Expo Milan – a vision of a sustainable food future

By Ylva Johannesson, Zoe Brewster and Hannah Crump

The theme of Expo Milano 2015 was chosen to address one of the most talked about global challenges – how to feed and sustain a population of 9 billion by 2050. All of the participating 145 countries, including UK and Ireland, were invited to individually interpret how to embrace current challenges and innovations in food and sustainable development by showcasing exhibitions in national pavilions.

The Expo contributions also included international organisations, civil society groups and companies, aiming to unite many different voices and represent different sectors of society. Our visit coincided with the signing of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, which includes 100 cities worldwide and aims to support socio-economic, health and environmental development of urban communities through food. The pact is seen as one of the most important outcomes of the Expo 2015 and was presented to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations on Word Food Day on 16th October.

UK pavilion – a hive of activity

The UK’s pavilion cleverly brought together landscape and art to deliver its theme, ‘grown in Britain & Northern Ireland’. It aimed to highlight the decline of the world’s bee population and the importance of pollination to the production of food. We were invited to meander through a series of natural landscapes including a beautiful orchard of traditional British apple trees, and a wildflower meadow dotted with British species such as heathers, buttercups and sorrel, before being presented with a stunning 14 metre high lattice hive structure.

What made this experience really magical was the immersive soundscape within the hive – we were surrounded by pulses and buzzes, together with the glow of hundreds of LED lights, each of which were linked to the movements of bees in a real hive located in the UK. It was an absolutely stunning piece of architecture that was also a metaphor for ‘how the UK is a hive of innovation and creativity helping to feed the planet’.

Intelligent shopping

Aside from national Pavilions, the Expo also featured different thematic areas. One of the most interesting areas was ‘The Future of Food District’, showcasing a new approach to daily food shopping. Through the innovation of technology, Carlo Ratti, an Italian architect and engineer, teamed up with Coop supermarket to demonstrate how we can increase our awareness of what we eat by enhancing purchasing and consumption choices through greater knowledge of the supply chain.

This modern supermarket displayed ingredients in a similar way to today, bar one fundamental difference – how it interacts with customers. Simply point directly at product, such as a packet of sliced meat and a screen above you recognises what you are pointing at and pulls up information about the price, origin, nutritional content, and carbon footprint of the product. Could this be a reality in restaurants too – with intelligent menus?

Although a truly remarkable concept, the information displayed somewhat failed to capture the wider implications of the product, such as the packaging materials and how it was transported. But it’s a great start.

A Universal Expo has a responsibility to leave a cultural, social, scientific and technological heritage. The question is how Expo Milano 2015 will contribute to the legacy of ‘Feeding the Future’. With up to 300 000 visitors a day from all over the world, and with food as a universal language, hopefully this year’s Expo has inspired millions to talk about, discover, eat, cook and value food.

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