Culture, Europe, Food, Travel

EXPOse’

I found some new glasses today. 

  
They’re pre-transition lenses. 

  

And, yes, I have been wearing them, they’re super convenient. To be honest, I haven’t really gotten that many stares with them. Fashion is kinda weird around here. 

I met a girl from the U.S. She asked me what state I was from and when I told her I was from Arkansas, she said: what are you doing here?! 

   

Good question. Milan is the city hosting the 2015 World Fair. Just to give you a reference point, the Eiffel Tower and St. Louis Arch were two sites that were built as a result of World Fairs. The theme for the Expo in Milan has to do with food, agriculture, and future sustainability. So, coming to check it out just seemed like the thing to do. Also, it is the biggest event ever organized on food and nutrition. I’m a nerd, I know. 

  

People have asked me what it’s like, which is another very valid question. I had no reference point for it and since it’s not heavily advertised in the States, I’m sure no one else really does either. After having experienced it, I would say that it is like a composition of a bunch of museums. 

There are 140 countries represented and each country has a pavilion, which they dedicate to explaining their agriculture and food supply. Each pavilion is completely different in its depth and content. Some are a short walk through, some have videos, Romania’s had a magic show (still trying to figure out what that had to do with anything), some are really interactive and technological. Each country can decide what angle they want to take too. So, some focus on their main cash crop, say coffee, for example, while others choose to focus on what their country is doing to feed a growing population. 

I met the American girl at the American pavilion (strange, I know), which depicted the changing landscape of food in the US population. It looked at the evolution of fast food and how our focus is changing back to farm fresh and organic foods and how the collaboration of these two ideas is resulting in a new food culture. 

   

Along with countries being represented, there were also “concept” pavilions, which covered different topics. One I was interested in was future foods. I didn’t know what this would be exactly, but was interested to find out. It turns out it was a supermarket of the (probably not so distant) future. 

  

In this supermarket, I went to a shelf and picked up a jar of raspberry jam and on a screen beside me, it told me not only what I had picked up (there were weight sensors in the shelves, which were able to indicate to the computer what I had selected), but also where the raspberries had come from, their nutritional values, as well as the carbon footprint that was made in producing this jar that I was holding in my hand. 

  

It all sounds so advanced, I know, but I do think that we will begin to see more of this type of technology as people desire to become more aware of the origins of the food they eat. 

  
As you can well imagine, I didn’t even begin to cover everything the event had to offer, but I tried my best. I think we did 44 of the pavilions, so I’ll highlight some of my top picks. 

Israel: I’m headed to Israel in a little over a week, so I wanted to check this one out. Theirs focused on how Israel has become an exporter of food, despite their desert climate. Because of the difficulties with farming desert land over the years, they became innovative, which led to the creation of cherry tomatoes (a plant which was more desert sustainable and offered greater yields than the traditional size) and irrigation systems that are used worldwide today. 

 

  

Belgium: the over arching theme of this exhibit was about utilization. Belgium is a small country that wants to maximize their output to feed their people. It had a section explaining the commercialization of insects there. I assume everyone knows this, but insects are becoming more popular and acceptable as a food item worldwide because they are much more sustainable to farm (using less water, food, and land) and offer more protein per gram than most of the meat we consume. They also had a section which talked about wild, edible plants. Did you know that there are 50,000 edible plants on the Earth, but only 200 of them are currently consumed? Neither did I. We should be using these wild plants to their fullest potential, which is what Belgium apparently thinks too. Also, chocolate. Belgium has chocolate.

  

Russia: I like Russian history and culture. It’s so interesting to me how this country has changed and developed through the centuries. Their exhibit featured the Russian scientists: Vavilov, who is the founder of the world’s largest collection of cultivated plant seeds and Mendeleev, who created the Periodic Table. It also displayed pictures from their 110 year old plant collection of cultivated and wild plants from all over the world. Their work in the preservation of our food supply is impressive and more extensive than I ever realized. 

  
Other country highlights: 

Brazil had a ropes course you had to navigate to get into their building. 

  

The Czech Republic had a huge birdbath. 

  

And, Mexico had chilaquiles. Because no cultural food tour can be complete without a little Mexican food. 

  

 

  

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