Thursday, June 26, 2008


Don't worry! This post is not about fuel for your car nor flatulency; it's the unfortunate acronym of "Gruppo di Acquisto Solidale" ["Solidarity Shopping Group"].
This acronym identifies pretty much the spontaneous and organized associations of people who, tired of the philosophy of consumer consumption at any rate, decide to give an ethical stamp to their purchases.
It's a while since i've discovered this concept by chance, and i began to become informed through the Internet that there is plenty of GAS located all over Italy (this is the website that collects all of them).

Fair trade bananas campaign
Not far from home i found three of them, and i decided to visit the nearest one (la Comunità della Sporta), which looks, among them, also the best organized.

The concept is simple: since a big part of the cost of a product is given by the intermediate trades from hand to hand between the producer and the consumer, simply removing those trades, the product dissipates less in its value. Therefore, GAS tries to use that savings to give ethical dignity to those goods.
The peculiarities of this type of commerce can be listed essentially in these points:
  • The producer is compensated the right amount. The GAS doesn't "fleece" the producer as it often does the traditional trade. This feature may not be very important for some Italian producers, who can choose the best offering. But certainly it is for those in Third World counties where labor is overworked, if not reduced to slavery, and even involves children. GAS guarantees that their products do not rise from these practices.
  • For those products where it applies, local sources are preferred. This philosophy allows to cut the (economical and ecological) costs to move the goods. Beneath the expense, infact, pollution given by the transportation must be considered. Of course for some products this principle doesn't make sense, for example tropical fruits cannot obviously be bought at the Italian producer, but for the majority this cost can be eliminated.
  • Agricultural goods and their by-products are of optimum quality with the importance stressed on being environment-friendly. GAS infact prefers organic products, and by compensating producers with fair earnings, it allows them to conform to this type of cultivation. Product tracking is made easier by the proximity between producer and consumer, as well as direct contact (they also organize tours to the producers' farms and factories). Moreover, shortened delivery time favors nature's biological cycles (fruit matured on the tree is much better than the one matured on the shelves of the supermarkets).
  • In GAS they also try to reduce the use of unnecessary packaging, decreasing the obvious waste and polluting materials within the environment. To tell the truth, for some products, this is not always possible, but under this point of view the situation is drastically better than the traditional distribution. For example some detergents are sold "on tap", and one can buy them only if he brings his own proper container. There is, moreover, a careful attention to biodegradability of sold products. For example, the detergents sold at "la Sporta" are all 100% biodegradable.
  • GAS also tries to minimize the waste of perishable goods. I suppose that every Gruppo d'Aquisto Solidale adopts different methods to obtain this goal. At "la Sporta" fresh products are distributed in 2-week cycles: during one week one can pick up products that have been reserved two weeks before. Often there is excess of fresh products available that can be bought also without any reservation, but it is just a minimum part.
It is possible to shop at "la Sporta" after subscribed to the association (the fee is 9€ a year or 3€ a four-months period). Whoever is subscribed is given a user name and a password that allows online shopping. Who manages the shop does it as a voluntary service. In fact, at the time of the subscription one undertakes atleast twenty hours a year to help manage the service (receive the providers, welcome the customers, manage the store, the website, prepare the reserved goods...)
An encouraging principle is that unlike the traditional channels of consumer trade, nothing is gained from offering one product over another.

A thing that, indeed, i find a little "uncomfortable", in the GAS (at leat at "la Sporta") is the need of reservation in advance for the perishable products. It's difficult to be ready to satisfy a sudden desire of strawberries and cream if the strawberries have to be reserved eight-fifteen days before! But i suppose this is the price to pay to allow us to avoid useless wastes.

An obvious critic to this type of commerce is in the fact that, eliminating the intermediate trades of the goods between the producer and the consumer, one eliminates also those jobs that within those trades receive their profits. If i buy peaches at the GAS that stocks up from the produce next door instead of the supermarket that buy them in Spain, it is obvious that those peaches don't need to be transported, with obvious loss to the truck driver.
This is true. The price that is paid for buying the product goes almost entirely to the producer and who is involved in the production cycles, and so that value is redistributed less within the population.
But this is another reason i like philosophy of GAS. Uselessly dispersing the value of a good is typical of consumerism. Clearly GAS put much less money in circulation than how traditional trade does, and it is absurd to think to place this problem only to who has the misfortune to be employed in one of the jobs that can be reduced. But it is also true that the wealth that is used to finance those jobs is the one that does not produce any useful good (or service).
In other words, buying a useless product provides the society exactly the wealth just enough to finance the production of that useless good (or service). In order to exist, consumerism imposes us to work to acquire a wealth that we need to buy what somebody else produced. And so we are driven to buy it even if we don't need it.

Let's work less. We will be poorer and we won't have enough money to buy useless things. Somebody can like this or not, but for sure it saves resources on a global scale, it pollutes less, and, if widely applied, it reduces the differences between the poor and the rich because it allows everyone to buy what they really need.

Anyway, I like GAS because, if widely appplied, it revolutionizes the system in favor of a more just, sustainable, impartial, ecological economy.

It would be nice to progressively substitute consumeristic economy with the one of GAS, but to do this, prices must be kept competitive with the traditional trade, because the consumer (sometimes understandably, some other times less) at the end must deal with his wallet.
As much as i can say from my experience, today, the products at "la Sporta" have about the same prices one can find at the grocery stores, but they have a bigger value given not only from the quality point of view (they are all organic products), but also the ethical one.

Here it goes our first shopping-experiment at the GAS:
  • 530g [1lb and 2.69oz] of fair-trade bananas AltroMercato - with no packing (2.56€ a kg [5.64€ a lb]).
  • one kg [2lb and 3.27oz] loaf of "pugliese" artisanal organic bread, natural rising, with flour 0 and wheat bran - with no packing (3.10€ a kg [6.83€ a lb])
  • one pack with 51 toasted bread slices Il Fior di Loto - packed in a plastic sheet with a paper label (3.35€ a 450g [15.87oz] pack).
  • 2 bottles of rice oil "delicate and natural" from organic agriculture Zibra - in glass bottles, with paper label and metal cap (2.40€ a 0.5l [1.06pt] bottle - 30% off because close to the expiration date).
  • one pack of organic rice noodles - plastic bag (2.85€ a 500g [1lb and 1.63oz]).
Total: 13.85€.

Since it was the first shopping, made when subscribed, it was not possible to reserve the two weeks before, and in fact the goods we bought are long-life products or dry goods, except bread and bananas that were a surplus.
We are now waiting to get next shopping, reserved online last weekend. I'll tell you about it.


rowena said...

I still think that we should find out if they accept surplus produce from home gardens. It would be beneficial to the community in the sense that you can't get much more local than that. Next year I'm planting papayas!

dario said...

That would be wonderful...
I hope you'll have good luck in producing papayas: it would be the first Alpine Papayas i heard of :-)

manju said...

What a great system -- in the US, I've only heard of CSAs that eliminate the middleperson between producer and consumer. The fact that you can also get breads, cheeses, oil and other goods is fantastic.

I, too, will wait to see alpine papayas and maybe thai watermelons, too (I'm sending Rowena some seeds)!

dario said...

Manju, as far as i know CSA and GAS are the same things, American and Italian version respectively.