“Feeding the planet – energy for life” is the slogan of Milan’s world Expo 2015. Switzerland will be there with an eyecatching pavilion full of Swiss food products to sample, but sooner or later the stock will run out - intentionally.
Organisers of the fair will be asking international participants whether it is possible to ensure healthy, sufficient and sustainable food for all mankind. Not an easy question to answer.
Governments and international organisations have been trying to tackle the issue for decades. But more than 800 million people still go hungry, and at least as many suffer from the consequences of an excessive or unhealthy diet.
Also up for discussion are the balance of power between the nations and the development of society, as well as the our relationship with the environment, natural resources and care of the planet, from which man gets his food.
Gone are the days when participating Expo countries could put up a few tourist posters or showcase their achievements in industry and technology. Reflection and discussion are now the buzzwords.
Various approaches to the food theme have been suggested: including science in the service of agriculture, food security, foodstuff production innovations, education on food consumption and development cooperation.
But which approach should a country choose, and how can it best draw attention to its message?
“In a world fair, every pavilion wants to look the best, and it is a sort of beauty contest to attract the public,” admitted Nicolas Bideau, director of Presence Switzerland, the organisation responsible for the country’s participation in world events, as he unveiled the plan for the Swiss pavilion.
So the question always is: “who’s the fairest of them all?” But rather than Snow White, this new Swiss pavilion makes one think of Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house. Visitors will be able to move freely around four towers full of Swiss food products and help themselves to whatever they like. “Confooderatio Helvetica”, as it is being called, will be a thoroughly edible pavilion.
But as often in fairy tales, there is moral message built in. Through posters and audio and video installations, the pavilion will prompt visitors to think about their own food consumption. The towers will empty bit by bit, or bite by bite, and will not be refilled when the products are gone. Consumption by every visitor will therefore determine what is left for those who come in the later weeks.
Chosen from about a hundred proposals, “Confooderatio Helvetica” won the hearts of the selection committee in 2012.
“The pavilion sends a simple and forceful message: we cannot just consume food any way we wish,” said Giuseppe Domeniconi, a member of the jury and former head of Slow Food Switzerland, an organisation which promotes wholesome and sustainable food.
“Food is not freely available everywhere in the world just because it always seems to be in the shops at home. As they leave the Expo, people should grasp what is really going on at a world level in the food sector - the waste, the unequal sharing, the centralisation of production.”
“Confooderatio Helvetica” is hoping that its location right at the centre of Expo, between the pavilions of Italy and Germany, as well as social and mass media, will help spread its message.
“The Swiss pavilion focuses on the topic of sustainable development and responsible consumption, as per the Expo Milano theme,” said Andrea Arcidiacono, head of the Italy and Expo 2015 programme at Presence Switzerland.
“We want to show and tell people what Switzerland is doing for a sustainable food supply - like organic production, the role of Alpine agriculture, care of farmland, scientific innovation and development cooperation.”
Besides the government, four cantons – Ticino, Graubunden, Valais and Uri – will be taking part in the Swiss pavilion. Their programme is focused on water. Three cities – Zurich, Basel and Geneva – will showcase innovative projects in the areas of food, agriculture and the food industry. Some major companies like multinational Nestlé and the Swiss Salt Works are also participating.
But the large amount of space given over to these companies has been criticised by some Swiss non-governmental organisations.
“Companies too have a social responsibility in the area of food,” Arcidiacono counter-argues. “They are going to have the opportunity to show how they are dealing with the issue of sustainablity all through the process of food production, from selecting raw materials to the processing, packaging and the approach towards consumers.”
He adds that the Swiss NGOs will also be able to present their activities during the fair.
For the Swiss government, Expo Milano 2015 also means a good opportunity to raise Switzerland’s profile in Italy and strengthen the links between the two neighbours.
From May 1, 2014, Presence Switzerland is putting on a “Tour of Taste”, a sort of travelling show between three Italian cities - Milan, Rome and Turin - in which there will be plenty of Swiss goodies to taste, but also cultural, scientific and economic events.
Expo Milano 2015
The Milan world fair takes place from May 1 to October 31, 2015.
The theme of Expo 2015, “Feeding the planet – energy for life”, will tackle the issue of feeding mankind while respecting the earth and its resources.
Participating countries are invited to present their knowledge and skills in the sectors of agriculture, industrial production, trade and scientific research, to help find models to ensure a food supply that is healthy, adequate and sustainable for all.
The fair expects 20 million visitors, of whom 5 million will come from abroad.
The name of Switzerland’s pavilion, “Confooderatio Helvetica”, is an irreverent pun on the official Latin name of the Swiss federation, “Confoederatio Helvetica”, source of the “.ch” in Swiss internet addresses.
Government and parliament have approved a budget of CHF 23.1 million ($26 million) for the pavilion, of which CHF8 million are to be funded by sponsors from the public and private sectors - cantons, cities and businesses.
“Confooderatio Helvetica” is to be the third largest pavilion at the fair, after the Italian and German ones. It will include four towers of glass and wood, filled with Swiss food products, that can be put to other uses at the end of the fair.
There will also be an adjoining building that houses a restaurant and exhibition space for partners and sponsors.
Swiss participation in Expo Milano 2015 is the responsibility of Presence Switzerland, the foreign ministry organisation that promotes the image of Switzerland abroad.
To raise Switzerland’s profile outside the fair, the government is putting on a programme of events called “Towards Expo Milan 2015”. Beginning May 1, 2014, this includes a “Tour of Taste” between Milan, Rome and Turin that will encourage people get to know Switzerland by way of its specialty foods and its cultural, scientific and economic activities.
(Translated from Italian by Terence MacNamee), swissinfo.ch