Environment Internet Media News Science



This week I have had an article published in an international peer reviewed journal called Glocalism. The article is about food production, and reports on many of the arguments that I touched upon in my recent food series.

The article, rather catchily entitled “Collective food Purchasing Networks in Italy as a Case Study of Responsible Innovation” by J. Hankins and C. Grasseni is free and can be downloaded here. It is slightly more of an academic article than my blog writing, is co-authored with anthropologist Cristina Grasseni, and reports our joint fieldwork looking at alternative food production networks in Italy and the USA.


As I said above the article is in the journal Glocalism, which is all about glocalism. So what is glocalism? Well it is all in the name, it is being local and global at the same time. To take part of the explanation offered by the Globus and Locus Association

“The term “glocalism” identifies the momentous changes generated by globalization, changes which have resulted in a permanent intertwining of the global and the local dimensions. In fact, there is no longer any place on the planet which has not been touched to a growing degree by various types of global flows and, at the same time, there are no global flows which are not increasingly parsed according to the many different characteristics of the places”.

Do you agree with this? That globalism means that the local can only exist in relation to the global? Or that globalization has effected every corner of the world?


If we think about changes in the environment that maybe we should accept this line. If we think about how event in one part of the world effect others (or all) then we can see the local as part of a global system. If we look for local solutions to a problem are we in some way involving the global? If we are talking about anything that has to do with poverty, or pollution, or the environment, or anything related to technology, then we would probably have to accept that these are not local issues, but global. A house in Detroit is not sold for $1000 because of the state of Detroit, but because the world that Detroit is in has produced a situation that makes a house in Detroit (some areas) worth $1000.

If we think about technology use through this framework, we can see how much the Internet (to give one example) is taking the local and moving it into the global. The proportion of our world’s population living in cities of a million or more has risen from thirty-seven percent in 1970 to fifty percent today. By 2030 more than two-thirds of world population will be in large cities, and most of them will be in Asia. Why is this? Well one reason is the need to operate via high speed Internet. The infrastructure is in the big cities, and it has become a necessary part of working life.

So the fact that a city in India or Thailand has high speed Internet infrastructure effects mobility across the globe, the local and the global are entwined. This has an effect on food production capability, transport, the environment, and everything else you might like to think about across the globe.

How about that for a thought on an autumn morning in front of the computer in the Netherlands or a wintry start to a New York day shovelling snow?

Media News Technology

Alternative Food Networks

Jonnys poster-page-001
Today I am delivering my poster at the International Responsible Innovation meeting in the Hague, Netherlands. As you see above it is about alternative food provisioning networks both in Italy and the USA. The poster was prepared with Utrecht University anthropologist Cristina Grasseni. Food sovereignty and social sustainability through solidarity economy networks: a case study of responsible innovation describes how grassroots networks are rethinking the core elements of contemporary society: the market, the commons, and the role of the individual as citizen, consumer, and producer. From “political consumers” to “consumer-citizens”.

The presentation is based upon fieldwork conducted in Italy and the USA that aims to provide data about concrete examples of real-world, bottom-up, responsible-innovation attempts in the field of provisioning for the family. Much of the Italian research is described in Grasseni’s latest book that I reviewed as part of my food series, while the US data is as yet unpublished and out for its first airing.

The Netherlands government has been at the forefront of responsible innovation research for several years now, as it has funded the project that this conference relates to. In some ways it has made the country a hub for European researchers in the field, and I myself will transfer this year to Utrecht to follow developments first hand.

Readers who wish to review the extended abstract can find it here.

Environment Science

Integrated Network for Social Sustainability

This weekend I am going to the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability Annual Meeting in Charlotte, USA, where I will present a poster co-produced with anthropologist Cristina Grasseni. The poster title is Food Sovereignty and Social Sustainability Through Solidarity Economy Networks, and it fits into a meeting whose focus is to prioritize challenges for social sustainability.

A possible sustainability diagram?
A possible sustainability diagram?

Our poster presents work-in-progress insights into solidarity economies. We are looking at provisioning activism, or different ways people go about sourcing and buying the products they need in their daily lives. If you read my food series you might have seen references to this work, particularly the review of Cristina’s book about Italian food provisioning networks.

Through the poster I will be talking about groups of people who get together and form collectives or food coops, or run urban community gardens or community-supported agriculture. Other projects also include the development of small workers’ cooperatives with ambitious plans to create “green” jobs for marginalized youth in post-industrial wastelands.

