“There are a lot of hidden costs in food,” says Alfredo, explaining his motives for joining the GAS movement in his hometown. Some years ago, he was watching a TV show which explored how big companies and supermarkets set prices for the items they sell, and how little they care about the people who produce those items and about the environment in general. “I understood that, while shopping in supermarkets, I was a part of a process I didn’t know much about. I understood that I was being used by those companies, and that made me very angry. That’s what made me curious to learn about GAS”.
His group is one of around seventy Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale (GAS – supportive buying groups) in Rome, based on principles of solidarity and responsible consumption which, in his opinion, contribute to a fairer economy that is closer to the real needs of people.
One of Rome's GAS groups
GAS is a community of consumers who get in touch directly with local producers and buy food and other goods directly from them. Through the purchase of organic, local – possibly ‘zero kilometer’ – goods, these groups have creating a fairer vision of the economy as their purpose, closer to the real needs of people and the environment.
Most Italian GAS groups aim to reduce transport-related pollution, to know producers personally, and to establish trust and ongoing relationships with them. In order to establish a direct relationship with local producers and to find an alternative sales channel for mass distribution, GAS seek to avoid the exploitation of labor. Members often choose products that are produced without using pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, which pollute and consume energy. Moreover, they pay attention to the packaging and processing of the products and to waste management issues including recycling, reuse, and waste reduction.
GAS groups mainly organize the provision of food, but increasingly non-food items as well – such as electricity and telecommunications.
According to Sustainable-Communities.eu, the first GAS in Italy was founded in 1994 in the northern Italian town of Fidenza. Three years later, the Italian Network of GAS was created, with the aim of putting such groups in contact with each other, to encourage the exchange of information, the spread of best practices, and the sharing of models for the management of local groups - but more generally to promote the ideas that inspired their modes of ethical consumption.
Today, there are more than 500 groups in the Italian Network of GAS, although there are many other independent purchasing groups that have not registered with the Network. Similar shopping models exist in France, the UK, Spain, and Japan.
GAS does not only order collectively, but they also organize their activity through regular meetings and, crucially, voluntary work. “Everyone is doing something,” says Alfredo explaining that, in his group, every member is expected to take an active role in the process. Participation is one of the most significant elements of the experience, for it allows members to transform the purely economic fundamentals of buying in supermarkets into a new relationship of solidarity, which brings people together and allows them to share time and resources.
Based on the ethics of responsible consumption, GAS builds collaborative networks at the local level. They have different forms and different styles of functioning, but in the opinion of their members, they contribute to a more honest local - and global - economy.
Photos: Lidija Pisker