muffins to go and, as an extra bonus, dieters following the schedule will have a chance to explore the unique attributes of Berkeley’s diverse neighborhoods. 

The schedule: 


Semifreddis, 3084 Claremont Ave. 596-9942. Dark Carnival, one of Berkeley’s superb browsing bookstores, is a few shops away. Also nearby is the Star Grocery, which carries an excellent selection of premium chocolate bars for your Sunday fast. 


Rick & Ann’s, 2922 Domingo Ave. 649-8538. Located across the way from the Claremont Hotel tennis courts. Fans might want to watch a couple of sets through the fence. 


Fat Apple’s, 1346 Martin Luther King Way. 526-2260. Their own olallieberry jam is too tasty to pass up. We’ll let you cheat a little by spreading a small amount on your muffin. 


Westside Bakery Café, 2570 Ninth St. 845-4852. Nolo Press, the legal self-help publisher, has its outlet store across the street on Parker. It’s always prudent to update your estate plan before embarking on a new diet, so you’d be wise to check Nolo’s relevant guides. 


Toot Sweets, 1277 Gilman St. 526-0610. The New Leaf sculpture gallery and the Westbrae Nursery across Gilman are both worth at least a short tour. 


The Cheese Board Collective, 1504 Shattuck Ave. 549-3183. Located in the center of the Gourmet Ghetto. For a cheap, vicarious thrill, carefully cross Shattuck and peruse the Chez Panisse menu posted out front. 

A word of caution: The Westside Bakery Cafe and Toot Sweets bran muffins are on steroids. 

Something to look forward to: Once the Berkeley Bran Muffin Diet has slimmed you to your target svelteness, you’ll be able to sample the other delicacies offered by the above establishments. 

A final note: You may be wondering which of the bran muffins listed gets the Gold Medal. But that is for the people to decide. Let them eat bran muffins and vote. For me, all bran muffins are fantastic!