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Ambivalent solidarities: Food reconfigurations in Croatia and Italy, Anthropology Today

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Abstract

The authors compare the solidarity practices of farmers and food activists in Croatia and Italy in order to highlight the unintended consequences of mutual support initiatives and how these may reinforce disengagement from governance. Two ethnographic case studies from Istria (Croatia) and Lombardy (northern Italy) show self‐reliant ways of organizing mutual support networks among, respectively, Istrian winemakers and Lombard Solidarity Purchase Groups. They both challenge the top‐down regulatory governance of food systems, with the former organizing forms of economic and logistic mutual support to bypass strictures and faults of the Croatian fiscal and agricultural aid system and the latter self‐certifying organic crops to avoid the costs and arbitrariness of bureaucratic procedures for organic certification. Both highlight the discourse and practice of morality in food procurement and the ambivalence of the concept and practice of ‘solidarity’.
12 ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 36 NO 1, FEBRUARY 2020
ROBIN SMITH &
CRISTINA GRASSENI
Robin Smith is a political
economy fellow of the
Independent Social Research
Foundation (ISRF) at the
Oxford School of Global
and Area Studies, University
of Oxford. She was a post-
doctoral researcher at the
University of Leiden on the
ERC-funded project ‘Food
citizens? Collective food
procurement in European
cities’, 2017-19. Her email
address is: robin.smith@area.
ox.ac.uk.
Cristina Grasseni is
Professor of Anthropology
at the University of Leiden,
the Netherlands, and the
principal investigator of the
ERC-funded project ‘Food
citizens? Collective food
procurement in European
cities: Solidarity and
diversity, skills and scale’
(www.foodcitizens.eu). Her
email address is: c.grasseni@
fsw.leidenuniv.nl.
Across rural and urban settings, farmers and food activ-
ists are confronting the fiscally disabled governments of
Italy and Croatia in moral terms (cf. Forno 2015; Horvat
& Štiks 2015). Young Istrian winemakers in Croatia and
urban food activists and rural smallholders in northern
Italy, address the meaning and practice of ‘solidarity’
in these different but cognate contexts, where rampant
neo-liberal governance transcends the post-socialist
divide. Two juxtaposed ethnographic vignettes unravel
the unintended consequences for food governance and
networks of mutual support, respectively. Both groups
engage in unique forms of ‘solidarity’ (Simonic 2019),
and our cross-cultural comparison demonstrates how such
‘solidarity’ may lead to similar forms of inward-turning
towards self-reliance.
Our ethnographic examples demonstrate how con-
sumers and producers engage in solidarity networks to
provide for the needs they feel their governments fail to
adequately address. Production favours are relied upon by
Istrian winemakers to support each other during economic
crisis and in an institutional environment that favours
some businesses over others in the allocation of subsi-
dies and other financial support regimes. In the case of
Italian ‘GAS’ (Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale, or Solidarity
Purchase Groups), activists propose to form a ‘solidarity
economy network’ with trusted producers, in order to pro-
tect smallholders from the high costs and the perceived
arbitrariness of audit-based organic certification. Together,
we analyze how an increased reliance among grass-roots
socio-economic actors fuels a disengagement from par-
ticipation in agri-food market governance institutions and
regulatory regimes altogether. We do so by focusing on the
politics of advice in ‘co-production’ relationships between
solidarity economy activists and smallholders in Italy and
on the intensified use of mutual support networks in pro-
duction between Istrian winemakers as necessitated by
political and economic pressures.
Solidarity may be understood not only as a crisis-
induced collective practice to overcome hardship, but as
a conscious strategy to contest mainstream economic and
political institutions. For example, Ethan Miller of the
Community Economies Collective (inspired by feminist
geographers Gibson-Graham 2006) defines the solidarity
economy as a virtuous circle of goods and services that are
produced and exchanged outside ‘capitalocentric’ logics
and which foster instead, ‘commoning’ and cooperation
(Miller 2009). In recent anthropological scholarship, the
political ambivalence of self- and mutual help has been
exposed as lying at the heart of neo-liberalism (Hébert &
Mincyte 2014; Mole 2010; Muelebach 2012; Rakopoulos
2018). Our observations about solidarity practices in key
urban-rural relations shed light on the ongoing reconfigu-
ration of solidarity and self-reliance. In a time of austerity
and neo-liberalization, rural livelihoods are shaped by
urban agendas no longer in the name of ‘development’
and ‘improvement’, but rather competition and efficiency,
alongside solidarity and self-help.
