The rise and fall of social entrepreneurism

When John Mackey founded the health food store, SaferWay in the 1970s, only a small group of hippie supermarket shoppers used terms like “free range,” “organic” and “gluten free.”

But nearly 15 years later, customers worldwide would become devoted shoppers at Mackey’s next supermarket venture, Whole Foods. As the nation’s largest natural foods market, Whole Foods has staunchly rooted itself in movements, from the environment, animal welfare, human rights to the most sustainably wild-caught fish in the world.

Whole Foods is perhaps the paragon of what is called “social entrepreneurism”, a movement created by social activists who want to do good, as well as do well financially. In the new book, “From Head Shops to Whole Foods,” author Joshua Davis looks at the history of social entrepreneurism, with specific Los Angeles examples like the supermarket like Erewhon Natural Foods and the now-defunct Aquarian Book Shop, the legendary black book shop. He also looks at how the mandate of these social entrepreneurism were diluted, coopted and sometimes altogether abandoned.


Joshua Davis, an assistant professor of history at the University of Baltimore; author of the new book, “From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs” (Columbia University Press, 2017)