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Seeds of Trust. Italy's Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale (Solidarity Purchase Groups)



This article presents a case study of the solidarity economy in Italy: the Italian G.A.S. – Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale, which I translate as Solidarity Purchase Groups. GAS are often conceptualized as "alternative food networks". Beyond this categorization, I highlight their novelty in relational, political, and ecological terms, with respect to their capacity to forge new partnerships between consumers and producers. Introducing an ethnographic study that I have developed in a recent monograph (Grasseni 2013), I dwell here in particular on how the solidarity economy is embedded in practice. I argue that gasistas' provisioning activism is something different to mere "ethical consumerism." Activists use the notion of "co-production" to describe their engagement as a concurrent rethinking of the social, economic, and ecological aspects of provisioning. Building also on a quantitative survey of the GAS movement in northern Italy, I pursue an ethnographic understanding of "co-production." I argue that producers and consumers in GAS networks "co-produce" both economic value and ecological knowledge, while re-embedding their provisioning practice in mutuality and relationality. Keywords: Solidarity economy, solidarity purchase groups, Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale, alternative food networks, provisioning, co-production, Gibson-Graham, Italy.
Seeds of Trust. Italy's Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale (Solidarity
Purchase Groups)
Cristina Grasseni1
University of Utrecht, the Netherlands
This article presents a case study of the solidarity economy in Italy: the Italian G.A.S. Gruppi di Acquisto
Solidale, which I translate as Solidarity Purchase Groups. GAS are often conceptualized as "alternative food
networks". Beyond this categorization, I highlight their novelty in relational, political, and ecological terms,
with respect to their capacity to forge new partnerships between consumers and producers. Introducing an
ethnographic study that I have developed in a recent monograph (Grasseni 2013), I dwell here in particular
on how the solidarity economy is embedded in practice. I argue that gasistas' provisioning activism is
something different to mere "ethical consumerism." Activists use the notion of "co-production" to describe
their engagement as a concurrent rethinking of the social, economic, and ecological aspects of provisioning.
Building also on a quantitative survey of the GAS movement in northern Italy, I pursue an ethnographic
understanding of "co-production." I argue that producers and consumers in GAS networks "co-produce" both
economic value and ecological knowledge, while re-embedding their provisioning practice in mutuality and
Keywords: Solidarity economy, solidarity purchase groups, Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale, alternative food
networks, provisioning, co-production, Gibson-Graham, Italy.
Cet article présente une étude de cas de l'économie solidaire en Italie: le G.A.S. italien - Gruppi di Acquisto
Solidale, que je traduis comme les groupes de solidarité d'achat. G.A.S. sont souvent conceptualisée comme
«réseaux alimentaires alternatifs». Au-delà de cette catégorisation, je souligne la nouveauté en termes
relationnels , politiques et écologiques , par rapport à leur capacité à forger de nouveaux partenariats entre les
consommateurs et les producteurs. Je présente une étude ethnographique que j'ai développé dans une
monographie récente (Grasseni 2013), et je me concentre sur la façon dont l'économie solidaire est intégré
dans la pratique. Je soutiens que l'approvisionnement de l'activisme de gasistas n'est pas la même chose que
«la consommation éthique». Les militants utilisent la notion de «co- production» pour décrire leur
engagement comme une remise en question des aspects sociaux, économiques et écologiques de
l'approvisionnement. En s'appuyant également sur une enquête quantitative du mouvement de G.A.S. dans le
nord de l'Italie, je poursuis une compréhension ethnographique de «co- production». Je soutiens que les
producteurs et les consommateurs dans les réseaux G.A.S. «co- produire» à la fois une valeur économique et
les connaissances écologiques , tout en reembedding leur approvisionnement alimentaire dans la réciprocité
et relationnalité.
Mots-clés: Economie solidaire, les groupes d'achat solidaires, Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale, réseaux
alimentaires alternatifs, l'approvisionnement, la co- production, Gibson-Graham, l' Italie.
Este artículo presenta un caso de estudio de economía solidaria en Italia: el G.A.S. italiano –Gruppi di
Acquisto Solidale, el cual traduzco como Grupos de Compra Solidaria (Sodarity Purchase Groups). GAS son
frecuentemente conceptualizadas como "redes de comida alternativa". Más allá de esta categorización, deseo
resaltar su novedad en términos relacionales, políticos, y económicos, con respecto a su capacidad de forjar
nuevas sociedades entre consumidores y productores. Introduciendo un estudio etnográfico que he
1 Dr. Cristina Grasseni, Associate Professor, Department of Cultural Anthropology, University of Utrecht, the
Netherlands. Email: crisgrasseni "at" I thank Boone Shear and Brian Burke for their insightful and
inspirational comments on the paper I gave at the 2011 Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology, from which
this article was developed. More recent ethnography on GAS was partly funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation for
Anthropological Research (Post-Ph.D. Research Grant "Seeds of Trust"). This is the fourth paper in Burke, B.J. and B.W.
Shear (eds.) 2014. "Non-capitalist political ecologies", special section of the Journal of Political Ecology 21: 127-221.
Grasseni Seeds of trust in Italy
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 179
desarrollado en una monografía reciente (Gasseni 2013), enfatizo en particular en cómo la economía solidaria
es llevada a cabo en la práctica. Argumento que el activismo provisionado por gasistas es algo diferente al
mero "consumismo ético". Los activistas usan la noción de "co-producción" para describir su compromiso
con un replanteamiento concurrente de los aspectos sociales, económicos, y ecológicos de
aprovisionamiento. Con base también en un estudio cuantitativo del movimiento GAS en el norte de Italia,
busco un entendimiento etnográfico de de "co-producción". Argumento que productores y consumidores en
las redes GAS "co-producen" valores económicos y conocimiento ecológico, mientras re-formulan sus
prácticas de aprovisionamiento en mutualidad y relacionalidad.
Palabras clave: Economía solidaria, grupos de compra solidaria, Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale, redes de
comida alternativa, aprovisionamiento, co-producción, Gibson-Graham, Italia.
1. Solidarity in practice: Italy's solidarity purchase groups
Amid concerns about climate change and an unresolved financial crisis, Europeans are experimenting
with a range of collective practices of food provisioning. A rich constellation of grassroots movements are
posing the question of food as a political object of collective deliberation, and they are devising and
organizing alternative food provisioning networks that value health and quality standards, but also social and
environmental sustainability. Across the urban western world, alternative provisioning comprises a wide
range of formulas. The Transition movement stemming from Ireland places emphasis on energy production
and consumption; the French AMAPs, Associations for the Preservation of Peasant Agriculture, encourage
advance planning and financial support to local crops (Lamine and Perrot 2008); and in the US, community
supported agriculture has brought direct farmerconsumer links to a high level of functional organization and
market visibility, especially through commercial digital networks such as Just Food for New York City or
Local Harvest nationwide.2 In Italy diverse public responses to the issue of sustainability are emerging, from
Slow Food (Siniscalchi 2013) to Transition Towns and the Degrowth movement (Martinez-Alier et al. 2014).
Each activist circle underlines particular aspects of this critical moment and their proposal for a reinvention
of society through a radical rethinking of the economy and the ecology of capitalist consumption: degrowth
theory critiques the idea of sustainable growth, ethical finance responds to the deadly loops of capitalism
"dumping" ecologic and social costs on the most disenfranchised, while "zero-mile democracy" proposes to
rethink the political fabric of society through a defense of the commons and a reconstruction of short supply
Slow Food has also recently embraced a more engaged stance towards a Good, Clean, and Fair food.
With the publication of his Slow Food Nation, in 2007, originally published in Italian as Buono, Pulito e
Giusto in 2005, the founder of Slow Food Carlo Petrini made a conscious political move to change the Slow
Food identity from what is widely perceived as a hedonistic association of "Foodies" to that of a movement,
positively set to address the poverty of the very ones who produce food (Petrini 2007). I was present at the
2010 National Assembly of the Slow Food Association, whose manifesto was tellingly entitled The
consequences of pleasure (Slow Food Italia 2010). Slow Food was taking the responsibility of addressing not
only the gastronomic aspect of valuing traditional recipes, supporting artisanal food production and small-
scale farming, but also other key aspects of the production chain so that once "good and clean" food is
produced, it exchanges hands in a "just" way, too. In doing so, Petrini explicitly promoted the international
role played by Slow Food and endorsed another Italian model, an openly political form of food activism: the
GAS, or Solidarity Purchase Groups.
Especially in northern Italy, where post-industrial economies interact and merge with the re-invention
of local foods through the lens of a heritage framework (Grasseni 2011, 2012), GAS are moving beyond this
paradigm, establishing new types of "social networks" that involve producers and consumers in what they
2 Just Food: Local Harvest: For a critical examination of CSAs,
their limits and potentials, see DeLind (1999, 2002), Hinrichs (2003), and Hinrichs and Lyson (2009).
3 There is no space here for a comprehensive review of the complex European context of alternative provisioning
networks. Here are useful links to some of the most representative circles on degrowth, ethical finance, and "the republic
of the commons":; and
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 180
call "co-production". This consists of various forms of food re-localization, creating new economic circuits,
favoring short supply chains, and supporting local agriculture. I argue that this type of provisioning activism
fosters active citizenship and re-embeds the economy in relationships of trust (Grasseni 2013).
GAS practice introduces a novel element to the debate about "alternative food networks", in that they
veritably re-invent everyday provisioning in collective and participatory ways. They are grassroots
aggregations of consumers who involve producers in direct and collective transactions. GAS mainly organize
food provisioning but, increasingly, non-food provisioning too (of clothes, shoes, cleaning materials, and in
some experimental cases also electricity, car insurance, dental care, and telecommunication). The first
Solidarity Purchase Group dates back to 1994. The current economic crisis has made their formula of
collective bulk-buying from trusted and local producers quite popular, shifting an estimated 80 million euros
(US$110 million) away from large distribution (L'Eco di Bergamo 2012). Gasistas - as GAS members call
themselves - manage the various practical aspects of direct provisioning on a voluntary basis. They often
organize themselves in groups of neighboring families, who hold regular meetings to select their providers
and organize logistics. By creating new direct producer/consumer economic circuits, they wish to responsibly
collaborate with the farmers, enabling them to conduct an economically viable business, but also negotiating
quality criteria and encouraging "conversions" to organic farming.4
In their support for quality farming, Solidarity Purchase Groups are similar to community-supported
agriculture in the US. Nevertheless, they differ for their collective modus operandi. GAS not only make
collective orders to a range of farmers, but they organize this activity through regular meetings and, crucially,
voluntary work. Every group member is expected to actively participate in the running of the GAS, usually
through the rule that each gasista acts as a "product referent" for one or more items. A "referent" liaises with
the provider, negotiates the price, gathers the gasistas wish-list, prepares a spreadsheet, pays up and collects
the order from the provider (or arranges for delivery if too far to pick up the order herself). She usually hosts
deliveries at her home for the other gasistas to come, pay their dues and collect their share. These reciprocal
visits may be hurried, with the car parked outside with hazard lights flashing, or ideally relaxed and
convivial, with the offer of a cup of coffee by the host and reciprocal catching up with gossip. In my
experience, the majority of gasistas participating in the monthly meetings were female (with only two
husbands accompanying them), but deliveries and pick-ups were shared within families. I might send my
husband to pick up the meat, or find a gasista's son or daughter overseeing their mother's olive oil deliveries.
GAS tend to be groups of 20-40 families, but there are many ways of setting up a Solidarity Purchase
Group. I have known neighborhood-groups of just eight families, and GAS of up to 150 families, organized
in subgroups or "chains" (catene) of 13 to 21 families. Crucially, GAS pay their trusted providers higher
prices than they would receive from large distribution networks. The farmers may be "marginal" in many
ways: they may be practicing organic farming without certification (because they cannot afford the
bureaucratic costs of certification), or may be ageing local farmers, or neo-rural young entrepreneurs. It is up
to each Solidarity Purchase Group to interpret how to practice "solidarity" with the producers, among
themselves, and with the environment. Documentation is plentiful on the GAS website (,
but registration with the national network is not mandatory and no form of hierarchy is implemented. In other
words, the National Charter functions as a kind of constitutional statement, which presents a number of
foundational ideals and principles, such as respect for the environment and solidarity, but each group is free
to develop their own practical procedures. Thus, each GAS is self-governed by its assembly. In time, local
networks of GAS have developed. In the Bergamo area, since 2009 more than thirty Solidarity Purchase
Groups have joined ReteGasBergamo, but about double that number exist in total. There is a nationwide
website, a listserv and a national yearly assembly, but none of these operate on the basis of formal delegation
or through a hierarchy of representatives. Thus GAS are accountable purely in moral terms to each other and
to the assembly.
Each GAS establishes its own practical routines and through those, solidarity criteria are established
on a strictly local basis, so that some groups may opt for further choices of voluntary simplicity, for
4 For an analysis of gasista discourse and its preferential use of metaphors that convey the sense of regeneration and
birth, both from botany and the animal world, see Grasseni (2013).
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 181
supporting local short food chains, or for setting up a time bank. For some GAS, priority goes to organic
farming. For others, supporting proximal and small farmers is more important, even if not organic. Often
GAS collaborate with local Fair Trade shops, and sometimes with socially inclusive agricultural
cooperatives. The main idea is to re-localize provisioning to decrease one's ecological footprint but also to
regain direct control of the supply chain to the advantage of transparent pricing and socially acceptable
conditions of labor for all those involved (Gesualdi 1990; Laville 1994; Saroldi 2001). By harnessing the
power of collective consumption, GAS intend to transform society and respond to the challenges posed by
global capital: from environmental depletion, to social injustice, to the fundamentally unfulfilling quality of
"developed" lifestyles (Razeto 2002; Saroldi 2003).
My description is based mostly on participant observation over more than two years, from 2009 to
2011. My identity as a researcher was disclosed from the outset. I was a member of a Solidarity Purchase
Group, participated in the yearly national GAS assembly, and became a delegate of my group in a nascent
network of 62 GAS groups in the province of Bergamo, in Lombardy. During the latest phase of fieldwork I
lent my professional competence to the planning of an updated census of Italian Solidarity Purchase Groups,
with Bergamo as a pilot study (Forno, Grasseni and Signori 2013a). This research, titled Inside relational
capital is an ongoing project led by CORES, the Research Group on Consumption, Networks and Practices
of Sustainable Economies at Bergamo University (of which I am a co-founder). Its pilot phase led to a
detailed picture of the GAS movement in the Bergamo area by the summer of 2012. Subsequently, it was
extended to all the other provinces of the region of Lombardy and, beginning in 2013, to other Italian regions
such as Sicily and Friuli/Venezia Giulia. Lombardy hosts the highest number of Solidarity Purchase Groups
recorded so far (about 400), and about 7,100 gasista families (Forno, Grasseni and Signori 2013b). About
23% of them completed CORES's online questionnaire, and about two hundred respondents were
coordinators of their respective groups. The survey asked detailed questions about membership, organization,
motivation, and types of activity, but also gasistas' education, income, political orientation, and previous
associative experience.
Mapping GAS membership and practices through a quantitative tool such as the CORES
questionnaire provided me with a complementary lens for analyzing a movement that I had already observed
and participated in for a couple of years. Moreover, a collaborative framework ensued between CORES and
activists of the GAS network, as it became apparent that the GAS online census is not keeping up with the
pace of their actual proliferation. Mapping GAS was thus also a way to meet the movement's need to chart its
own boundaries. While social scientific methodology casts its objects of research with a language of
"objective" analysis, ethnography is conscious about our role in participating in our own "objects" of
observation. Such realization eschews the passive role of the subject or the "observed" and invites clearer
commitments in terms of reciprocity and responsibility on the part of the researcher. Mapping meant charting
boundaries, informing the movement's self-perception, and contributing to its agenda-setting (cf. St.Martin
2009). This in turn contributed to political action - politics being, at its best, a collective deliberation of the
goals of a polis, namely a community.
In this paper I argue that GAS function as political-ecological networks, namely that Italian Solidarity
Purchase Groups exercise an intentional politics of provisioning tthrough a specific and original provisioning
practice, which in turn is transformative of gasistas' lifestyles.