Our vignettes illustrate how in Istria, informal networks
of solidarity amongst farmers cross business and social
worlds as a result of poorly functioning local governance
institutions, highlighting the government’s profound lack
of interest in or ability to create a business environment
that facilitates entrepreneurialism in this new market
economy. In the Italian case, food activists endeavour to
exercise solidarity with farmers, but risk preaching to the
converted or unintentionally favouring institutionalized
entrepreneurs such as social cooperatives.
Making ends meet in precarious times
Relying on social networks to facilitate everyday economic
life is nothing new in Croatia, having been a daily neces-
sity in Yugoslavia. Today, such practices are motivated by
new conditions, while trust in the ability of formal insti-
tutions to resolve problems is low (Kornai 2003). Rather
Ambivalent solidarities
Food governance recongurations in Croatia and Italy
Fig. 1. Harvest, Buje, Istria,
2013.
R. SMITH
ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 36 NO 1, FEBRUARY 2020 13
than characterizing relations between state and society,
self-reliance is a form of Istrian solidarity played out at
a community level. Regional self-reliance was a feature
of Istrian Yugoslavia thanks to Tito’s pragmatic approach
to minorities across the Yugoslav Federation which gave
Istria great autonomy, not to mention the self-management
ideology that Istrians now cite as evidence of how they
excelled at local economic governance, both as a territory
and community. Today, this marked distance between state
and society is a function of an entirely different political-
economic paradigm: the state’s financial capacity to sup-
port the business sector’s incorporation into European
Union (EU) market and policy regimes, and its loyalty
to its citizenry, are questioned in everyday conversations
about how to make ends meet.
The neo-liberalization of industries would ostensibly
devolve regulation to market actors, but here, this has
economically and politically strengthened large corpora-
tions which have the capacity and connections to adapt
to markets and EU policies. Smaller market actors are
left without resources, vulnerable to market flux and the
predatorial practices of these larger corporations. The
result is increasing precarity within the small business
sector. Meanwhile, the government’s financial inability to
support rural entrepreneurs, the bureaucratic complexity
of EU programmes and national corruption scandals leave
locals with little incentive to engage with formal institu-
tions and increase local ambivalence towards government-
related initiatives, however supportive they may claim to
be, making local solidarity more valuable. However, dis-
engaging from participating in governance institutions
like farmers’ associations restricts Istrian farmers from
accessing government subsidies or support for collective
projects that advance farmers’ interests.
Since Smith’s first visit in 2005 and through doctoral
fieldwork from 2012-2014, it has become increasingly
apparent that the professionalization of winemaking
has rapidly raised the production costs for small-scale
family wineries, from agricultural land to cellar technol-
ogies. The cost of entry for young people continuing the
Istrian winemaking tradition is high. Meanwhile, their
competitors – wineries established in the 1990s which
have been able to incrementally invest in new technolo-
gies and vineyards for the past two decades – have the
professional capacity, knowledge and networks to apply
for government and EU subsidies to further reinforce
their leading market position. The young, so-called
second-generation winemakers are thus paradoxically
more eager to engage in association-like institutions
that echo socialist-era farmers’ organizations than their
older compatriots who remember Yugoslav self-manage-
ment (and early collective farming efforts) in practice.
These younger winemakers demonstrate how they may
resourcefully engage with social networks to provide for
daily needs that the state is simply unable or unwilling to
address, e.g. through subsidies targeting young entrepre-
neurs in farming, or rehabilitating inefficient or defective
institutions. The rising debt amongst farmers compounds
such an inward focus, as they intensify helping relation-
ships to become self-reliant.
