From Consumers to Sharers: How Scmos Can Foster a New Paradigm through the Example of Anti-Food Waste Initiatives

Friday, June 24, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
201 Moses (Moses Hall)
Lara Fornabaio, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy
Margherita Poto, University of Torino, Torino, Italy
From consumers to sharers: how SCMOs can foster a new paradigm through
the example of anti-food waste initiatives
Lara Fornabaio* and Margherita Poto**
*PhD student in European Union Law and National Legal System, University of Ferrara, Department of Law
** Assistant Professor in Administrative Law, University of Torino

Introduction The recent economic crisis, in a sort of way, has worked as a gash of
the veil of Maya. While financial markets burnt millions and millions of dollars and
people’s spending power kept on decreasing, the weaknesses of the economic and
social system that has been built came to light. In this circumstance, the market has
been identified as the place for political protests, aiming to bring back together
economic transactions and socio-environmental context. The paper frames
Sustainable Community Movement Organizations (hereinafter, SCMOs) as a new and
complex development of political consumerism, in so far as this latter remains stuck
in a more traditional and individualistic paradigm, whereas the formers try to set up
new bonds of solidarity and cooperation.
Political consumerism comes in different forms, in response to the awareness that
private consumption has been seriously affecting “the balance between economic
growth, global socio-political equity and common pool resources use” (Micheletti,
Stolle, Berlin, 2012). Political consumers do not act on the basis of irrational
impulses: they rather look, inter alia, for information about the production processes
and the impact that the products they are purchasing have on the environment. They
bring their political viewpoint into the market, trying to change environmental, social
and ethical malpractices by “voting with their wallet” (Becchetti, 2014). Related to
this, it is possible to identify four forms of political consumerism: boycotts, buy-cotts,
discursive actions and lifestyle choices. All of them, though, refer to individual
decisions to react against something that is perceived as unfair. Even though this kind
of market-based disapproval, in order to be effective, needs to reach a large scale of
consumers, the “power of the number”, in this logic, is only a means to more
forcefully show aversion toward traditional patterns of consumption. However, it is
true that, since solidarity is not always considered as a value and ethical principle in
our individualistic society, political consumerism may be a first step toward
cooperation: from this point of view, it can help feeling a deeper sense of community.
Presentation proposal We suggest that the construction of a socially and
ecologically sustainable economy can be conducted only by shifting from the political
consumerism’s “protest logic” to a new “proposal logic”, which, we believe, is typical
of SCMOs. If political consumerism can be assimilated to a sum of independent
subjects, SCMOs may be described as a synthesis that starts from consumption
patterns but goes beyond it. Indeed, SCMOs have been developing projects for
promoting cultural and social changes through bottom-up participation: initiatives
such as “from farm to school” ones, community gardening activities, local organic
food networks or anti-waste programmes might be a starting point for “new social
infrastructures” that, according to alternative values, allow people “to behave as
ecological citizens” (Seyfang, 2007). This way, SCMOs are able to bring people
together, building community bonds. Particularly, it is interesting to notice that,
especially when it comes to food related initiatives, SCMOs allow consumers and
producers to meet up, surpassing the traditional division that frames consumers as
passive subjects, at the bottom of the food supply chain. By taking together
responsibility for the goods available in our daily lives, SCMOs are able to organize
actions and networks, in order to suggest and address new forms of consumption.
Despite this kind of activities usually start from grassroots initiatives at a local level,
SCMOs can reach global results, promoting eco-awareness. By emphasizing people’s
activism they address a new type of citizenship - so called “ecological citizenship” -
based not only on individual rights but also on participative actions. In this way, they
go beyond protests against unfair trading practices, trying to suggest ecological
values, through solidarity and cooperation.
The presentation discusses how SCMOs face the needs to the food sustainability
challenges in a legal perspective, since the time has come for a shift from the past
experiences of consumer-oriented marketing strategies toward the stimulation of a
new paradigm, focused on the effective sustainability of the choices and a clear set of
responsibilities for public authorities, business operators and civil society.
The analysis starts with some reflections on the need to refresh the expressions used
in this new area of research, as well as to coin new terms that might support the legal
scholarship and the policy makers. A critical analysis of the concept of consumers is
provided, explaining the reasons why a shift of paradigm is needed from an
epistemological perspective. In this viewpoint, political consumerism, traditionally
leaving the individual purchaser at the core of its protest repertoire, is not enough to
embrace an integrated approach; SCMOs, instead, enhancing communities’ ecoawareness
and creating deeper solidarity bonds, might be able to reframe the “food
policy box” in terms of sustainability and ecology.
A relevant part of the work is dedicated to the analysis of virtuous models of
sustainable development. Particularly, anti food waste initiatives examples will be
made: Last Minute Market in Italy (LLM), Food Sharing Network (FSN) in Germany
and Imperfect Produce (IP) in the United States. These movements show that, in order
to avoid food waste, it is possible to intervene in different links of the food chain.
Indeed, LLM, working directly with retail stores, distribute food among charities and
non-profit organizations; FSN, through social networks, bring still-edible food in
people’s fridge to potential consumers; finally, IP, working closer with farmers, gives
consumers the chance to buy “ugly” products that would be rejected by supermarkets.
It will be underlined how the interaction of key elements, such as the mechanisms of a
sharing economy - replacing the new actors in curbing consumerism and waste - and
the participatory dynamics governing SCMOs actions, play a pivotal role for the
paradigm shift.