2. Reinventing provisioning through economies of trust
An apt example of the political as well as ecological aspects of GAS practice regards their attitude
toward organic farming and organic certification. The CORES questionnaire provides clear answers as to the
degree of gasistas' trust in the current systems of certification: of the 299 interviewed gasistas in Bergamo,
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 182
only 19.3% trust organic food certification "a lot", while 41.4% trust fair trade certification "a lot" (Forno,
Grasseni, and Signori 2013a: 61).5
Even though they don't trust certifications much, gasistas have a fairly good knowledge of
certification logos. The Organic certification logo was identified correctly by 64.9% of the sample, the Fair
Trade logo by 52.9% and the Forest Stewardship Council logo by 57.2% (Forno, Grasseni, and Signori
2013a: 61). A useful comparative benchmark is provided by a report on average styles of consumption in the
municipality of Bergamo. In this study of 155 participants, more than 50% went to a shopping mall for food
and non-food purchases (Forno and Salvi 2012: 14). Some 41.3% were concerned about health issues related
to the food they bought, and 39.2% with environmental issues. Yet 96.6% chose by price only (p. 16), and
76.8% had a high degree of trust for organic certification, 71% for Fair Trade certification (p. 18). A further,
image-based question nevertheless established that 60.5% claimed they did not know the Fair Trade logo
(and a further 24.8% got it wrong), while 59.5% claimed they did not know the organic certification logo
(and a further 10.3% got it wrong). Again, while 75.7% of interviewees maintain that short supply chain
foods offer a good quality/cost ratio and 75% consider them tastier and environmentally friendlier, an
insignificant minority actually buys them (p. 19).
What we can conclude from these eloquent data is that "income and awareness of the risks associated
with certain styles of consumption are not sufficient to adopt new lifestyles that are more respectful of the
environment and of one's health" (Forno and Salvi 2012: 21). In this section I am going to illustrate three
examples of what I call here "economies of trust", all of which contribute to a growing literature on
solidarity, affect, and regard as relevant factors in shaping economic relations even in the contemporary
globalized world of advanced capitalism (Ash 2009; Bruni and Zamagni 2007; Hart et al. 2010), and which
emerge as a result of social, environmental, and economic crises caused by neoliberal globalization, such as
that experienced by the Latin American countries (Mance 2001) and more recently in Southern Europe. My
first example will regard the use of participatory guarantee systems to certify the quality of farming products,
specifically if organic, in a context of growing skepticism about the quality and quantity of information
available to the consumer about food chains. The second example will regard solidarity purchase as an
intentional act of support of specific producers in times of crises, which sets prices and logistics outside the
laws of demand and offer. The third example profiles "co-production" as a relation of mutual support
between producers and consumers that goes beyond the idea of capital investment and growth.
The survey data from 299 GAS in the province of Bergamo clearly supports the notion that Solidarity
Purchase Groups prefer direct knowledge of the producers to certification systems, and organic certification
is not a prerequisite for providers. When asked what are the most essential requirements for producers to do
business with GAS, the statement most adhered to by Bergamo gasistas was: "GAS should buy only from
producers who respect workers' rights" (79.9%), and secondly "GAS should only buy from producers who
present regular tax documentation" (68.9%); while "GAS should only buy certified organic products" scored
last (11.9%) (Forno, Grasseni, and Signori 2013a: 62). Supporting self-certification amongst small farmers is
one of the "scaling up" actions that networks of GAS, called Districts of Solidarity Economy (DES) are
experimenting with in Lombardy. Instead of institutionalizing trust through a certification of standards, GAS
producers and consumers are involved in collaboratively identifying a viable roadmap for "converting" to
organic, or for keeping pesticides to a minimum.
The toxicity of post-industrial land, the loss of fertility in intensively farmed fields, the lack of
phosphorus and potassium in insufficiently prepared soil, as well as the land-grabbing carried out by large-
scale certified organic agribusinesses, are all common concerns for these actors. A unique protocol of
production is negotiated in each particular case. This idea, namely that of a "participatory guarantee system"
(PGS) takes into account viable and local solutions to usually compromised scenarios, with nitrogen
pollution in the soil from excessively fed cattle, or with infiltrations of industrial toxics in water collection
5 The data used here are part of a wider research project, Dentro il Capitale delle Relazioni, carried out by the CORES
Research Group under the scientific direction of Francesca Forno, Cristina Grasseni and Silvana Signori at Bergamo
University ( The study was endorsed by the Italian Solidarity Economy Network (Tavolo RES and carried out in collaboration with Davide Biolghini and Giuseppe Vergani of Tavolo RES.
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 183
points.6 Rather than applying an abstract evaluation in the name of audit-like accountabilities (Strathern
2000), solidarity economy activists prefer to invite transparency from the producers about their actual
hurdles, so that a protocol and a roadmap can be agreed upon collaboratively.
The implementation of this kind of project also marks a significant passage from "solidarity purchase"
to the active construction of a "solidarity economy." In fact, GAS groups often provide membership and
customers for Districts of Solidarity Economy (DES), but the transition from one organizational form
(diffuse, self-organized purchase groups) to the other (concerted networks of GAS, producers, and
associations or institutional actors) is not at all simple. There are currently 25 DES projects in Italy,
compared with about one thousand registered Solidarity Purchase Groups.7 The participated guarantee
system (PGS) project described above, for instance, is not being developed by individual Solidarity Purchase
Groups (which would probably not have the agronomic and administrative competence to do so) but as a
collaboration of three Lombard DES of the Varese, Como and Brianza areas.
Participatory certification can be read in part as a grassroots response to the muddle of national and
European legislation on GM crops, which Les Levidow and Susan Carr have authoritatively described in
their book as "a test to European Democracy" itself. Their GM Food on Trial recounts how, as the
controversy on GM crops heightened, "in 1999 several member states of the European Union collectively
announced their refusal to consider any more approvals of new GM products", thus creating "…a procedural
impasse, soon known as the de facto EU Council moratorium" (Levidow and Carr 2009: 3). Levidow and
Carr stress how "when the US government brought a WTO case against the ‘illegal moratorium' and
national bans on GM products, the EU was formally put on trial" (p. 256). This stalemate was largely the
result of popular reactions to early EU agro-biotech policy, which had "granted safety approval for GM soya
and maize, with no requirement for a special label on derived food products. GM grain was invisibly mixed
in agro-food chains and processed food, so the public was cast as unwitting (and perhaps supportive)
consumers of GM technology. Protesters warned that consumers would be human guinea pigs, being ‘force-
fed GM food'. By default of any clear means to act as citizens, many consumers ‘voted' against GM food
through their purchases and protest" (p. 11).
Debate over GM labeling, traceability and detectability is still open in Europe. Strict labeling
requirements were announced for all food and animal feed products linked in any way to transgenic crops
(Mitchell 2003), but the definition itself of GM for the purpose of labeling is an ongoing object of
controversy (Levidow and Carr 2009: 189-217). A turning point in Italian public opinion came when the
European Commission sought to lift Italy's national ban on several GM foods and fodders such as maize,
soya, and rapeseed. At that point it was clear that the nation-wide protectionist attitude was inadequate for
preserving a GM-free Italian agricultural sector.
In the face of this complex scenario, GAS food activists act on the premise that the only guarantee of
real traceability consists in personal intervention in the food chain. Rather than counting on top-down
surveillance through either GM labeling or organic certification, GAS establish an acceptable degree of
transparency by engaging in collaboration with the producers. For instance, in my work with the Bergamo
"producers' mapping group," we sought to share and compare data on our current providers and scout new
local farmers and breeders to convince them to enter a partnership with GAS. We contacted potential
providers and proposed soya- and maize-free dietary protocols for their cattle and pigs. Our group leader was
adamant that "all soya is GM anyhow", and asked GAS providers to avoid it in exchange for higher prices
and trusted customers. Our formula was clear and practice-driven: know your farmer, make your demands
explicit, negotiate what is reasonable to achieve within a roadmap of "conversion to organic", and reward the
6 Michele Corti, professor of animal husbandry at Milan’s State University, and Silvia Contessi, Ph.D. student at
Bergamo University, are analyzing such systems in their making (see the EUPOLIS research Heritage localized agri-
food systems HeLAFS as a specialized dimension of LAFS (2012/2013), Last accessed March 6 2013.
7 On October 23, 2012, the national network of Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale (GAS) registered 900 Solidarity Purchase
Groups There are currently 25
Districts of Solidarity Economy, 7 of which located in Lombardy. They are listed on
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 184
producer through direct transactions and higher prices. A successful example was a female cow breeder
whom we visited and promised to buy meat from, on the condition that she would eliminate soya from
fodder. Our support helped her finance herself while obtaining a license for a butcher shop that she had been
struggling to establish in the nearby village.