This vignette unpacks how a group of young Istrian win-
emakers reacts to systemic institutional problems through
coordinating production in a way that mimics past forms
of farmers’ organization, but is reflective of contemporary
governance shortcomings. Farmers’ associations were
established by Croatian municipalities to bureaucratically
connect state and society so as to distribute and keep track
of government funding for agricultural development initia-
tives and subsidies for seedlings and replanting. However,
poor oversight led to the misallocation of funds to non-
farmers, who acquired farmland and quickly rezoned it for
lucrative real estate projects. As association directors were
volunteers rather than government employees, enforcing
payment by such debtor ‘members’ was impossible. This
left municipality associations with blocked accounts
and large debts to the state, stymying farmers’ efforts to
grow into effective professional groups with autonomous
initiatives.
In one such case in Istria, rather than pursuing legal
action, a group of five second-generation winemakers,
who had become friends through their municipality’s asso-
ciation, left the association altogether. They disengaged,
like other farmers in the area, in favour of devolving wine
production and promotion to their self-organized group.
Reluctant to risk formally establishing an association,
despite its financial benefits, Ivan, Marko, Milo, Victor
and Gino began informally coordinating some aspects of
vineyard cultivation and winemaking. The costs of equip-
ment for the wine quality they each need to produce to
be locally competitive are prohibitively high. Thus, they
collectively use Ivan’s expensive grape press, coordi-
nate the harvesting of one another’s vineyards, and use
one another’s tractors and combined family labour. They
rotate harvesting on their vineyards and process grapes in
batches. The pressed juice is pumped into cooling tanks in
Ivan’s cellar and later into 1,000-litre plastic box tanks in
Marko’s van for delivery to their respective cellars. They
work day and night during harvest time, coordinating with
one another so that grapes are not left in the sun. This way,
everyone benefits from high-quality juice extracted without
having to each invest over €15,000 for their own presses.
In spring, Marko drives Gino’s small bottle-filling unit
and Ivan’s corking machine between their cellars for quick
bottling in small quantities, again avoiding each person
having to buy seasonal equipment. They share costly
tractor mounts, and sometimes plough one another’s adja-
cent fields to save time. Milo has a degree in agronomy
and advises on pesticide use; Victor has one in oenology,
so advises on cellar practices and Ivan one in mechan-
ical engineering, so he fixes broken tractors and other
machinery.
All are under 30 years old and have never experienced
production in a socialist collective, or zadruga, only
hearing stories from family members about how such
institutions took root in early post-war Yugoslavia. Marko,
reflecting on the group’s value, explained in his cellar that
zadruga is a word that gets in your blood and under your
skin. To me, it means “društvena zajednica”, or “za zajed-
nicu” – like “za prijatelje”’. In other words, Marko took
this noun and broke it up into the two words za (for) and
drug (a less common word for friend) to make new, but
related meanings of, respectively, ‘social community’, ‘for
the community’, or ‘for friends’. Indeed, early Yugoslav
zadruga failed and were abandoned in favour of reforms
that led to limited (by law, but in practice extensive) pri-
vate farming and the self-management industrial organiza-
tion ideology that ultimately characterized the rest of the
Yugoslav era.
Marko’s interpretation of the word zadruga, although
based on an inaccurate translation, gave it a positive
meaning that described the impetus behind working
together with his friends and also helped him to concep-
tualize how his family had organized winemaking and
farming in Yugoslavia, creating a continuity of tradition
in his winemaking narrative. In interesting juxtaposition,
Marko’s group of friends simultaneously engage with EU
wine regimes like terroir, based on the very different his-
tory of French wine associations where families collabo-
rated with one another to create mini-monopolies in order
to establish a branded identity for villages and regions,
protect against fraudulent wines and encourage market
stability for their own wines.
14 ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 36 NO 1, FEBRUARY 2020
Having watched how established winemakers are ben-
efiting from EU opportunities, particularly certifications
that recognize the quality or names of grapes from spe-
cific microzones, Marko’s group has begun to appreciate
the unique history of their vineyards. Their vineyards are
located in the microzone Saint Cosma, named after the
chapel now a few kilometres away. In researching Saint
Cosma’s history, they learned that in the 1960s, man-
agers of the then socialist agricultural firm, PIK Umag,
destroyed the chapel to plant the vineyards, moving the
ruins. Retracing their microzone’s history by consulting
residents and archives, they determined the chapel’s orig-
inal location and plan to mark it with a stone shrine. They
know from experience that Saint Cosma vineyards pro-
duce high-quality grapes, so they use as much of them as
possible for their bottled wine, while selling the rest to
other winemakers due to cellar space constraints, as con-
struction conforming to EU regulations is prohibitively
expensive. However, they have learned through conversa-
tions with former PIK employees that Saint Cosma grapes
were used to make PIK Umag’s flagship wine, The Tears
of Santa Lucia, which has been later confirmed through
Smith’s interviews with PIK oenologists.
