From the Expo’s official site: “Expo Milano 2015 will provide an opportunity to reflect upon, and seek solutions to, the contradictions of our world. On the one hand, there are still the hungry… and, on the other, there are those who die from ailments linked to poor nutrition or too much food… In addition, about 1.3 billion tons of foods are wasted every year. For these reasons, we need to make conscious political choices, develop sustainable lifestyles, and use the best technology to create a balance between the availability and the consumption of resources.”
I had been looking forward to going to the Expo ever since I decided to come to Milan for these three months this week I finally went! It was nothing like I expected – I had assumed it would be in a large conference center with each country having its own installation. Instead, it was a large, open-but-partially-if-somewhat-ineffectively-covered outdoor area and each country had built its own pavilion! The area was gigantic! There was no way you could visit every pavilion in the course of the day, so I did a quick (well, not so quick, perhaps) loop and then had to decide which pavilions to enter.
Some of that was decided by the lines. I went on a Wednesday and there were hoards and hoards of students on field trips. Lines did move fairly quickly, though, and you were ushered through art exhibits, interactive booths, videos and anything else the countries wanted to incorporate to represent their take on the theme with relative alacrity.
(The Tree of Life)
The first place I went was the USA Pavilion, of course. It was very well executed an presented seven short, animated videos that were supposed to show the way we approach food in the US. All lies, really. Perhaps they represented “goals” but whoever planned the pavilion was obviously from a large, metropolitan area and only really concerned with representing that part of American culture. One of the videos was about “food on the go”. Did they show McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King or Subway? No. They showed fresh, made-to-order salads and wraps. Another video showed a woman holding a piece of white, store-bought sandwich bread with a disappointed look on her face, after which she took out her apron and, struggling through several failed attempts, baked her own bread with a look of happiness on her face. I know maybe 2 Americans, personally (myself included) who would do that more than once. Most people I know, if dissatisfied with sandwich bread, would ask themselves, “Where can I find a good bakery?” rather than contemplating spending the time an energy to regularly make their own bread. But it sure made us look good.
Behind the USA Pavilion was “Food Truck Nation”. Way to take a fad and make it part of our national food identity. But they had pulled pork sandwiches, which I hadn’t had in ages, so all was forgiven.
I walked all day, admiring the pavilions, each more grand than the next.
(Birra Moretti and Morocco)
(Sultan of Oman)
(The French pavilion was selling fresh, hot baguettes for €2!)
One of the first pavilions I saw was Angola’s, which crammed Ambrosia’s song “Living in Angola” in my head, where it stayed for the rest of the day.
Nepal’s pavilion was still under construction…
The outstanding feature of Brazil’s pavilion was a giant rope net that you climbed / bounced / struggled / ran up to get to the entrance to the exhibit itself. The line of students wanting to try the net was ridiculously long all day, but the art exhibit inside was completely empty; you could’ve heard a pin drop. A strong contrast the the yelling and laughter just outside.
Of course McDonald’s had a pavilion, because you can’t have a discussion on global food without McDonalds. Ugh.
The Vatican even had a pavilion! Inside there was a small exhibit mainly having to do with the promotion of compassion and the elimination of cruelty, hatred and discrimination.
The United Kingdom’s pavilion was designed to be a giant artistic bee hive, complete with bees. Why? No idea. But up top, behind the “hive” was a bar where you could buy a glass of Pimm’s, which I tried for the first time.
Austria spun the theme of the Expo to create a great oxygen-producing area with the statement “Air Is Food” – for humans, plants, animals… for the planet. Their exhibit encouraged creating environments like this in urban areas to increase global health.
Holland gave each person a biscoff cookie when they entered and then, as you entered the exhibit, the line wound around a chocolate bar where the man behind the counter would run your cookie under a white, milk or dark chocolate fountain. Kinda cool! Inside, there were some random interactive modules discussing Holland’s sustainability efforts. One large sign discussed how there was a group who collected used coffee grounds from restaurants and, through a process, used them to create an optimal environment in which to grow mushrooms!
A lot of the exhibits had live, traditional entertainment, like this group of musicians from Slovakia.
EATALY had a huge area with 20 restaurants, each one focusing on and serving food from a specific region of Italy. They also – much more importantly – had a Nutella Concept Bar.
Italy had a whole row of pavilions. The wine and milk pavilions were my favorite and very well done. Unfortunately Italy’s main exhibit, entitled “Palazzo Italia”, while being a hugely impressive structure, was (in my opinion) a huge waste of space. There’s so much they could’ve done with the ideas of food and Italy, but the exhibits weren’t engaging or interactive, there was a lot of walking between each room for no obvious reason… it almost seemed like they had so much time and energy on the building itself that they didn’t have time and energy enough to focus on the actual exhibits. Luckily the other pavilions in Italy’s row picked up the slack.
Then there were the countries I had never even heard of… anyone?
Slow Food – an organization I LOVE – had a pavilion at the end of the row. An organization founded in Italy but now present in over 150 countries worldwide, Slow Food focuses on three things:
GOOD: quality, flavorsome and healthy food
CLEAN: production that does not harm the environment
FAIR: accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for producers
I’ll write more about Slow Food at a later date, but their efforts are noble and we have to start somewhere to find the obstacles (financial and logistic) to artisan, quality food products so we can learn to overcome them. My time in Italy has taught me nothing if not how important the quality of our base ingredients are to health, vitality and taste.
Coop, Italy’s largest supermarket chain, had a “Supermarket of the Future” exhibit – it really was a supermarket, not really an exhibit. When you touched an item on the waist-height shelves an information screen appeared above to give you loads of information about the product.
I can’t finish a post about the Expo without mentioning Pernigotti’s gelateria. I had never seen a Pernigotti gelateria before but had obviously seen some of their chocolate products in the supermarket. I stopped here midday and then again after dinner, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. It was the absolutely BEST gelato I have EVER tasted (and I’ve tasted a lot of gelato). Each and every flavor, from pistachio to amarena to stracciatella, was the best I had ever had of that flavor, rich and creamy and decadent. Absolutely incredible! The stand out winner, though, was a flavor called “Cremino” that simply tasted like eating creamy chocolate. I can say with all seriousness (though we’ll see how long will last) that I don’t ever need or want to have gelato again, unless its Pernigotti. Anything else would just be a disappointment.
It was a great day but I was EXHAUSTED. The Expo is offering a nighttime entry ticket for €5 which I might try out before I leave. It was cold and rainy when I went and so I didn’t get to see the Cirque de Soleil show that was developed specifically for Expo, and I’d really like to! The evening ticket lets you enter after 7pm. Pavilions close at 9pm but restaurants are open till around 10:30 and the Cirque show is at 9:15 (Wednesday through Sunday).
Find more information about all things Expo on the official site: CLICK HERE.