These groups are organizing themselves in an attempt to replace supply chain consumerism in many fields with locally controlled networks. Although it was initially limited to food, “provisioning activism” increasingly focuses on clothing, IT, renewable energy, green construction, recycling, mutual insurance, cooperative credit and local currency exchange.

Here in Massachusetts for example we have the town of Worcester that acts as an informal focus point for groups that produce and distribute food, invest in locally owned and produced solar energy and are constructing a bio-fuel plant where they can produce bio-diesel from used vegetable oil collected from local restaurants.

There are other examples in the energy sector, take a look at this post I wrote years ago about a similar plant that opened in the UK. Sundance Renewables is the name.

And this is not just a fringe market. The main energy coop in Worcester takes $1.3 million a year in income, while in Italy a loose network of solidarity buying groups spends about 80 million Euro per annum, mainly on locally produced food.

The meeting also includes a tour of Charlotte’s renewable energy manufacturing base, so I should discover a lot more about this sector of the economy across the USA. I will report back next week.

Reviews Series Technology

Alternative Food Provisioning Networks

As a continuation of my food series, I would like to take a look at alternative food provisioning networks, via a review of Italian anthropologist Cristina Grasseni’s new book ‘Beyond Alternative Food Networks’. The book describes strategies used by groups to avoid interaction with the industrialized food mechanism, much of which I have debated in the other posts in the series.

Beyond Alternative Food Networks
Beyond Alternative Food Networks

Grasseni’s book gives an account of the inner workings of Italy’s solidarity purchase groups. These groups are informal collections of families, working together to procure food and other products from mainly local producers in order to reclaim sovereignty over their purchasing.

The model is extremely innovative, both in terms of its positive health and social benefits and financial implications. Groups make agreements with local farmers to buy their produce in return for guarantees regarding production processes (organic, tax paid, worker’s rights etc). The producer benefits because they can sell their produce directly to the consumer, and so is not held hostage by distributors and retailers. The consumer gains because they know who has produced their product, how, where and under which conditions. Group members can buy hygiene and baby products, detergents and a range of household goods through the network, offering a source of income to specialist socially and environmentally friendly producers.

Although this system might sound like a Utopian fringe, Grasseni points out that the groups spend about 80 million Euro a year in Italy alone (about $110 million), in effect moving this sum from the regular economy into this more direct exchange. The number of groups is in rapid expansion and has led to the creation of networks of groups, national conferences and organizations and even the creation of ‘districts of solidarity economies’.

The book argues that this alternative economics structure is trust based, with all parties within the transaction knowing and directly relating with the others. Several organizations work entirely within the structure providing goods only for the groups. The following examples of the dairy and the shoemaker really show the potential of the model.

In 2009 a local dairy farmer converted to organic production in order to supply these groups. This involved downsizing and specialization, but several years later the farm found itself in financial difficulty. Members of the groups ran an email campaign and in about a month raised 150 000 Euro (more than $200 000) to bail the dairy out. The money was passed on, the dairy survived and now produces milk and cheese for the very same groups that saved it. With the banks no longer involved, the farmer can sell the produce at retail prices directly to the groups and make enough money to live and repay the initial bailout loan.

The story of the shoemaker is similar. After being forced into downsizing the shoemaker was left with capability but little market. He withdrew from the mainstream economy and now provides made to measure shoes through the network. There is a traveling catalog, so once found you can choose a style and size and order your new shoes that then arrive through the post. They are also sold through a network of non profit organizations that have relationships with the groups.

This book certainly leads the reader into a new way of thinking about food production. The cover contains a quote from Peter Utting, Deputy Director of the united Nations Research Institute for Social Development. He states that “Grasseni provides fascinating insights into how alternative approaches to food provisioning can transform social and economic relationships in ways that bode well for contemporary global challenges of sustainability, social justice and rebuilding human relations built on trust”.

If you would like to learn more about these alternative approaches, take a look at the following links:

Rete Gas is the Italian national GAS network.

The Food Alergy and Anaphylaxis Network has a dedicated page.

The Grassroots Innovation website also has plenty of information.

Beyond Alternative Food Networks by Cristina Grasseni is published by Bloomsbury and available through Amazon via the link above.

I would like to add that although this review is not paid, I do know the author very well. I am also a GAS member.