Solidarity does not only involve agricultural "conversions." A second example was prompted by the
two earthquakes that shook Italy in L'Aquila in 2009 and Modena in 2011. In this case, solidarity took the
pragmatic form of buying damaged produce from the earthquake-affected Parmesan dairies, not at fire-sale
prices but as a form of support to the affected producers. Through mailing lists and Facebook pages,
hundreds of gasistas bought tons of damaged Parmesan from the quake-affected dairies; this network quickly
collected group orders so that cash could flow to the region and produce could be salvaged before it spoiled
(Modena is about two hours drive from Bergamo, and collective orders would be collected in person by
gasistas with their personal means of transport).8 In the case of Abruzzo, the idea of acquiring Christmas gift
packages from Abruzzese farmers came after one of Bergamo's gasistas spent a solidarity-driven eco-tourism
holiday in an area affected by the earthquake. Upon her return, she circulated a list of Christmas Packages (of
local products such as cheese, salami, and preserves) to the Bergamo GAS network, proposing to buy them
from a network of Abruzzese farms. This project, sponsored in Abruzzo by a local Catholic Association and
an Agricultural and Conservation Park, and in Bergamo by ReteGasBergamo, raised 11,000 Euros
(US$15,000) thanks to the volunteer who initiated and coordinated the collective order.
A third example is provided by a family dairy, Tomasoni, which was salvaged from bankruptcy in
2009 by a network of 200 Solidarity Purchase Groups. The firm started doing business with GAS in 2002,
"converted" to organic in 2004, and began having financial trouble in 2008. In 2009, as a result of the credit
crunch, the factory was about to close, and sent a request for help to its gasistas. Tomasoni customers and
other GAS raised an interest-free, 18-month loan of about 150,000 euros within 45 days. This was enough to
pay standing bills and keep Tomasoni alive, and since then the dairy almost exclusively supplies GAS, which
in turn accept higher prices.
This happens in a context where intensive farming and large dairy concerns are the norm. Lombardy's
milk production is 40% of Italian national production and averages 4.3 million tons a year. It employs six
thousand enterprises and twelve thousand people (plus four hundred packaging and transformation plants).
Eighty percent of Lombard milk is transformed into cheese for about 1.5 billion euros (generating 23% of the
regional agricultural income), 40% of cheese produced in the region is protected by geographical indication
(the EU Protected Denomination of Origin) and uses about 50% of the milk transformed.9 In this context,
small-scale raw milk and cheese producers are especially burdened by the high costs of logistics and by
milk's low market price (about 33c/l).
Selling to a Solidarity Purchase Group can ease economic pressure on small producers, bring
immediate relief in case of catastrophic events, and transform and support the ecological management of
family enterprises. The Tomasoni case in particular creates a significant precedent: the firm did not turn into
a cooperative, nor are the funders organised into an association, nor is this a form of socially responsible
"investment". Instead, I propose to view it as a new form of "economy of trust" (Sage 2007) that gasistas call
"co-production", not because the functional roles of producers and consumers somehow merge but because
reciprocal knowledge generates loyalty, strengthens relationships and, thus, creates economic resilience. The
idea of trust couples with that of solidarity; in fact it is a condition for solidarity. It shortens the distance
between producer and consumer, sometimes literally, and encourages people to avoid too many
intermediaries. Similar to family bonding relations, and especially in a context of general breakdown of trust
in institutions such as banks, the state, and quality guarantors, confidence is established on the basis of
8 See
9 Data circulated at the conference "There’s ferment in milk" in February 2010 by Lecco’s Chamber of Commerce at the
fair Ristorexpo. The conference aimed to sensitize professional restaurant operators toward using shorter milk and dairy
chains, thus reviving local cheese production. Speakers: Cristina Grasseni, Hansi Baumgartner, Giovanni Guadagno,
Matteo Scibilia.
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 185
proximity and direct collaboration, as widely reviewed in the anthropology of kinship, particularly among
entrepreneurial families and extended families (Lomnitz and Pérez-Lizaur, 1987, p. 118; Schneider and
Schneider, 1976).
The Tomasoni case was studied by business economist Silvana Signori, who surveyed the 200
Solidarity Purchase Groups involved in the rescue operation and received 244 valid or complete answers
from its members, 169 of which had agreed to join the financing operation. Significantly, only nine of these
gasistas had pledged a sizeable sum (more than 500 Euro), while most had contributed between 50 and 100
Euro. Asked about their motivation, the desire to continue to consume Tomasoni's products was mentioned
by only 5 respondents, even if 32 (about 19%) expressed appreciation for product quality (Signori 2010).
Obviously this was not a behavior induced solely by appreciation of product quality. Seventy gasistas (out of
169) referred instead to "the desire to participate", "to be an active part of a bigger system", "to have the
possibility to do something important", "to collaborate" and "to provide an alternative". Fifty-nine answers
evoked the concept of "solidarity", as in the "S" of the acronym "GAS" (Signori 2010).
None of the examples described above is considered by gasistas to be an explicitly anti-capitalist
manoeuvre. In fact, all of these interventions aimed at keeping someone "in business". What they introduced
was, on the one hand, a non-oppositional rapport with the producers, whereby the consumers' advantage is
not construed as an erosion of the producers' profit. Quite the contrary, co-producing consumers provide a
non-capitalocentric value framework (Gibson-Graham 2006) to assess product quality (for instance, organic
but not certified), economic sustainability (for instance, lending money at no cost or buying at higher price)
and ecologic sustainability (for instance, encouraging low-pesticide farming and local supply chains). Any of
these examples can be easily misconstrued as anti-economic activities: Tomasoni, in fact, ran into bankruptcy
after scaling down the entire business to opt for an all-organic line of production. The Abruzzese
smallholders were supported by an agricultural and conservation park. And the cattle breeder in Bergamo
was operating in an environmental park situated in a hilly area, unsuitable for large and intensive breeding.
Nevertheless, the apparent unsustainability of these operations can be disproved given that price-setting is not
considered a mere function of the dynamics of cutting costs for higher profit or of self-adjusting demand and
In a full-length monograph I explain how collective consumption through GAS enables multiple
layers of new economic circuits that are explicitly inspired by the principle of solidarity. In particular, while
the individual GAS group is mostly concerned with food provisioning and has a limited impact on local
economies, networks of GAS provide organized and dedicated "networks of networks" that support
"citizenship markets", renewable energy provision, short supply chains, and even forms of solidarity-based
dental insurance (Grasseni 2013).
3. Solidarity purchase groups as political-ecological networks
A great deal of time and passion are invested in gasistas' discussions of preferences and criteria to
contact a farmer, accepting another's commercial proposition, or terminating a partnership. The absolute
preference usually goes for supporting local small-scale farmers. Vegetables and fruit are usually found
locally, and increasingly so too are meat and dairies. A certain number of cheese and milk retailers have
switched their entire business to organic in order to provide GAS groups and networks on a regional basis
(for instance, throughout Lombardy10). In my knowledge, a few trusted cooperatives - some local, some
located further away in Tuscany, Trentino and Sicily - provide the GAS of the Bergamo province with olive
oil, oranges, and minimally processed foodstuffs such as pasta, tomato sauces, jam, and fruit juices. Wine is
increasingly entering the equation, as well as fresh fish, but also clothes, shoes, and personal hygiene items.
It is not easy to create a comprehensive network of proximal food providers whose foodstuffs are
traceable both in terms of quality and respect for workers' rights. In fact, new "budding" GAS may be
dependent on established relationships with providers of longer-standing purchase groups (especially
10 Lombardy includes 11provinces over about 9,200 square miles, an extension comparable to that of Massachusetts
(about 10,500 sq mi).
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 186
agricultural cooperatives) as no real alternative can be found on the market. As GAS proliferate, though, they
find new partners nationwide. For instance, some GAS buy from agricultural cooperatives working Sicilian
lands that have been expropriated from the Mafia (Forno and Gunnarson 2010). Since 2011, a fruitful
collaboration has ensued between networks of Northern Italian Solidarity Purchase Groups and an
"archipelago" of Sicilian orange growers, Arcipelago Siqillyah ( The latter organize
orange "landings" in as many Italian market squares as GAS groups can arrange for them, to sell their
oranges directly and to meet their customers. This obviously requires organization, costs, and labor on both
parts: to arrange transport and delivery, parking, and stands for the market. Most of the oranges are pre-sold
to the local Solidarity Purchase Groups, who guarantee collective orders the rest goes to promotion, public
visibility, and on-the-spot retail.
