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How celery became the unlikely star of the produce aisle

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Celery juice being made at the Tonic Bar inside Erewhon Market in Los Angeles.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

On a recent Saturday afternoon, shoppers at Erewhon Market on Beverly Boulevard made a beeline to the produce aisle to stock up on bundles of organic celery. Others waited patiently at the health food store’s cold-pressed juice bar to order 16 ounces of the fibrous green vegetable in liquid form.

The reason? A growing belief that celery juice may be the key to treating dozens of chronic ailments ranging from eczema to migraines. And that belief is due, largely, to the influence of one man.

For the record:
5:30 PM, May. 23, 2019 An earlier version of this post misspelled registered dietitian Vandana Sheth’s last name as Sleth.

Anthony William, a.k.a. the “Medical Medium,” may have no actual medical training or a professional background in healthcare, but that hasn’t stopped him from publishing four New York Times bestselling nutrition books extolling the benefits of celery juice, all while winning personal endorsements from celebrities including Miranda Kerr, Pharrell Williams and the health and wellness queen herself, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Although dismissed by many doctors and nutritionists as pseudoscience, William’s advice is sending scores of Angelenos on the hunt for celery, and local grocery stores are struggling to meet demand.

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“This is about going to the store, buying something no one cared about in the past, putting it through your juicer, and getting better,” William said in an interview.

Erewhon customer Christina Stoffers has been following William’s celery juice regimen on-and-off for the last year to help with her acid reflux and other stomach issues. She said her condition has somewhat improved but can’t say for sure whether celery juice is the cause. One thing she has noticed, however, is how much harder it’s become to get a hold of the veggie.

“I also shop at Trader Joe’s, and every single time I want to buy celery, it’s always gone,” she said.

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A notice by the register notifies customers of a shortage in celery and subsequent price increase at Erewhon Market in Los Angeles.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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At Erewhon, organic celery sales have increased over 350% at each of its locations since the start of 2019. Gelson’s, meanwhile, says sales are up more than 200% compared with this time last year. And at Lassens, purchases have doubled in recent months, which has caused some locations to occasionally run out of celery entirely. (Trader Joe’s declined to provide sales figures, but an employee in the Pasadena branch confirmed the store has had trouble keeping celery in stock.)

“This has been the strongest celery market we’ve ever seen,” said Edward Palomo, Erewhon’s organic produce director. “Celery sales started taking off about the second week in January and have stayed steady ever since.”

The juicing craze has caused celery prices to spike — to as much as $5 a bunch at organic health food stores such as Erewhon. According to the Western Growers Assn., the average retail price for celery in Los Angeles has jumped more than 30% over the last year to $2.59 a bunch. Over that same period, the price farmers were paid per bunch of celery has skyrocketed by 670% to $2.63.

“Retail price ceilings and competition have kept prices increasing at a slower rate than costs, cutting profit margins substantially,” said Paul Kneeland, executive director of operations at Gelson’s.

The craze shows little sign of slowing, thanks in large part to the celebrities, influencers and fitness models who zealously share their celery detox routines on social media. In January, the trend got perhaps its biggest boost when Kim Kardashian posted an Instagram story showing a glass filled with the dark green liquid and captioned: “Celery Juice. Pretty gross but saw that the @medicalmedium says it helps psoriasis soooo.”

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The celery craze shows little sign of slowing.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

William dubbed himself the Medical Medium because he claims to receive health and nutrition secrets from a voice that he refers to as “Spirit.” He says he began hearing the voice as a young child growing up in Maine in the ’70s. It first told him about the celery juice remedy, he says, to help a family member recover from a back injury.

William maintains he’s the only person that communicates with the entity.

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“When I ask, ‘Why me?’ Spirit says it’s because I have the ability to handle it,” he said.

William, who says he’s in his 50s but declined to give his exact age, started offering nutritional advice while working as a grocery store stock boy before leaving Maine in his 30s to work with clients across the country. He eventually ended up in Los Angeles, and in 2015 published his first book, “Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal.”

The book’s instant popularity — aided by a chapter that was excerpted on Paltrow’s lifestyle site Goop — elevated William to international wellness guru and launched what he’s labeled the “Global Celery Juice Movement.” The “movement” has continued to grow online. William has more than 3 million members in his private Medical Medium Facebook group and more than a million followers on Instagram.

To fully realize the benefits of celery juice, William says, it’s absolutely necessary to follow his recipe exactly as he prescribes it: 16 ounces of pure organic celery juice every morning on an empty stomach. This process, he claims, activates as-of-yet undiscovered “sodium cluster salts” that destroy inflammation-causing pathogens in the body.

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Angel Mack makes an order of celery juice at the Tonic Bar inside Erewhon Market.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says there’s no scientific evidence that celery contains any body-cleansing properties. In recent years, she’s noticed a growing number of clients asking about similar detox or weight loss trends such as ketosis and the Whole30, which are often driven by social media personalities.

“They have a large following, and they can be very loud,” she said. “Their message is very seductive because we’re all looking for that quick fix.”

She added that while some diet trends have helped her clients lose weight, many go back and forth between different plans, which can be dangerous to their health.

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“I’m seeing a lot more of a disordered way of eating in my practice,” Sheth said. “It’s not sustainable long-term.”

For his part, William says the “naysayers” in the medical community are mainly critical of celery juice because it threatens their authority and ultimately their bottom line. He points to the thousands of online testimonials from Medical Medium followers as proof that the information he receives from “Spirit” is helping people heal.

“The gift isn’t for me — and I’ve always made that clear — the gift is for the chronically ill,” he said.


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