Erewhon’s Multiple Identities

Nearly four years ago I mentioned Harrington Ham in a post, but did not mention that in 1978 and 1979 I worked as a stock clerk in the Harrington’s shop in my hometown. In addition to the most amazing hams, my employee discount allowed me to purchase all kinds of food items I otherwise would not have known from the A&P and Grand Union grocery stores where we otherwise shopped. Erewhon Organic was one of the brands carried, providing my introduction to “health food.” Which led to my discovery of this book, which I scarcely recall, but which instilled in me a curiosity about utopia, and an appreciation of anagrams.

Erewhon, an upscale organic grocery store and cafe, has six locations in the Los Angeles area. Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

Today, reading of this retail operation in California with a similar name, I took the opportunity to find out what happened to that old Erewhon brand; it is still out there, but has been reduced in scale and variety to producing only organic cereals. The retail Erewhon, almost as old as the brand I remember, looks like it is on a good trajectory for a long and prosperous life:

How Erewhon Became L.A.’s Hottest Hangout

With a little help from celebrities and influencers, the health food store became the place to see and be seen.

Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

Angelenos have long known that health is wealth, and the healthiest and wealthiest among them shop at Erewhon, the upscale organic grocery store with six locations throughout Los Angeles County.

Last year, after the coronavirus pandemic forced bars and nightclubs across the city to shutter, supermarkets were among the few places where people could still see and be seen. Erewhon, with its outdoor dining areas, became the unofficial hangout for the young, beautiful and bored. Like a moth to a nontoxic flame, the store drew Instagram flâneurs in droves — but also plenty of grimaces and eye rolls from locals.

Erewhon is a recurring theme in the posts of Christina Najjar, who goes by @itsmetinx on social media, where she’s known for satirizing the habits of a certain type of coastal elite. “Where you buy your kale chips says a lot about you,” she said in a TikTok video from November that has been viewed more than 710,000 times. In it, she expounds on the taxonomy of local grocery stores; Erewhon, a place where you can “buy orange cauliflower that’s more photogenic than you” or “juice that costs almost as much as a Tesla,” tops her chart.

The store seems tailor-made for today’s influencer culture. Its fastidiously curated assortment, where foods are lit like fashion editorials and are often some combination of organic, gluten-free, biodynamic, free-range and vegan, makes it ripe for snarky quips.

It’s been profiled in Vogue and Vanity Fair, and tweeted about by Kanye West. (“Grocery story drip Erewhon drip laundry day drip airport drip,” he wrote in a since-deleted tweet from 2018.) In the second season of Netflix’s “You,” an uncanny simulacrum called Anavrin plays a pivotal supporting role. (Anavrin is “nirvana” spelled backward; similarly, Erewhon is an anagram of “nowhere.”) In December, maskless protesters stormed a location, seeing it as the very manifestation of liberal values.

“Erewhon has a slightly Moon Juice quality about it,” said Farley Elliott, an editor at Eater LA, “where everything is so over-the-top, but in an earnest way that makes it feel only possible in Los Angeles.”

“More specifically,” he continued, “that the type of people that tend to be perceived as populating those Erewhons could only really happen in Los Angeles.”…

Read the whole story here.

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