In October 2012, national television and the press reported that up to 7 million Italians allegedly
practice forms of solidarity economies (Rubino 2012). Building on about ten years of research on the re-
localization of food systems in Italy and on two years of ethnography with the Italian solidarity economy
network, I would suggest that up to seven million Italians may well be practicing forms of collective
purchase, but that only a conservative estimate of about 100,000 people do so specifically in the name of
solidarity, and thus make this practice political. This narrow framing of solidarity economy allows me to
distinguish it from any kind of collective economic action, such as purchase groups and buying coops, that
are dictated uniquely by price considerations and by a (legitimate) effort to obtain the best quality and the
highest quantity for the lowest price. My construction of solidarity economy as a (narrowly defined) political
practice is based on the idea that solidarity purchase groups are driven by additional motives, such as those
outlined in the three examples illustrated above: to make farming a more ecologically sound practice, to
weave relations of proximity with farmers, and to take an active role in re-engineering food systems through
The figure of 100,000 people is based on quantitative data gathered through a survey of northern
Italy's Solidarity Purchase Groups carried out at Bergamo University, and on projections that we estimated
together with representative of the nationwide working group on Districts of Solidarity Economy (Tavolo
RES), on the basis of their current national census of GAS groups. The current GAS on-line census registers
about 800 groups in the whole of Italy, a nation of about 60 million inhabitants, but when I participated in the
mapping of the active GAS groups in the province of Bergamo in 2011, we listed more than 60 groups over a
province of just one million inhabitants. This led us to believe that the GAS expansion might have been
momentous, practically hidden from view, and not charted in the last 5 years of economic crisis which in
Italy has been accompanied by a crisis in political representation.11
In my research experience, GAS adherents come from all walks of life: I met civil servants, factory
workers, professionals with young families, retired people, and students. Their statistical profile locates them
clearly among the well-educated Italian lower middle classes, mainly employed in poorly paid but secure jobs
in education or in the public service sector: of the 1658 gasistas interviewed by CORES throughout
Lombardy by the end of 2012, 62% were female, 49.6% were aged between 30 and 44 years and another
42,9% were aged between 45 and 60. 49.5% had a BA degree (of which and 37.6% had a higher degree) and
71,8% were families with children (25,6% of which younger than 5). 60% worked in clerical or teaching
jobs, whilst only 4,4% were factory workers. Regarding their family income, 22,3% reported a net monthly
family income inferior to 2,000 Euros, and 56% had between 2,000 and 3,600 Euro ( Forno, Grasseni and
Signori 2013b).
Now, a family of four living on a monthly income of maximum 3,600 Euros (roughly 4,700$) in
northern Italy (where car petrol costs about 10 dollars to the gallon) hardly fits the stereotype of the wealthy
bourgeois or the radical chic. These people depend on clerical salaries, send their children to public school,
and may be able to afford one car, especially if they are servicing a mortgage at the same time. Paul Ginsborg
11 For instance, the 2011-2012 Monti government did not include parliamentary representatives but functionaries,
bankers, and administrators. It was sworn in directly by the President of the Republic in March 2012, to find "technical"
and "apolitical" solutions to the economic crisis that was nearly bankrupting the country under Berlusconi's resigning
government. Democratic elections were called in February 2013.
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 187
(2010) offers the definition of a "reflexive middle class" – namely a lower middle class that uses education
and relational capital as a resource to act in favor of civic solidarity and social cohesion, despite having little
voice in economic strategies and political decision-making. Usually, this class acts on the premise of
moderately left-wing dispositions, usually inherited either from the socially oriented fringes of the now
defunct Christian Democrat Party, or from the post-communist Democratic Party. The lifestyle of this lower
middle class is indeed very distant from a numerically limited higher middle class with high-end
consumption lifestyles, conservative political propensities, and little disposition to social responsibility.
GAS membership as currently organized is unattractive to the poorest, who would be unable to
support farmers through advance payments and higher prices. But it is not a middle class club, either. A 50 to
100 Euro loan to Tomasoni is, for a gasista family, a significant effort. Travel expenses to pick up produce
from the most distant producers with one's personal car were meticulously documented and reimbursed to the
penny. Price, and not only solidarity, was always discussed at length in my own GAS: once, when a "product
referent" for berries and red fruits hazarded offering a 1 Euro per kilo increase to a local provider, she was
harshly critiqued in assembly. It was clear to me that at least the families in my group were not just engaged
in a moral struggle to consume ethically: they were also struggling to make ends meet. One of us had to leave
the group, with the adamant explanation that she could no longer afford solidarity-driven purchase standards.
A quick comparison with Slow Food may help illustrate the fundamental social difference between
two types of food activism that might, at first sight, look and sound similar. In the Bergamo area, in fact,
there exists a long-standing co-operation between Slow Food and GAS activism. For instance, in 2010 the
Slow Food Condotta (Chapter) of the Valli Orobiche (Bergamo's valleys) promoted the adoption of zero-mile
menus and sponsored the use of local red maize in its affiliated restaurants. Under the leadership of the same
person, now Slow Food "governor" for Lombardy, Terra Madre Lombardia proceeded to organize seminars
on "permaculture", "biodiversity", "food waste", and "land as a commons". In 2012, these seminars
showcased, among others, a project for short chain supply of bread, Spiga and Madia, developed by a
District of Solidarity Economy in Brianza, near Milan. This was hailed as a benchmark of "zero-mile
democracy": not only a re-territorialization of food production (reintroducing local varieties of wheat, using
local mills, and including a network of local bakers to serve more than 500 families), but one done in the
name of food sovereignty (De Santis 2010).
This is an example of "parallel convergence" so to speak, between different types of food activism
that may well support the same agenda (and even the same farmers) but have traditionally appealed to
customers of different socio-economic status through distinct provisioning styles gasistas generally being
more price-aware and lower-middle class than Slow Food "foodies". While Slow Food organized zero-mile
restaurant menus and supported the reintroduction of a local variety of red maize of the Bergamasque valleys,
Bergamo's gasistas attempted to re-engineer the entire food chain, not only protecting that one "niche"
cultivar, but "converting" the farmer to rotate this grain with plain organic potatoes, which they would buy at
preferential prices. In other words, gasistas were committed to transforming the entire supply chain, not just
to promote a niche territorial product.
Styles of participation are also of paramount importance. Gasistas often begrudge the lack of sobriety
in "foodies" consumption choices and lifestyles. An organizer of the Spiga and Madia project, for instance,
mentioned that local Slow Food members would be more interested to Barolo vertical tastings than in buying
much cheaper "panettone" Christmas cakes produced by the local bakes. Again, when Carlo Petrini publicly
presented his book Buono, Pulito e Giusto in Bergamo 2010, rumor had it amongst gasistas that the GAS
network did not officially partake in the event because sponsoring associations were invited to promote the
sale of the book. With their stern focus on volunteered participation, sobriety, and reduction of consumption,
gasistas often come across as ascetic visionaries (Osti 2006), setting themselves far apart from self-indulging
"foodosophers" (gastrosofi gaudenti, Berlendis 2009). Whilst the latter support the world peasantry because
they draw the consequences of a universal "right to pleasure" (Slow Food Italia 2010), Solidarity Purchase
Groups and Solidarity Economy Districts root themselves in a culture of voluntary simplicity, a critique of
consumerism, and awareness of the ecological and political implications of mass provisioning (Grasseni
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Not being representative of the most disenfranchised sectors of society does leave gasistas in an
ambivalent and unresolved position vis-à-vis the issue of social inclusion and equity. Nevertheless, their
contribution consists in striving to maintain or re-suturing a viable provisioning fabric that includes
smallholders, corner shops, and a farmed local landscape, rather than allowing gentrified neighborhoods to
turn into urban food-deserts. Solidarity Purchase Groups have numerous facets, which we do not have the
space to analyze here (see Grasseni 2013 and 2014). At the individual level (the single GAS group operating
for the benefit of its membership), they could be considered both as a self-help association (securing quality
food at affordable prices). At the network level, though, they are capable of significant intervention in the
face of ecological and financial crisis. For instance, after the 2009 quake in Abruzzo, called the
annual nationwide GAS assembly in L'Aquila, to bring concrete solidarity to the local farmers and residents.
The assembly took place in an encampment outside the medieval town, and gasistas camped or stayed at
local bed and breakfasts, hotels or agro-tourism sites, bringing business to the local economy.12
In effect, GAS are much more a form of political-ecological network than they are "alternative food
networks", which have stirred much critical consideration because of their proneness to localism and elitism
(Goodman, DuPuis, Goodman, 2012; Whatmore, Stassart, Renting 2003). Firstly, gasistas reach beyond
"alternative" provisioning and set themselves a goal, that of solidarity with the farmers and the environment.
