The social dimension of purchase seems particularly important when it comes to food, since it can contribute to foster “consumers’ embeddedness” in the local food system. The discussion on this topic is growing after the emergence of alternative food networks (AFNs), which are thought to have potentials to re-connect the different actors of local food systems, and/or to strengthen the existing social ties among them. This study focuses on the evaluation of the degree of sociality in different food shopping environments. The research is focused on the structure and the features of the interactions, with the aim to provide an assessment of the degree of sociality of AFNs compared to other food chain networks. More specifically, a farmers’ market, a greengrocer and a supermarket have been compared. The three shopping environments show remarkable differences: in the supermarket perfunctory interactions are most often observed, unless shoppers already know each other, whereas the farmers’ market environment is likely to foster quite intense relations among strangers; the greengrocer, on the contrary, shows a completely different pattern of relations, typically involving customers who already know each other. Results support the common argument that farmers’ markets may enhance sociality among people, although some interesting relations patterns are observed in the other food stores as well. Issues for further research in the field emerge, which might be useful to improve the understanding of the social dimension of food shopping as well as to more deeply analyse the elements of attractiveness of AFNs.
- farmers markets
- local food