Santa Lucia are the nearby hills surrounding the town of
Buje. Former PIK cellar managers explain that ‘only PIK’s
best grapes were used for this wine’, and that contrary to
popular belief, ‘not only grapes from Buje were used’. The
wine was exported throughout Yugoslavia under its Italian
name, Lacrima di Santa Lucia. Although made by a state
winery, people recall that its name was unproblematic – a
nod to the multicultural inclusiveness of Tito’s Yugoslavia,
they say. It was known throughout Yugoslavia as the best
Istrian wine. Today, tourists from former Yugoslav repub-
lics visit Istria asking for Lacrima di Santa Lucia, although
PIK ceased production nearly two decades ago.
The young winemakers’ research has inspired an
interest in establishing an EU-recognized Grand Cru for
Saint Cosma. The idea is that those buying Saint Cosma
grapes, some of whom own vineyards on the Santa Lucia
hills and use Santa Lucia imagery on their labels, would
then acknowledge Saint Cosma on their labels, promoting
consumer knowledge of the microzone. These other wine-
makers are at once their clients, competitors and friends.
Although establishing a Grand Cru is complex, the group
of winemakers has begun incorporating this history into
their marketing, linking their vineyards to the region’s
illustrious winemaking history and drawing on nostalgia
for its healthy farming sector. Simultaneously, they have
also challenged this history by inserting themselves into a
story which was once the domain of Buje’s winemakers.
Their story demonstrates how winemakers can crea-
tively confront what has been called ‘brutal capitalism’
(Horvat & Štiks 2015) in the region and develop coopera-
tive projects, with unanticipated consequences. Through
devolving their institutional engagement from the munici-
pality’s association to friendship networks, they create
new avenues of business development, engage with EU
wine concepts and position themselves in local wine his-
tory narratives. Additionally, self-reliance through sharing
expensive equipment allows them to avoid bank loans oth-
erwise encouraged by the deregulation of a financial sector
that promotes an economic growth model based on debt,
something Western Europe has pushed in this region for
decades (Unkovski-Korica 2015), demonstrating the ideo-
logical motivations undergirding local processes.
Solidarity and proximity in alternative food
procurement
In Italy, a growing food activism movement synergizes with
cultural and political preferences for local foods. Despite
the intensive farming economy of northern Italy, solidarity
economy networks pledge to reconnect with marginalized
farmers, purposefully engaging in alternative procurement
in ways that the state and market are deemed unable or
unwilling to support: food activists pledge to care for pro-
ducers, nature and each other while sourcing their food col-
lectively from ‘proximity’ producers (Grasseni 2013). GAS
(Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale or Solidarity Purchase Groups)
do not self-produce, but rather seek out farmers in the name
of ‘co-production’ to build a collaborative relationship with
them that hopefully goes beyond a market transaction.
There are at least 450 GAS groups in Lombardy alone
and about 7,000 families involved (Forno et al. 2013).
GAS members convene periodically (usually once a
month) in community centres or other available spaces
(such as parish churches, sports clubs or private houses) to
share information about available producers, collect orders
and organize payments for bulk buying. Food providers
may be preferably, but not exclusively, certified organic.
Most contacts are gathered from local smallholders for
vegetables and fruit, but also from retailers or farming
cooperatives for meat, milk and cheese. When possible,
R. SMITH R. SMITH R. SMITH
Fig. 2. Pressing grapes,
Brtonigla, Istria, 2012.
Fig. 3. The view from
Brtonigla towards Santa
Lucia vineyards under the
town Buje, Istria, 2013.
Fig. 4. Harvest, Momjan,
Istria, 2013.
ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 36 NO 1, FEBRUARY 2020 15
Fig. 5. Reviewing the fields
of a ‘participatory guarantee’
farm, Lombardy, Italy, July
2013.
Fig. 6. A courgette plant and
the inspecting party in the
background.
Fig. 7. Reusing recuperated
building irons to support
plant growth.
This article was presented
at the 2018 LSE/ESRC
workshop ‘Precarious states:
Advice, governance, and care
in settings of austerity’ as part
of the project ‘Food citizens?
Collective food procurement
in European cities: Solidarity
and diversity, skills and
scale’, which received
funding from the European
Research Council (ERC)
under the EU Horizon 2020
research and innovation
programme (Grant agreement
No.724151).
Contessi, S. & C. Grasseni
2019. Co-producing
participatory guarantee
systems limits and
potentials. In P. Simonic
(ed.) Anthropological
perspectives on solidarity
and reciprocity, 45-56.
Ljubljana: Ljubljana
University Press.
Forno, F. 2015. Bringing
together scattered and
localized actors: Political
consumerism as a tool for
self-organizing anti-mafia
communities. International
Journal of Consumer
Studies 39: 535-543.
— et al. 2013. Dentro il
capitale delle relazioni. La
ricerca nazionale sui Gas
in Lombardia. In Tavolo
per la Rete italiana di
Economia Solidale (ed.)
Un’economia nuova,
dai Gas alla zeta, 13-47.
Milano: Altreconomia.
special care is taken to buy locally, in an effort to keep the
ecological footprint low.
GAS advise smallholders to convert to organic farming,
offering support by paying higher prices and buying col-
lectively to offset the costs. They also aim to provide
advice and support against bureaucratic costs – typically
those incurred by organic certification through a third-
party audit. As one alternative, they offer participatory
guarantee systems; namely, a peer-certification system
supported by a solidarity economy network. For example,
a network of GAS started the participatory guarantee
scheme ‘For a Pedagogy of the Land’ in Lombardy in
2012, a grass-roots scheme for food quality certification
working in direct partnership with local farmers (Contessi
& Grasseni 2019).
The project was ideated to concretely take solidarity one
step further: if consumers are to practice solidarity with
producers, they should not request organic certification
as a prerequisite, knowing that this procedure is beset by
costs, added paperwork and sometimes allegations of cor-
ruption. (Allegations of experts turning a blind eye or just
minding their paperwork, or, on the other hand, of auditors
being awkward for the sake of making life difficult, were
reported by both producers and wholesale buyers.)
Participatory guarantee schemes are viewed as a tool to
combine the skill and expertise of food producers with the
different competencies of consumers, to weave each oth-
er’s knowledge and networks together. Key to this are the
field visits that consumers organize in collaboration with
farmers to gather data for the evaluation of a guarantee
committee. The idea is to self-certify that the standards
required by a European organic agriculture certification
(according to regulation CE 834/2007) can be upheld
without recourse to a third party, but rather through the
observation of trustworthy peers.
The principle of proximity is paramount to this approach,
and opposite to that of dispassionate certification. In fact,
the assumption is that a close look by an interested stake-
holder will deliver a more thorough result than a paid-
for audit by a third party (who might pocket a bribe for
certification; both farmers and consumers suggested that
third-party certification was a question of ‘just paying’ to
get ‘a piece of paper’). Interested stakeholders in this case
are not only the consumers, who are represented in the
inspection and in the guarantee committee, but also the
producers, who are being evaluated by a peer – someone
who knows well what kind of hurdles they face in their
daily work.
The Lombard project is ambitious, but takes place in a
fragile context, targeting a dwindling population of inde-
pendent smallholders. In fact, in 2015, it enrolled a total
of 16 farms. In the documentation provided by one of the
farms involved in one of the field visits, the signee of the
production protocol and of the declaration of intent was
not a farmer: he was the mandatary of a social cooperative
which, we were told during the visit, employs persons with
limited access to the labour market who come under the
care of the national health service. The latter sponsors the
farm work of the cooperative. If anything then, the signee
can be defined as a ‘neo-rural’; namely, a farmer neither
by inheritance nor by trade, who has come to the land via
multi-activity projects such as a social service cooperative
(as in this case) or an agro-tourism business, a didactic
farm or more radical projects of co-housing and home-
steading. While engaging with these social actors does not
per se mean that others are missing out, it is a symptom
of the fact that the ‘co-producer’ relationship is more
complex than one might anticipate. In this case, GAS co-
produce (and help peer-certify) an agricultural activity that
is only auxiliary to the core business of the social coop-
erative – namely, providing therapeutic and supervised
C. GRASSENI
C. GRASSENIC. GRASSENI
16 ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 36 NO 1, FEBRUARY 2020
Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006.