They thus exercise an intentional politics of provisioning. Secondly, through their provisioning practice,
GAS aim to be transformative of lifestyles. Though dealing mostly with food provisioning, they reconfigure
food from what are commonly conceptualized as formal transactions involving foodstuff as commodity, or as
objects of individual taste and distinction, to restore it to its dimension of mutual relationality and ecological
embeddedness (Mauss 1924, Polanyi 1968, Gudeman 2012). In GAS practice, food provisioning has to do
with re-appropriating local knowledge and agency: from knowing seasonality, to knowing how to pluck a
chicken; from knowing what grows well in one's specific farming landscape, to knowing who actually farms
there. According to the CORES survey, nearly 83% of Bergamo gasistas had increased their intake of
organic food and almost 80% were consuming more local foodstuffs since they joined a GAS. Additionally,
27.6% had introduced environment-friendly detergents, more that 40% had begun avoiding supermarket
shopping altogether, and just as many had begun producing certain foods, such as bread, by themselves.
Almost 24% had begun to get more involved in issues regarding their municipality and more than 40% found
that they were behaving in a more cooperative way. More than 27% felt that they were more capable of
influencing politics (Forno, Grasseni, and Signori 2013a: 69-71). Clearly, being an active gasista engages
one not only in alternative food consumption, but also in a much broader and deeper form of ethical and
political deliberation about the economy.
4. Conclusion: building knowledge and economies of trust through co-production
When we think of Italian families sharing food, we may think of the Mediterranean diet, of family
meals, maybe of Slow Food, but other forms of collective and still largely family-based foodways are being
experimented with in contemporary Italy. GAS practice never ceases to be about "purchase", but at the same
time it aims to affect politics and economics through direct access to producers. A painstaking work of
collective deliberation and logistics underscores their provisioning practice. One can see the practical
disadvantages: as one fellow gasista once said, "I explained what we do to a friend and she commented ‘my
God you take a whole year to do the weekly shopping'!" Though time consuming, GAS deliberation about
how to put solidarity in practice amounts to political literacy-building. The principle of solidarity is explicitly
invoked in the groups' meetings, both in the individual solidarity purchase group, and at the level of national
assembly. At both levels, a principle of consensus-building is followed or at least invoked. GAS activists
believe that they exert an innovative impact on local economic contexts, a transformative action, which in
turns reinvents the relationship between producers and consumers. It is a process that entails subjective,
collective, and procedural changes. The reciprocal listening of consumers and producers through repeated
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 189
visits builds an economy of trust, allowing producers and consumers to achieve their goals ethically not by
exiting the market but rather by accessing it on one's own terms as in the Tomasoni case.
Gasistas do not necessarily view themselves as attempting to build non-capitalist economies, but they
introduce a paramount dimension of affect and of "regard" (Offer 1997; Sage 2007) in economic transactions,
which has been underlined in Gibson-Graham's "diverse economy" framework (Gibson-Graham 2008; Burke
and Shear 2014). They use a loose definition of solidarity economy that emerges from the French,
Portuguese, and Italian literature on global justice (Laville 1994; Mance 2001; Saroldi 2003) and has
established itself as a cross-disciplinary notion (Ash 2009; Hart, Laville and Cattani 2010). This works as an
umbrella concept spanning diverse social networks that reinvent consumption as "political consumerism"
(Micheletti 2003), "ethical consumption" (Carrier and Luetchford 2011), "community economies" (Gibson-
Graham 2006), or "civic economies" (Bruni and Zamagni 2007). This interdisciplinary literature has
borrowed the notion of "co-production" from science and technology studies (Jasanoff 2006), rural sociology
(van der Ploeg and Marsden 2004), and feminist geography (Gibson-Graham 2006) to describe the
concurrent emergence of the social, the material and the natural. The notion of co-production describes this
dynamic notion of mutual relationship. It leaves "producers" to do their job, but it casts GAS activists as
supporters for producers' primary activity. A proximal farming environment is also "co-produced" by
consumer/producer collaboration and transactions. According to Dutch rural sociologist van der Ploeg, in co-
production both natural and social resources are co-constituted (Van der Ploeg and Marsden 2004): thus both
local agronomic knowledge and composting soil are "co-produced" (van der Ploeg 2006: 200).
Co-production is also practiced by gasistas as a space for consensus building, namely as an ongoing
conversation nurtured by frequent correspondence and visits to the farmers, who should be "accompanied",
"supported", and "converted". GAS practice is baffling at many levels, as activists are not usually associated
in formal cooperatives, but distribute goods and services on a volunteer basis. Beyond their sometimes-
dismissive gloss as yet another guise of "alternative food networks", GAS are a prime anthropological object
as they aim to re-embed economy and politics into a social and relational fabric. These collective
experiments engage with and rethink the issue of "distribution", both in terms of logistics and in terms of the
economic relationship between producer and consumer. The most obvious way in which Gasistas engage in
distribution lies at the very core of GAS practice. Each one of them procures orders of one specific product
from a trusted provider, then each collects one's order and pays up one's dues. Each member of the GAS does
this in turn, thus sharing the burden of liaising with the provider, collecting the bulk produce, paying up on
behalf of everyone, storing the products, and inviting the others to collect their share. There is no overhead,
or "buying costs", as there is no room in GAS for "just buying". If a member "just buys", and does not
participate in meetings, or does not volunteer for taking up the logistics of one product, she is reminded of
the duty of reciprocity and may finally find herself "pruned" from the mailing list.
Italy's Solidarity Purchase Groups reconnect the crisis-affected lower-middle class with a smallholder
agriculture that still employed 42% of the population as late as 1951. They secure quality food at relatively
advantageous prices for themselves and their friends and families produce of freshness and quality that one
would expect to find at farmers' markets or high-end supermarkets. They thus solve in a very effective way a
growing problem of food security that the current financial and ecologic crisis has induced (that is, if by food
security we mean security of access to healthy food, thus adding an important element of self-determination
and of food sovereignty to the common understanding of food security as access to what food is sufficient for
bare survival, regardless of health, quality, freshness, or pleasure). GAS practice can thus be read as a new
form of mutualism in the face of failing trust in the market as "neutral" mechanism for price determination,
and in agribusiness as food provider. Gasistas' direct relationship with their producers, for instance, re-
distributes risk. Risks from soil and water contamination, or from untraced GM nutrients, are managed
through direct arrangements and viable roadmaps to organic farming.
In conclusion, GAS are an important case of citizens freely entering cooperative relationships
between themselves and with farmers and food producers, aiming for reciprocal benefit on a concrete basis
while charting new economies and ecologies of trust. In the Italian smallholders scenario, GAS play an
increasingly important role in offering a survival opportunity to small farms, as they recruit them to
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Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 21, 2014 190
reconstruct local food chains, while shielding these often family-run entrepreneurs from the worst effects of
the financial crisis. GAS activism in the wake of the recent earthquakes in Southern and Northern Italy (April
2009, May 2012) as well as the credit crunch begun in 2008 offer concrete examples of how forms of self-
organized solidarity can sustain local economies in times of worsening environmental and economic crises.
In this respect, GAS differ from other alternative food networks, especially as they move beyond mere food
provisioning to face issues of "solidarity based" interventions in compromised territories and economies. At
the grassroots level, they display the ambition to map producers, to coordinate larger networks, to initiate or
support projects in post-earthquake areas or with marginal rural producers. They cooperate with different
agencies such as Slow Food with its focus on food heritage, or the Catholic farmers' unions intervention in
post-quake farming areas.
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... Farmers' markets, ethical purchasing groups, community supported agriculture, organic shops, etc. have promoted the re-localisation and re-territorialisation of food ( Sage, 2003 ). Their main strategies have been the shortening of provisioning chains; the promotion of small size ethical agriculture and quality seasonal food at fair prices; the construction of significant relationships of mutual support and trust between producers and consumers ( Grasseni, 2014 ). Of late, and even more in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, digital platforms are entering the landscape of alternative food provisioning. ...
... Belavina et al., 2016 ;Edwards et al., 2009 ), as well as contradic- JID: SPC [m5G;July 30, 2021;13:27 ] tions related to socio-economic impacts ( Frenken and Schor, 2017 ). Affective and ideological motivations also lead to resisting digitalisation, as both individuals and AFNs fear depersonalisation and cooptation ( Grasseni, 2014 ). ...
