“Swellness” is a monthlong series exploring the health and wellness stuff no one talks about.
Spencer, 23, makes roughly $40,000 annually as a freelance voice-over artist, content creator for a hummus company, and college-essay tutor — forcing her to share a carpeted, un-air-conditioned apartment in Brentwood with a roommate — yet she is not willing to give up one luxury: Erewhon. Each week, she spends between $50 and $75 (though sometimes, she admits, as much as $200) at the cult high-end health-food store in Los Angeles, which has also become a social scene attracting TikTok wellness influencers, health nuts, and, on one occasion, a dominatrix. Her favorite items include French Squirrel’s Bisous, a “nutritious version” of puppy chow ($9); a keto brownie that is “literally five bites” ($10); and a package of three peanut-butter-filled dates ($8) that she acknowledges could probably be DIY’ed for less money. “I’ve made jokes about how no matter what, it’ll always be in my budget, even though I’m a starving artist,” she says. “It’s become my identity.”
Spencer is an Erewhon addict. She spends most of her disposable income — and then some — on elevated groceries. She’s joined by others who shell out thousands of dollars per year on jars of chicken noodle soup and regularly fork over $20 for a single smoothie.
On a recent morning, Spencer leans against the smoothie bar at Erewhon Market and orders the smoothie of the month — Thorne’s Super Greens Coconut Shaker — which retails at $13. “Have you tried it?” she asks the barista. The barista shrugs. “It was okay. It’s not the best thing we’ve ever launched.” Spencer nods intently. “One of my friends said that it was horrible.” At least it’s free, she acknowledges. “Well, not technically free since I pay for a membership.” (Spencer, who pays $200 per year for a membership, gets one free monthly smoothie.)
It’s an uncharacteristically light Erewhon trip for Spencer, also an aspiring wellness content creator, who has come to collect her smoothie as a post-yoga reward. She weaves through the narrow aisles jam-packed with colorful, if not somewhat perplexing, products like $40 Neptune Blue sea-moss gel and $11 pea-flower and turmeric bread. She leads me to the produce section and points to a 16-ounce container of crimson strawberries, which cost $24. “I would never buy that,” Spencer insists. “Actually, I used to buy cut fruit sometimes. That was when I was dating my ex-boyfriend and he would buy salmon for his dog here.”
Despite its current reputation, Erewhon came from humble beginnings. Named for Samuel Butler’s satirical utopia in Erewhon, the store started in Boston, specializing in macrobiotic-rich foods before making its way out west in 1968. In 2011, Tony and Josephine Antoci bought Erewhon, kick-starting the once-niche vendor’s transformation from hippie health-food store to a luxury-wellness behemoth. The store became a fixture on social media, earning a regular place on DeuxMoi’s Sunday Spotted, and has capitalized on the hype, partnering with Hailey Bieber, Bella Hadid, and Kourtney Kardashian to craft signature smoothies priced just under $20 and boasting ingredients like mesquite, chlorella, spirulina, and vanilla collagen.
Erewhon’s pronounced dating culture also lends to its cachet. “It’s like Tinder for groceries,” says Adam Shapiro, 65, who goes there for soup. “I have friends in their 30s and they like it because it’s a pickup place for young, good-looking, fit people who want to hook up.” Spencer concurs. “Every time I go, I make it a point to look really cute because it’s obviously a dream to meet my future husband while at Erewhon.” For her, it’s a love language. “There’s this boy in San Francisco and he texted me yesterday and said, ‘Can you ship me the peanut butter? I’ll literally pay you,’” she says, gesturing to the wall of $30 nut butters before us. “I’m seeing someone else, so I don’t think I can do that. I think that’s emotionally cheating.”
Jessie Latin, 25, keeps a dairy-free, gluten-free diet and attempts to restrict sugar, soy, and alcohol to help manage her endometriosis symptoms. Shopping at Erewhon is an assurance that she is eating the best foods for her body, while also allowing her to indulge her sweet tooth. “I never thought I’d be able to have a dessert that tastes good again,” she says. Latin, who lives with her parents while she builds her caseload as a therapist, guesses she spends around $125 per week at Erewhon (separate from miscellaneous groceries) and understands why people question the store’s prices. But post-diagnosis, her priorities have shifted. “I think of people who go out and spend $20 on a vodka soda at the clubs every weekend,” she says. “I’d rather pay $18 for a smoothie that’s going to fuel my body and give me nutrients in lieu of having a $20 drink.”
Luba Kaplanskaya lives with her parents and works part-time jobs in marketing, at a law firm, and as a nanny. However, the 25-year-old, who reports an income of roughly $50,000, believes life is about luxury and that Erewhon allows you to feel luxurious no matter your income. “I love to take Erewhon when I’m flying, ’cause I freakin’ fly economy, I’m not private-jetting anywhere,” she says. “To just be in a comfortable sweat suit or a Lulu ’fit and then have Erewhon? I feel like I’m worth a billion dollars.” Kaplanskaya used to go to Erewhon more frequently while she was babysitting. “I get reimbursed for anything that I buy during my time with the kids, so I would give her one sip of the $16 smoothie and charge them for it,” she says. “They actually told me to stop shopping at Erewhon because it was too expensive.”
The store’s price tag contributes to its clout, according to Andrea Hernández, founder and self-described “cult leader” of the online food-and-beverage community Snaxshot. Hernández describes Erewhon as “affordable affluence” — a way for regular people to position themselves adjacent to the upper class. “Those who know about Erewhon are in the know. They get to signal that,” she says. A 2021 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that the 2008 recession was associated with a decrease in fruit and vegetable intake. But Hernández insists that the store is a place for everyone to feel a part of something, especially during fraught times. “Maybe you can’t afford to have a house because of the housing crisis and inflation and everything is so expensive, but you have Erewhon.”
Back at the Erewhon smoothie counter, a muddy-green concoction awaits Spencer. She gingerly takes a sip of her drink. Her face contorts in disgust. “That’s literally heinous,” she says, retching. “It’s like a combination of dirt water and the grass on your shoes.” She offers me a sip; it tastes like kale juice poured into a chalky mixture of vitamins and topped off with a few drops of peppermint oil. “Knowing me, I’m gonna go to my car and make a TikTok reviewing it,” she says. As I prepare to drive off, I see Spencer stationed in her car, retrying her smoothie for the camera. She repeats the same process as before, coughing and fanning her face. “Not to be dramatic, but this was horrible,” she reports to her followers.
This story has been updated to remove a source’s last name for privacy concerns.