A postcapitalist politics.
Minneapolis, MN:
University of Minnesota
Press.
Grasseni, C. 2009.
Developing skill,
developing vision:
Practices of locality at the
foot of the Alps. Oxford:
Berghahn Books.
— 2013. Beyond alternative
food networks: Italy’s
Solidarity Purchase
Groups. London:
Bloomsbury.
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Reinventing cheese in the
Italian Alps. New York:
Berghahn Books.
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neoliberalism: Rethinking
autonomy at the edges of
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In Horvat & Štiks (2015
21-43).
engagement with the land for assisted patients, at a fee to
the national health service. It thus does not serve the pur-
pose of keeping smallholders in business or of practising
‘solidarity’ with professional farmers.
However, GAS and neo-rural farms share an aspirational
discourse of environmental and social learning. Critical
of efficiency and productivity principles, the ethical con-
sumers that self-organize in solidarity economy networks
consider that food growing should be based on personal
knowledge rather than impersonal efficiency. Conversely,
in audits and HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical
Control Points) protocols for industrial food production,
anodyne representations of the production system tend to
visualize, formalize and parcel out the process, reducing
certification work to paperwork (Shore & Wright 2015).
Against the grain of the institutionalization of expertise,
the field visits have the objective of building a relationship
rather than box-ticking.
Grasseni witnessed one of the key moments of this pro-
cedure in July 2013, when after an extensive on-site visit
to a candidate farm, the visiting committee and the farmer
signed the visit’s report together. After being involved in a
year-long trial in the participatory guarantee scheme, the
farmer (and his child) welcomed the ‘inspectors’: namely,
an agronomist who was also a participant member in a
GAS (with her child), a peer-farmer and a peer-consumer
from another GAS. The children’s presence made this
less formal and more personal: it was the weekend, and
both the inspectors and the inspected had children in tow.
Perhaps they both assumed that it would be an educational
experience, possibly wishing to make the inspection more
sociable. The presence of the children was, however, a
reminder that the visit involved ‘volunteered time’ that
had been chipped away from family time. On the other
hand, it was time spent in order to make their families’
lives better, and to benefit other families. The paperwork
made the moment formal again, and certainly personal
the visit’s protocol bore the signature of both inspected
farmer and inspecting party.
Critical consumers wish to practise solidarity not
only with each other but with producers. The motivation
for producers should be both immaterial and material –
namely, the support received through networks of peers
and of consumers who are willing to share information and
pay higher prices than wholesale buyers. Such is the phi-
losophy of GAS, but also of Slow Food, the well-known
worldwide association of discerning consumers who pur-
port to do food politics by safeguarding ‘clean, just and
good’ food, and in particular, heritage foods, produced
by local smallholders. Significantly, GAS usually like to
distinguish themselves from Slow Food in that they see
themselves as more radically committed to facilitating
‘economies of proximity’, and not necessarily niche foods
that may be seen as elitist. Yet, it is telling how both types
of food activist – however different they are from each
other in terms of income availability and the degree of
radicalness of their stance – end up dealing with the same
interlocutors; namely, either ‘neo-rurals’ or self-selected
entrepreneurs who know how to navigate their ‘politics of
advice’ in order to gain added value for their agricultural
produce and practice.
Grasseni has defined the politics of agricultural advice
as the sum of formal and informal nudges towards forms
of ‘development’ that heavily influence the transitions cur-
rently affecting smallholders in Southern Europe (2009).