Food production, distribution and consumption are necessary dimensions of existence and simultaneously exposed to a number of ecological and social fragilities, especially in the contemporary crisis. The reconfiguration of unsustainable systems of food provisioning is thus a priority, geared towards resilience, ecology and equity. Alternative forms of procurement have been part of this effort and a debate is now emerging on whether digital platforms might promote access to them. Yet, an in-depth interrogation of the ways in which digital food consumption becomes part of everyday routines is largely missing. The objective of our article is to understand if and how digitalisation makes alternative provisioning more “practicable”, allowing consumers to engage in what they consider healthier and more sustainable food practices. In so doing, we also look at platforms’ transformative potentials. Their design and ongoing practicing, in fact, not only capture existing needs, but actively shape the overall meanings, material organisation and embodied interactions with everyday food. Our analysis is based on 23 in-depth ethnographic and multimedia interviews with consumers living in Milan, who utilise online alternative forms of food provisioning.
... Moreover, this fosters a trusted relationship based on direct knowledge of the actors (Grasseni, 2014). As suggested by Saroldi (2003), the SPGs, as with other collective experiences, become "building sites" where new forms of economy are generated. ...
... The most important and significant difference between them is in relation to the different role the SPGs have played over the years in creating a new kind of individual and collective understanding amongst its members by sharing information and opinions about the role that these consumption practices are gaining over time. (Mora, 2007;Brunori, Rossi and Guidi, 2011;Cembalo, Migliore and Schifani, 2011;Grasseni, 2014;Martino, Giacchè, Rossetti, 2015). They have also strengthened the understanding and function of groups who use the political field as a place to promote and address issues of national and local interest. ...
... Os membros (consumidores participantes do grupo) são operários de fábricas, profissionais liberais com famílias jovens, aposentados, estudantes e funcionários públicos civis. Do total de membros, 62% mulheres e 38% são homens (GRASSENI, 2014). Com Na prática do GAS o abastecimento alimentar reapropria o conhecimento local, para saber o que se desenvolve bem numa determinada propriedade e quem realmente cultiva essa terra (GRASSENI, 2014). ...
... Do total de membros, 62% mulheres e 38% são homens (GRASSENI, 2014). Com Na prática do GAS o abastecimento alimentar reapropria o conhecimento local, para saber o que se desenvolve bem numa determinada propriedade e quem realmente cultiva essa terra (GRASSENI, 2014). Além da reinvenção dos alimentos locais, o GAS estabelece novos tipos de "redes sociais" envolvendo produtores e consumidores no que é denominado "coprodução". ...
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Sistemas agroalimentares localizados: aproximando a produção do consumo através de redes sociais Sessão Temática: 5. Agricultura, pecuária e meio ambiente Autora: Lucimar Santiago de Abreu Filiação Institucional: Doutora em Ciências Sociais, Embrapa Meio Ambiente, Caixa Postal 69,13820-000 Jaguariúna, SP, Brasil. Telefone (00155)1933112648. Resumo O atual sistema agroalimentar convencional continua fortemente sendo questionado por produzir um enorme passivo ambiental e social, abriu espaços para a transição da agricultura em direção à adoção de sistemas agroalimentares alternativos considerados mais justos e mais sustentáveis, com adoção de princípios da agroecologia. Tais sistemas vêm sendo construídos em redes territoriais alternativas de produção e consumo, em regiões onde à questão alimentar é protagonizada por agricultores familiares, agentes de desenvolvimento e consumidores, especialmente em regiões próximas de grandes metrópoles. O objetivo geral deste trabalho é o de apresentar essas novas formas de interação da produção e consumo, identificadas em vários continentes, e as características gerais destas redes agroalimentares alternativas cujo movimento social é uma resposta à crise do sistema dominante, que ocorre em diferentes Campinas-SP, 23 a 26 de setembro de 2019 XIII Encontro Nacional da Sociedade Brasileira de Economia Ecológica
... To achieve this goal, each SPG sets general criteria for the choice of products. A general rule is to favour products from small companies that don't invest their profits in financial markets, which fosters a trusted relationship based on direct knowledge of the actors (Grasseni, 2014). As suggested by Saroldi (2003), the SPGs, as with other collective experiences, become 'building sites' where new forms of economy are generated. ...
... Even though culturally and physically distant, the SPGs and Teikei are very similar (Mostaccio and 今井迪代, 2014). The most important and significant difference between them is in relation to the different role the SPGs have played over the years in creating a new kind of individual and collective understanding among their members by sharing information and opinions about the role that these consumption practices have gained over time (Mora, 2007;Brunori et al, 2012;Cembalo et al, 2013;Grasseni, 2014;Martino et al, 2016). They have also strengthened the understanding and function of groups that use the political field as a place to promote and address issues of national and local interest. ...
Criticism of platforms that do not adhere to the democratic principles outlined above has led to the emergence of an alternative proposition, known as “platform cooperativism”: worker-owned cooperatives based on open-source technologies, which respect ethical working conditions and redistribute to the users the value they have created. The cooperative platforms work beyond the public / private dichotomy, rooted in the "foundational" value of services understood as daily infrastructure, but also as a tool of reconnection (and hybridization) among the existing forms of value creation and distribution. In the following paragraphs we will try to focus the analysis on two "foundational" sectors (mobility and care) highlighting the impact generated by the recent digital transformations and the adoption of a "platform based" service model. We’ll try to compare histories and repertoires within the two polar governance systems, those attributable to Platform Capitalism and those related to the Platform Cooperativism, trying to put in evidence the trends of transformation exposed in the previous paragraph, and highilighting risks and opportunities that the platform model can generate.
... Austerity and cuts led not only to anti-austerity protests but also to resilience and social ingenuity, deployed through a range of civil society organisations, social movements and social innovations according to empirical studies on solidarity initiatives both in Italy and in Europe (Andretta and Guidi 2014;Forno and Graziano 2014;Grasseni 2014;Oliveri 2015;Lahusen et al. 2016). Furthermore, as stressed by some of these studies (Forno and Graziano 2014;Bosi and Zamponi 2015), during the crisis many Italian social movement organisations and activists altered their repertoire of actions at the local level in order to achieve social change. ...
... Discussing whether these new strategies and approaches are truly innovative per se is more complex, and it is beyond the scope of our research at this stage. In any case, our results are in line with those of several empirical studies on solidarity initiatives both in Italy and in Europe that have stressed how austerity and cuts led not only to anti-austerity protests but also to resilience, social ingenuity and social innovations (Andretta and Guidi 2014;Forno and Graziano 2014;Grasseni 2014;Oliveri 2015;Lahusen et al. 2016). ...
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This open access collection is devoted to an in-depth, qualitative analysis of practices of cross-national solidarity in response to the current political and social crises, from citizens’ initiatives to networks of cooperation among civil society actors. The book analyses existing informal groups at the grassroots, furthering transnational solidarity in three thematic areas: disability, unemployment and immigration. Contributions assess how civic groups respond to the various crises affecting Europe, especially the economic and refugee crises, presenting new findings from a systematic comparative study conducted in eight European countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, and the UK). The research will be of interest to scholars, students, journalists, policy-makers and activists interested in civil society, social movements, charitable actions, altruism and solidarity, as well as European studies and the socio-economic challenges of current European crises.
... Indeed, farmers' markets, ethical purchasing groups, community-supported agriculture, and organic shops have mushroomed in many places during the past decades and promoted the relocalization and reterritorialization of food (Kropp, Antoni-Komar, and Sage 2020;Sage 2003). To counterbalance industrialized food systems, the main strategies for local food are shortening supply chains; promoting small size, ethical agriculture with quality seasonal food, and fair prices; and constructing significant relationships of mutual support and trust between producers and consumers (Grasseni 2014). While varied, participants' motivations converged around the search for "good food" (Sage 2003, 48), which problematizes the multifaceted characteristics consumers seek in alternative consumption. ...
... There are, however, examples of smaller AFNs in which the distinction between organizers and participants is blurred or non-existing (e.g. solidarity purchase groups in Italy, Grasseni 2014). ...
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This study aimed to explore the constraining and facilitating factors impacting the emergence and consolidation of different types of alternative food networks (AFNs) in different countries. Drawing on the expertise of organizers of seventeen AFNs, we investigated the conditions and actors that hinder and promote the development of different types of AFNs in Poland, Portugal and the Netherlands. Using a multi‐actor perspective framework, we categorized six types of AFNs according to their logic and characteristics: consumer‐led, producer‐led, third‐sector led, community supported agriculture, public‐led, and business platforms. Key challenges and facilitating conditions varied according to AFN type, and depended on AFN particularities. In contrast to the Netherlands, low social capital was commonly cited as a challenge in Portugal and Poland. AFN organizers appeared to exercise innovative power when creating new forms of food provision; however, a wide scope of actions by governmental and non‐governmental actors are needed to support the emergence of more AFNs.
