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Putting together a Swiss menu for Expo 2015

A model of the Swiss Pavillion for Expo 2015, as presented by Presence Switzerland Keystone

Four towers filled with coffee, salt, apples and water, which visitors can consume or take away with them: this will be the main course at the Swiss pavilion at the Milan Expo. The idea is to get the public thinking about sustainable consumption.

“Expo has been dogged by controversies, but we hope that these controversies are now over,” said Italian ambassador Cosimo Risi as he welcomed the delegation of Presence Switzerland and guests to his residence in Bern recently for a press conference on Swiss involvement in the Milan world fair.

Expo Milan 2015

The Milan world fair takes place from May to October 2015. The theme of Expo 2015, “Feeding the planet – energy for life”, will tackle the issue of keeping the global population fed while respecting the earth and its resources. Participating countries are invited to present knowledge and skills in agriculture, industrial production, trade and scientific research. The fair expects to welcome 20 million visitors, of whom five million will come from abroad.  

After the false starts, the criticism and the doubts about the completion of the building work, the mega-project now seems to have got on the right road. As many as 145 countries have signed up for the fair, construction of pavilions is in full swing, and over 6.5 million tickets have been sold so far. Attention can now focus on the message of the fair: “Feeding the planet – energy for life”.

“We hope a message of respect for the earth and rational use of our finite food resources will emerge from Expo. We need to be careful in our use of these resources, keeping in mind that millions of inhabitants of the planet live below subsistence level and suffer from hunger. So we have the duty to think of ourselves, but also of the rest of humanity and future generations,”said Risi, thanking Switzerland for having been the first country to sign up for the Milan fair.   

Towers to consume

His thoughts were echoed by speakers from Presence Switzerland, the section of the Swiss foreign ministry that has been tasked with creating the “Confooderatio Helvetica [a play on the Latin name for Switzerland]” pavilion. The core of the pavilion design consists of four towers filled with little sacks of salt, apple rings, Nespresso capsules and plastic cups for tap water which visitors will be able to consume or take away with them.

The towers will gradually empty day by day, and it is possible that after a few weeks nothing will be left. Visitors will thus be made aware of their responsibility for their consumption, keeping in mind those who will arrive after them. The idea is to stimulate thinking about the availability of food in the world and about sustainable development all along the food supply chain.

“We want visitors to come and taste our products, but also our values – the intrinsic values of Switzerland, that are also found in the area of food, like solidarity and individual responsibility,” declared Nicolas Bideau, director of Presence Switzerland, adding that the towers will probably be filled up again if the contents disappear too quickly. 

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Ideas and international trade

The creators of the Swiss pavilion had to abandon their initial idea of filling the towers with chocolate and other Swiss specialties which would not keep well during the hot Italian summer. But the products chosen are supposed to symbolise the theme of fair, sustainable development, and showcase an innovative Switzerland that is still attached to its traditions.

“Switzerland has in a way had the good fortune not to have raw materials. It had to realise that it could only enjoy success if it developed ideas and trade with other countries. Coffee is a good example. Today Swiss exports of coffee exceed exports of chocolate and cheese,” said Bideau.

The apples represent biodiversity, the role of agriculture in the care of the land, and a healthy natural diet. Salt is an essential element in nutrition and in industrial production. And drinking water, supplied in every corner of Switzerland, reminds us of the necessity of ensuring the availability of this vital resource in every part of the world. Today over 780 million people lack proper access to drinking water.

A tour of Switzerland

The water tower will be managed by the foreign ministry, the apples by Agromarketing Switzerland and the federal agriculture office, and the salt tower by Swiss Salt Works. Nestlé will have the coffee tower. Presence Switzerland gave up on their initial idea of also giving the water tower to the Swiss food and drink multinational. This idea had aroused criticism from non-governmental organisations.

“We took account of these objections. I think it is one of Switzerland’s strong points that we listen to criticism from civil society. Direct democracy is a reality not just for Swiss political institutions,” said Bideau. Swiss companies too, he said, are called upon to demonstrate their responsibility and their action for sustainable development in the agriculture and food area.

“With Confooderatio Helvetica we want to offer visitors a journey to Switzerland – not just a tourist trip, but a journey into the heart of the Swiss political and economic system. For this reason, besides the federal government, four cantons, three cities and various companies were involved in managing the Swiss pavilion and the presentation of our identity.”

The journey began last year with the “Taste Tour”, a travelling exhibition of Swiss cuisine, culture and innovation in Milan, Rome and Turin, which ran from April to October. This trial run for Expo 2015 aroused great interest in the Italian public,” says Presence Switzerland.

Confooderatio Helvetica

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 CHF23.1 million ($23.4 million) for the pavilion, of which CHF8 million is 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 buildings. 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. Besides this there will be an adjoining building that houses a restaurant and exhibition space for the partners and sponsors of the Swiss pavilion.

(Translated from Italian by Terence MacNamee)

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR