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Expo Milano 2015 – The Serious Business of Food

By Neelima Agrawal

At a time when the daily headlines are about farmer suicides (India), feeding the wave of hungry refugees (Europe), food inflation and GM foods (Global), it was imperative that we made a visit to the Universal Exposition, the Expo Milano 2015 unfolding in Milan in Italy, which is centred around food, food and food.With 140 countries participating in this mega event, the world is here. No, India is not one of them. Be that as it may, this is a most relevant event for Earthlings. Reporting from ground zero for the readers of The Luxury Chronicle, I am going to be hard pressed to describe in a few words, the magnitude and scale of the event, the meticulous attention to detail in planning, the inclusiveness factor, the fun and entertainment element of the Expo Milano 2015. And through all the fun and entertainment and exotic art displays, a serious dialogue is ensuing between nations with exchange of ideas and technology, to prepare to feed the growing populace even as farm space shrinks. The Universal Exposition of 2015 is the first Expo to have published a Sustainability Report: the document was presented at the end of 2013 and will be drafted annually to guarantee transparency. It includes monitoring and reporting of activities carried out and will be a legacy in the history of major events.

The theme of the expo ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’ addresses the most urgent issue of finding solutions for the food problems. The fair kicked off on 1st May and will be open up to 31st October, 2015.Already, by August 31st, the fair has far exceeded the expected number of visitors with 13,784,308 stamped tickets issued, not counting the thousands of members of the global media and other participating pass holders.

The Stage

The sprawling exhibition area of over one million square meters has been specially created for the Expo, to the north-west of Milan. The large team of international architects have taken inspiration from the layout of a Roman city – cross shaped streets with two orthogonal axes, the 400m long Cardo running from North to South and the one and half kilometre long Decumanus, which crosses the whole site from East to West, with the self-built national pavilions of the guest countries located on both the sides. Along the Cardo are located the show areas of the host country Italy. Large canopies cover the streets to protect against the weather. Assorted seating options are arranged along this path for people to rest or even take naps. After four hours of tramping around, I too found a vacant spot (with some difficulty) to give my tired boots a rest.

At one of the four cardinal points is located the Open Air Theatre, where in the evenings the world famous Cirque du Soleil put up its amazing show centred around food, “Allavita!” That the show was absolutely, wonderfully, delightful, is an understatement. Also, the show tickets were hugely subsidized. Additionally, each of the pavilions have their own entertainments organised through the day, and a weekly newsletter informs about what not to miss – dances, marching bands, rock shows, special talks and presentations, tastings and so much more.

In the centre of the Lake Arena stands the 37-meter high installation The Tree of Life, inspired by Michelangelo’s renovation of Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome in 1534. The oval-shaped Tree is designed by Marco Balich. Made of wood and steel, the twelve pointed star symbolizes the constellation. Surrounded by water fountains, it is the biggest open space for the visitors. The water basin is surrounded by tiers of seats for 3,000 spectators, and an additional 28,000 square meters with the capacity to accommodate 20,000 people. I particularly liked the fun red chairs with a spinning-top cone at the bottom. Crowds ate and drank, children ran around, as we waited for the shows to begin. And it was a magical spectacle with the dance of water, sound, light, special effects and the finale of fireworks.

Interactive digital maps on location, wi-fi, newsletters, information booths etc are very helpful. An Official Expo Milano 2015 App from Google Play or the App Store, for a smart phone or tablet gives all the information required about the Expo Milano 2015, including video-streaming of events. Samsung Galaxy S tablet could be rented for a period of seven days from the TIM store on Piazza Cordusio in Milan or at the TIM stores at the Expo.

The Mascot

The mascot of the Expo Milano 2015, Foody, created by Disney Italia, is a very interesting character with distinct traits – honest, wise, respectful and a real fan of healthy, tasty food, supporting the cause of community, diversity and food in the broadest sense, as a source of life and energy. The eleven fruits making up Foodie belong to eleven countries. Foodie’s fruit members are: Guagliò, the Garlic – Arabella, the Orange – Josephine, the Banana – Gury, the Watermelon – Pomina, the Apple – Max Maize, the Blue Corn –Manghy, the Mango from India– Rodolfo, the Fig – Piera, the Pear – Rap Brothers, the Radishes – Chicca, the Pomegranate. I must share the traits of Manghy the Mango – The Mango is sweet, generous and charming. He comes from India, where he works as an actor in the flourishing film industry known as Bollywood. He loves to sing, dance and sign autographs. ROFL!! The others are equally hilarious. BANANA represents Indonesia, and is an exotic beauty, outgoing and a bit crazy. Her dream is to make it to the top in show business, FIG – He loves to work out and chase girls. He also likes playing poker, karaoke and posing for photo shoots or for the paparazzi. WATERMELON is from Egypt, and has a passion for classical dance, hates tattoos, and will do anything to get rid of his stripes.