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This paper addresses the development of alternative certification systems, known as Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) and intends to rethink schemes of geographical indications (GI) and traditional specialties through a participatory approach. In a context of growing criticism of conventional third-party certification, PGS aim to construct an alternative process of guaranteeing the authenticity of GI with the active participation of producers, consumers and other stakeholders engaged in the production chain. Using the case study of an existing producer-run PGS for 'Feta' cheese with the PDO label 'Terra Thessalia' (Thessaly, Greece) this paper contextualizes the PGS scheme and explores the future role of consumers by allowing their direct participation in the guarantee process. Based on semi-structured interviews conducted with consumers in rural and urban areas and focus groups with consumers and farmers, the research explores: a) consumer awareness and expectations of the PGS by analyzing their perceived needs, values, preferences and opinions concerning the identity, quality and guarantee process of local food and GI, and b) the effect of various PGS features (material and immaterial) of the territorial resource (e.g. pasture lands, flock, breed, animal feed proximity and welfare, health and quality of products, environmental footprint, traditions, etc.) on consumer purchasing behavior for the product guaranteed by a PGS. In order to better visualize the existing PGS features, the interviews are complemented by the conception of using 3D spatial representations as a way to consult consumers, share information and get their feedback. In this way we aim to explore how consumer perspective can improve and reinforce the effectiveness and legitimacy of the existing PGS by identifying challenges and influencing factors associated with the guarantee process and PGS recognition. We further intend to portray the consumer's "link" with the place of production, authenticity and specificity of the geographical indication in a clear and understandable manner and support a common vision between consumers and producers by enhancing knowledge exchange, participation, reciprocity, transparency and trust. Thus, we explore the general framework under which this PGS can serve as a social learning tool and an educational platform that visualizes the guarantee schemes through a pedagogical approach that intersects consumer opinion, local producer practices and scientific knowledge.
Thoroughly revised and updated, the third edition of The Sociology of Food and Agriculture provides a cutting-edge, comprehensive introduction to the study of food and society. The book begins by examining the food economy, with chapters focusing on foodscapes, the financialization of food, and a new chapter dedicated to food and nutrition (in)security. In Part II, the book addresses community and culture. While some books only look at the interrelationships between food and culture, this section problematizes the food system from the standpoint of marginalized bodies. It contains chapters focusing on agricultural and food labor and the peasantries, topics which are often overlooked, and gender, ethnicity, and poverty. Part III examines food and the environment, with chapters addressing important topics such as agro-ecosystems, food justice, sustainable food, and agriculture and food sovereignty. The final part focuses on food futures and includes a brand-new chapter on sustainable diets and ethical consumption. The book concludes by showcasing how we can rethink food production and consumption in a way that can help heal social, political, and cultural divisions. All chapters draw on international case studies and include learning objectives, suggested discussion questions, and recommendations for further reading to aid student learning. The Sociology of Food and Agriculture is perfect for students of food studies, including food justice, food and nutrition security, sustainable diets, food sovereignty, environmental sociology, agriculture, and cultural studies.
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This book examines the role of local food movements, enterprises and networks in the transformation of the currently unsustainable global food system. It explores a series of innovations designed to re-integrate sustainable modes of food production and encourage food sovereignty. It provides detailed insights into a specialised network of social actors collaborating in novel ways and creating new economic arrangements across different geographical locales. In working to devise ‘local solutions to global problems’, the initiatives explored in the book represent a ‘second-generation’ food social movement which is less preoccupied with distinctive local qualities than with building socially just food systems aimed at delivering healthy nutrition worldwide. Drawing on fieldwork undertaken in sites across Europe, the USA and Brazil, the book provides a rich collection of case studies that offer a fresh perspective on the role of grassroots action in the transition to more sustainable food production systems. Addressing a substantive gap in the literature that falls between global analyses of the contemporary food system and highly localised case studies, the book will appeal to those teaching food studies and those conducting research on civic food initiatives or on environmental social movements more generally.
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This article studies ways in which the Slow Food movement creates spaces for political action and elaborates new normative systems, imagining new forms of economy. Taking quality consumption and production, respect for the environment, and the rights of small producers as its core aims, this movement has today become an actor in the larger debates concerning the problematics of food, agriculture and fishing. At the same time, Slow Food is a legitimate actor in spaces of political and social contestation and applies its philosophy of a sustainable economy (represented in the triad 'good, clean and fair') globally to defend local production. Slow Food makes gastronomic diversity an element of biological and environmental diversity. This article is based on fieldwork carried out since 2006 within the French and Italy networks of the movement and in its Italian headquarters. The article analyzes the interrelations between economy, legality and environment in some Slow Food projects such as the presidia projects. Through the presidia, the movement plays an active role in the production of new norms that permit the imagination of a moral economy of food. Keywords: Slow Food, norms, economy, typicity, food activism
Une AMAP, ou Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne, regroupe des consommateurs autour d’un producteur local. Sur la base d’un contrat d’engagement durable, le producteur s’engage à fournir à ces consommateurs un «panier » par semaine, généralement de légumes. De son côté, le consommateur accepte de payer par anticipation et de participer à la mise en vente de la production. - Comment fonctionne ce système ? Quel est le rôle de chacun des intervenants ? - Quels impacts peut avoir ce système sur les pratiques de consommation et de production ? - Une AMAP doit-elle être bio ? - Enfin, quelle est la puissance politique potentielle de ce mouvement ? Basé sur un travail d’enquête mené par des chercheurs de l’INRA, cet ouvrage présente de façon claire et concise les principes de cette forme alternative de consommation et de production. Il explique en quoi elle peut avoir un effet de levier sur l’évolution du système agroalimentaire, et les possibilités d’extension de ces structures. Le premier livre sur le sujet, pour tous ceux qui s’intéressent à la qualité de leur alimentation, à la production agricole, et aux circuits locaux de commercialisation.
Increasingly, consumers in North America and Europe see their purchasing as a way to express to the commercial world their concerns about trade justice, the environment and similar issues. This ethical consumption has attracted growing attention in the press and among academics. Extending beyond the growing body of scholarly work on the topic in several ways, this volume focuses primarily on consumers rather than producers and commodity chains. It presents cases from a variety of European countries and is concerned with a wide range of objects and types of ethical consumption, not simply the usual tropical foodstuffs, trade justice and the system of fair trade. Contributors situate ethical consumption within different contexts, from common Western assumptions about economy and society, to the operation of ethical-consumption commerce, to the ways that people's ethical consumption can affect and be affected by their social situation. By locating consumers and their practices in the social and economic contexts in which they exist and that their ethical consumption affects, this volume presents a compelling interrogation of the rhetoric and assumptions of ethical consumption. © 2012 James G. Carrier and Peter G. Luetchford. All rights reserved.
Food and agriculture are in the news daily. Stories in the media highlight issues of abundance, deprivation, pleasure, risk, health, community, and identity. Remaking the North American Food System examines the resurgence of interest in rebuilding the links between agricultural production and food consumption as a way to overcome some of the negative implications of industrial and globalizing trends in the food and agricultural system. Written by a diverse group of scholars and practitioners, the chapters in this volume describe the many efforts throughout North America to craft and sustain alternative food systems that can improve social, economic, environmental, and health outcomes. With examples from Puerto Rico to Oregon to Quebec, this volume offers a broad North American perspective attuned to trends toward globalization at the level of markets and governance and shows how globalization affects the specific localities. The contributors make the case that food can no longer be taken for granted or viewed in isolation. Rather, food should be considered in its connection to community vitality, cultural survival, economic development, social justice, environmental quality, ecological integrity, and human health.
Why are we obsessed with calculating our selections? The author argues that competitive trade nurtures calculative reason, which provides the ground for most discourses on economy. But market descriptions of economy are incomplete. Drawing on a range of materials from small ethnographic contexts to global financial markets, the author shows that economy is dialectically made up of two value realms, termed mutuality and impersonal trade. One or the other may be dominant; however, market reason usually cascades into and debases the mutuality on which it depends. Using this cross-cultural model, the author explores mystifications of economic life, and explains how capital and derivatives can control an economy. The book offers a different conception of economic welfare, development, and freedom; it presents an approach for dealing with environmental devastation, and explains the growing inequalities of wealth within and between nations.