By Allison Levine, Foodable Contributor
Every five years, a world exposition takes place somewhere around the world. This year, from May 1st – October 31, 2015, Milan, Italy, is home to the World Expo. Focused on a theme of global importance each year, the theme of Expo Milano 2015 is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. There may be no other singular issue of importance or relevance today as we focus more on sustainability.
According to the Expo Milano website, the idea behind the theme of 2015 is that it “provides an opportunity to reflect upon, and seek solutions to, the contradictions of our world. On the one hand, there are still the hungry (approximately 870 million people were undernourished in the period 2010-2012) and, on the other, there are those who die from ailments linked to poor nutrition or too much food (approximately 2.8 million deaths from diseases related to obesity or to being overweight in the same period). In addition, about 1.3 billion tons of foods are wasted every year. For these reasons, we need to make conscious political choices, develop sustainable lifestyles, and use the best technology to create a balance between the availability and the consumption of resources.”
We need to take care of where we live and every country is trying to take care of their environment and their people. With over 60 pavilions from over 130 participating countries, each participating country was encouraged to interpret the theme and create unique experiences for visitors. The Expo Milano website lists three key points that countries should strive to increase awareness of:
• The right to food that is healthy, safe and sufficient
• The environmental, social and economic sustainability of the food chain
• The preservation of taste and of food culture
The entire Expo Milano covers almost 250 acres (1 million square feet). It is inspired by an ancient Roman city with two perpendicular roads, Decumano (aka World Avenue) and Cardo, intersecting at Piazza Italia. Decumano is lined by unique pavilions designed by each country, using sustainable and recyclable materials. Each pavilion uses low-impact energy sources and were built with the idea to be temporary and pulled down after the Expo.
As visitors wander from pavilion to pavilion, there are thematic clusters stationed throughout the exposition area that bring together communities by a common theme or food group. The nine clusters are dedicated to various themes: Rice, Cocoa and Chocolate, Coffee, Fruits and Legumes, Spices, Cereals and Tubers, Bio-Mediterraneum, Island Sea and Food, and Arid Zones. Within each cluster, different countries are brought together around the common theme and create an experience that immerses visitors into it.
Rice: Abundance and Security
According to the Expo Milano website, rice is one of the world’s most important and widely consumed food staples that feeds almost half of the world’s population. Rice can be grown almost anywhere and is a primary source of nourishment. Once dried, it has a long shelf life. The countries represented in the Rice Cluster are Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Sierra Leone. Through reflective mirrors, a rural setting is created featuring different varieties of rice growing in paddy fields.
Fact: A key element in many cuisines, rice has been eaten by people for more than 10,000 years, according to Expo Milano.
Cocoa and Chocolate: The Food of Gods
The Cacao cluster is set up like a real jungle with cacao trees in a warm and humid atmosphere. Countries represented are Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Cuba, Gabon, Ghana, Sao Tome and Principe. Cacao has been used as currency and was a key component in the Mayan and Aztec cultures. According to research presented on the Expo Milano website, there are more than 30 emerging countries that sustain their countries on cacao crops.
Fact: The Expo Milano states that “90% of the cocoa beans are grown in developing countries, but only 29% of the cocoa powder and 4% of the chocolate are processed locally.”
Coffee: The Engine of Ideas
Set up like a forest with tropical trees, the countries that belong to the coffee cluster are Burundi, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Yemen and Timor-Lest.
Fact: The Expo Milano website estimates that coffee “is a source of income for more than 25 million families in 80 producing countries.”
Fruits and Legumes
Fruits and legumes are essential in a healthy and nutritious diet. At the Expo, this cluster features a real orchard of fruit trees. Countries belonging to this cluster are Benin, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka and Zambia.
Fact: According to the United Nations, “half of the global production of fruits and legumes is lost or wasted.”
Spices: The World of Spices
Spices are a key ingredient in recipes around the world. Spices are used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Spices connected distant countries along the spice route, enhancing commerce. The cluster, consisting of Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, United Republic of Tanzania and Vanuatu, offers a journey of the senses through colors, flavors and aromas.
Fact: According to research presented on the Expo Milano website, the spice trade is growing with production increasing over 4% and trade increasing 6% over the last 10 years.
Cereals and Tubers: Old and New Crops
The most common crops around the world, the Expo Milano website estimates that there are over 10,000 varieties of cereals and tubers but only a few are cultivated today. The cluster, consisting of Bolivia, Congo, Haiti, Mozambique, Togo, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, demonstrates different examples of land cultivation. Inexpensive but nutritious, cereals are the staple diet and main source of calories for many of the world’s population and the Expo website suggests that focusing on neglected varieties of cereals and tubers could assist with the increasing global demand for food.
Fact: Wheat, rice, maize, millet and sorghum make up 60% of the world’s energy intake, according to research presented on the Expo Milano website.
In addition to the clusters, each country has embraced a different theme that best represents their country. The USA Pavilion theme is American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet. The pavilion highlights America’s food history, from farm to table, as well as the utilization of advanced technology. The USA Pavilion includes the world’s largest vertical farm (9,250 square feet) along the outside of the building and which grows 42 different varieties of vegetables, grains and herbs. Inside, the exhibits address the questions about how America will contribute to “feed[ing] the more than 9 billion people expected to inhabit the Earth by the year 2050.”
Expo Milano takes place May 1st thru October 31st, 2015. But whether or not you visit the expo, it is time to imagine a better future and to see how countries around the world are creating solutions to take care of the Earth in a healthy and sustainable way.