The Heart That Beats Behind Milan Expo’s Vision

Michelin-starred chefs are creating delicious dishes out of surplus food delivered to the huge, international Expo exhibition, this year taking place in Italy’s commercial hub, Milan. The show is one month through a six-month stint, welcoming millions, and revolves around the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. This title alone indicates that a caring, and sustainable consumption, one that pinpoints food insecurity as well as bad nutrition and overeating is now more mainstream, and that it sits comfortably with the focus on world cuisine and new food technologies.  This social responsibility emphasis is also part of a broader consumer interest in consumption as a vehicle for positive change, a sentiment that has fuelled ‘brand activism’ and more brand transparency to offer clarity to shoppers bewildered by an ‘ethical labelling fog’.

The luxury of leftovers

During Expo Milano 2015, the Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura will oversee the realization of his sharing leftovers idea – with help from Mario Batali, Alain Ducasse and other famous chefs. The Ambrosian Refectory, a pop-up dining hall in a disused theatre, will see haute cuisine meals made for the needy using surplus from the estimated 400 tons of food that arrive at the culinary fair each day.  A bevy of brands and cultural institutions such as Lavazza and the National Association of Modern and Contemporary Art are supporting this initiative too.  As Bottura explains: “I expect Expo Milano 2015 to show us how to avoid wasting tonnes of food every year. My starting point would be chefs who do not waste food, who think of others when they work, and who aim to create the new traditions of the future”. This chimes with a growing global distaste for food waste. The French National Assembly has just voted to pass a law compelling supermarkets to give waste food to charity or to be used as animal feed, for instance.

More caring and green elements

Food is nourishment, pleasure, taste, home, family, art, war, peace, and love as the pre-exhibition “Food is Life” advertising campaign highlighted. With a motto of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” the exhibition’s caring side is apparent from the start. This is also indicated by features such as the Slow Food Pavilion and a related area reminiscent of rural Lombard farmsteads, The WE-Women project promoting good nutrition for women, a biodiversity park, A Feeding Knowledge and Best Practices programme promoting research and innovation for food security,  a “Made of Italians” theme to  reacquaint  Italian expats and foreign citizens of Italian origin with their culture, and exhibition zones known as clusters highlighting successful work collaborations between countries.

A Future Food District

An exhibition section dedicated to the future includes the “Supermarket of the Future”. Even here, alongside the cardboard shopping trolleys, is a stress on traceable and safe products, lower aisles to encourage more socialising among shoppers, and packaging that will preserve food for longer so reducing food waste.

Not without its critics

The May opening was met with protest from anti-austerity protesters, and while the Pope has praised it for highlighting causes that battle hunger and promote cleaner energy, he has expressed disappointment at the sum of €3 million that Vatican City officials pledged for a dedicated pavilion before his appointment.