For example, in mountain communities of the Italian Alps,
agricultural trade union advisors and consultants from pro-
fessional associations have played a form of influential but
subtle local politics through networks of personal advice,
political alliances, preferential access to funding and
legal information or relationships of apprenticeship. The
politics of advice involves certain agricultural technicians,
consultants or advisors being more attentive than others,
as a result of which, certain farmers and breeders get into
the inner circle, get funding, ‘improve’ their herds, are
regularly pointed out to researchers and press as ‘exem-
plary practices’, become known and get support from
non-governmental organizations and eventually become
‘benchmarks’ for other practitioners.
Nowadays, the politics of advice comes to include
formal and informal relationships with food activist net-
works, because self-advancement for small-scale pro-
ducers is intrinsically connected to the role that local
entrepreneurs, ethical consumers and food activists such
as Slow Food can play. These competitively networked
rural entrepreneurs are best positioned to become hailed
as ‘saviours’ of heritage foods, quality and local traditions,
with regular mention on local, national and even interna-
tional media (Grasseni 2017).
Either way, producer-consumer relations may be influ-
enced by these power relations and take them further from
the institutional loci of normative decision-making. By
this, we mean that the degree of informality and discretion,
or simply serendipity, of crucial aspects of ‘co-produc-
tion’, such as the exchange of information, mutual support,
price negotiation and access to further market and profes-
sional networks, may be dependent on these power rela-
tions. Both Slow Food and GAS profess non-partisanship
in party politics, which is sometimes expressed by their
membership as being or perceiving themselves as acting
‘a-politically’, but both their ambitions and the practice
of their networking operations actually are political, in the
beneficial sense of aiming to change the world according
to stated objectives, and in the de facto sense of benefiting
those who first and more proximally can be reached by
these operations and objectives.
Conclusion
Our vignettes represent self-reliant ways of organizing
mutual support networks that challenge top-down regula-
tory governance of food systems. In Italy, GAS members
see this as an explicitly non-party political intervention
around the morality of food procurement. However, their
kind of solidarity does not always represent the interests
of the smallholders with whom they propose to be ‘co-
producing’. In this case, the ambivalence of solidarity is
revealed through the ‘politics of advice’ of largely middle-
class consumers who wish to consume ethically while
acting in solidarity with producers, the environment and
fellow consumers, but end up creating self-contained pro-
cedures that redouble existing legal requirements (as in the
case of organic self-certification) at great cost in terms of
time and effort for themselves and their farming partners.
The unintended consequence of this strategy is that their
best-suited partners are social cooperatives rather than
smallholders.
In Croatia, farmers rely on local networks of self-help
to make ends meet while engaging with EU regimes rather
than Croatian ones. Simultaneously, they increasingly dis-
engage from institutions like state-led associations which
should otherwise provide access to agricultural finance and
state support. Solidarity networks cross business and social
worlds, thanks to poorly functioning institutions and the
lack of a business environment that can enable entrepreneurs
to engage fully in the market. Such estrangement from the
governance of food systems has unintended consequences,
as disengagement from an already distant central state unin-
tentionally compounds rural economic precarity and poor
governance in Croatia. Likewise, in Italy, the convinced
‘a-political’ commitment of GAS members to reform eco-
nomic practice in self-reliant ways may encourage further
distrust in certification and regulation. l
... Despite the normative structure that gives credibility to the TPC, the TPC has some characteristics that limit smallholder farmer's certification, which become more evident in the Global South countries (FAO 2007). The main TPC's challenges are the high degree of standardization, administrative burden costs, and its emphasis on long distribution channels, often for export (Kaufmann and Vogl 2018;Smith and Grasseni 2020). ...
... Social control and solidarity are the main characteristics of this system (Smith and Grasseni 2020;Hirata et al. 2019). The organization and functionality of a PGS depend on how the government and organizations act, but in general, the basic principles of a PGS are social control, transparency, and shared liability (Smith and Grasseni 2020;Hirata et al. 2019). ...
... Social control and solidarity are the main characteristics of this system (Smith and Grasseni 2020;Hirata et al. 2019). The organization and functionality of a PGS depend on how the government and organizations act, but in general, the basic principles of a PGS are social control, transparency, and shared liability (Smith and Grasseni 2020;Hirata et al. 2019). ...
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