The Olympics of Innovation

Although the theme of Expo 2015 concerns nutrition and ensuring the longevity of our resources for generations to come, it seems from speaking with participants and visiting their stands that the majority are focusing more on presenting gastronomic tastings—that is, ways of “Feeding the People” rather than the Planet. Moreover, many of the beautiful and impressive buildings have been made from wood, which would seem a way of impoverishing the planet, rather than preserving it…

But there are still some exhibitions and initiatives seeking to address global concerns, such as the Slow Food Movement’s “Life Bank” installation, which aims to communicate the critical importance of biodiversity through interactive art. On May there was also the world premiere of “CO2,” an opera commissioned by La Scala, about the terrors of climate change, such as irresponsible consumption, carbon emissions, global warming, melting glaciers, desertification, extinction of animal species. A less alarming project is a collaboration by the Triulza Foundation and the Food Bank whereby any food waste from the Expo will be salvaged and redirected to those in need. (As of May 3rd, a delivery had already been made to the friars of San Francesco.) And there has even been some extra-planetary input—from Samantha Cristoforetti, the Italian astronaut and Ambassador of Expo Milano 2015, who is still on the International Space Station observing, from a considerably higher point of view, atmospheric phenomena in an effort to understand how they might be exploited for the development here on earth of new agricultural practices and technologies.

Based on an initial round of interviews, here are just a few other ways certain countries and organizations have chosen to express the Expo’s theme, Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life:

Belgium’s pavilion aims to highlight the country’s “environmental sustainability, technological innovation, and national identity.” The pavilion itself is made from eco-sustainable materials and serves as a model of exemplary town planning referred to as a “Lobe City” for its bustling, harmonious, and interactive nature. Exhibits and experiments in this veritable laboratory of ideas celebrate certain scientific and technological advances for feeding people, including: alternative food-production methods, aquaponics, hydroponics, and the cultivation of insects and algae, which one hopes won’t be our most succulent dishes in the future.

Brazil’s pavilion measures 4,133 square meters and represents an opportunity for the country to demonstrate to the world that it is not just a major agro-industrial nation, but a leader of technological research as well. This research includes ways of improving food cultivation, in particular adapting to ever-changing natural, biological, climatic, and cultural conditions, and how to satisfy demand both domestically and from the export market without compromising Brazilian biodiversity and healthy food access for all. (There is, however, not a single word about the deforestation of the Amazon!)

Padiglione-BrasilThe Brazilian Pavillion with its climbing wall is a great favourite with the young

Save the Children has been fighting child mortality as part of its Every One campaign since 2009. Its unique presence at the Expo is in the form of a large “village” of approximately 800 square meters including structures made of wood and other recycled materials as well as cultivated land and gardens in which visitors can explore—through interactive and sensory itineraries, cooking demonstrations, and more—the importance of nutrition for children and mothers, particularly in developing countries.

Switzerland’s pavilion invites visitors to reflect on the possibility of food shortages in the world by experiencing a vivid and compelling expression of “the other side of abundance.” Its pavilion comprises four towers full of traditional local food products that visitors may sample as much as they like, however there is also a limit to the number of products available, and the modular design of the structure—the platform on which the towers rest become lower as they are emptied—lends a visual component to our habits of consumption and the availability and distribution of food resources worldwide.

These are only a fraction of the ingenuity on display in the Expo’s fairgrounds from May 1st through October 31st. More than 130 nations are taking part in the event, which occupies an area roughly equal in size to 140 football pitches. Part science lab, part gastronomic tour, the Expo is a kind of Olympics of Innovation, and while it may not always rise to the occasion, it still represents an exhilarating opportunity for Milan, which, as Italy’s most dynamic and modern-minded city, is optimally positioned to demonstrate that innovation has important roots inside culinary tradition, simplicity, cooperation, and a respect for the beauty and resources of our natural world.

Lisa Jarvis

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