Art at its Heart

The Expo is a veritable Art Museum, with priceless Italian Art on display everywhere. Lighting up the Palazzo Italia is the masterpiece ‘La Vucciria’ by the Sicilian painter Renato Guttuso, perfectly resonating in its imagery the relationship between Italy and food. The great Renaissance period painter Tintoretto’s great painting “Ultima Cena” or Last Supper is on show at the Santa Sede pavilion. Located at the EATALY pavilion is the art gallery within an art gallery, the “Il Tesoro d’Italia” (The Treasure of Italy), edited by the reviewer Vittorio Sgarbi. The sculpture “Jennifer Statuario” by Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft was specially commissioned for the Italian Pavilion. The woman in the sculptor is the actual cast of the artist’s sister. I spent more time walking and discovering the amazing art works, contemporary or otherwise, that spotted the venue.

Pavilions

Of the 140 participating countries, 53 have built their own pavilions. The novel concept of Clusters introduced in this expo, groups countries that produce the same food products, enabling them to explore possible solutions to common challenges. India was unofficially represented in the Rice cluster as the Basmati pavilion.

At the entrance from the West Gate is located thePavilion Zero, which tells the history of Mankind via films and installations and provides the backdrop to the entire theme and stories of the Expo Milano’s food journeys. Palazzo Italia, the Italian pavilion includes four buildings along the Cardo. The exhibition spaces are designed to represent the experience that is about Italy. The Wine Pavilion (Padiglione del Vino), curated by the organizers of the annual Verona-based Vinitaly trade show, offers visitors the chance to extend their knowledge of wine on a sensory level. The large pavilion Eataly offered cuisines of each of the regions. TheEuropean Union Pavilion is located in the Italian Pavilion, opposite the Palazzo Italia.

The milky white Korean Pavilion shaped like a moon jar is themed Hansik (Korean food). Electronic displays, artistically depicted issues of food storage, traditional preservation science, fermentation. The Chile pavilionwas made entirely of Monterey pine wood. The Czech Republic pavilion was a big draw on that unusually hot afternoon for the Public pool outside. The huge Chinese Pavillion had four themes. This is the first time that China participated in a Universal Exposition with a self-built pavilion. The Austrian Pavilion has recreated its forest inside, and the temperature was 5 degrees cooler, naturally. Japanese give you a blast of their superior technology, with the Smartphone working as a guide, it enables direct connection with the various displays and allows download at will, language selection of the audios, listen in on all live performances. One can learn the technique of Japanese cuisine in their Michelin starred restaurant Minokichi.

The Israel pavilion created a 70 m X 12 m green wall planted with rice, wheat and corn, a very impressive showcase of vertical farming and drip irrigation techniques managed by a computer program and a mobile application. The live demonstration of this ‘vertical garden’ was about utilizing limited land and water resources. United Arab Emirates recreated the sand dunes and talked about the date palm tree. Coca Colahad a huge pavilion where one could get a taste of never-tried-before flavours of Coke. The long lines outside were a deterrent and I never got to find out how Coca Cola was contributing to the food crisis looming before mankind. The Slow Food pavilion located at the end focuses on the issue of preserving biodiversity. The interactive exhibition enables experiences with Slow Cheese and Slow Wine tastings. It explains that although it only takes three ingredients to make a cheese—milk, rennet and salt—an extraordinary diversity that has sprung from these simple origins, enables over 2,000 traditional cheeses made around the world.

World Expos do play an important role in connecting the global community. A single point platform sans political agendas, with the common goal focused on the denizens of Planet Earth, to share technologies, ideas and celebrate cultural diversity, each event has offered some life-changing element.  It was at the first Great Exhibition, held in London in 1851, where the first combine harvester was displayed, and so was the Elevator or Lift in 1853. The sewing machine was unveiled at the 1885 Paris Exposition Universelle. The list is dotted with landmark discoveries unveiled at Expos – telephone at Philadelphia Expo in 1876, Edison’s light bulb and external lighting system, first assembly line for automobiles in 1915, the television in 1939 are some examples. The issues in current times are less about industrial inventions, but demand a complex and multidisciplinary approach, of which Expo Milano 2015 is a classic example.

Held every five years, the previous one, Expo 2010 Shanghai China, had the theme ‘Better City – Better Life’. The Expo 2020 will be held in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and will have the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. The scale and scope of these World Expos is such that it becomes a catalyst for economic, cultural and social transformation and generates important legacies for the host city and nation. For instance, Shanghai 2010 World Expo helped transform a heavily industrial city-centre area into a thriving cultural and commercial district. No wonder that on 27 November 2013, when Dubai won the right to host the expo 2020, fireworks erupted at the Burj Khalifa and a national holiday was declared the following day for all educational institutions across the country.

Even as people stay fragmented over issues that are of little consequence to mankind in general, there are visionaries with a larger world view, who take us forward. Engagement is essential. I so missed the Indian flag in Milan.

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