17 May 2015

Impressions on the world exhibition in Milano 2015 (Expo2015)

I have just spent two-and-a-half days at the world exhibition of Milano 2015 (Expo 2015), the theme of which is food (‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’). This major event is held from 1 May to 31 October 2015. I went there with a couple of dear friends. The impressions expressed in this short article do not pretend to provide an objective assessment of the Expo 2015. Rather, they describe what I felt during a visit that allowed me to see approximately 20 pavilions that are not necessarily representative of the Expo*. From this, I could draw some conclusions - my personal views - as someone who probably has more than average information on food and who has his own motivations.


What are these main impressions?

  1. *The themes that appear to dominate the Expo are: diversity of food and its strong cultural dimension, sustainability and the relation between food, the environment and the climate, and food safety.

  2. *Few are the pavilions among those visited that deal (even modestly) with hunger and food insecurity (United Nations and Nepal), probably because countries seek first of all to promote a positive image of themselves and are reluctant to talk of the issue of under-nourishment.

  3. *Even those countries that made considerable progress in the combat against hunger, hardly mention food insecurity (China and Brazil) and I have seen no reference to the Millenium Development Goal 1 (Hunger and poverty reduction) anywhere in the Expo which is due to be achieved in 2015, even in the UN pavilion whose title is ‘The Zero Hunger Challenge’.

  4. *Each country seeks first and foremost to put forward their successes and their contribution to world food (e.g. China, Israël, Italy), its food specificity (Brazil, France), its food traditions (Germany, Russia, Turkey).

  5. *A few propose innovative projects (U.K.’s bee hive, Austria’s microclimate).

  6. *Others, mostly amont the poorest countries, seek to promote themselves as a touristic destination and to exhibit their artisanal products (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Haiti).

  7. *Some national pavilions give a large visibility to their government and its activities (China, France, the US) and others more to technical aspects and content  as they relate to the Expo theme (Germany, Austria).

  8. *There is a large disparity, as could be expected, in the resources mobilized for national pavilions of rich and poor countries. This definitely has an impact on the interest and relevance of the material presented.

  9. *Little participation by the private sector to whom little opportunity was provided by the general orientation of the Expo to promote their products** (some few exceptions like New Holland***), or of consumer and producer associations that one could have expected to be more active to defend their point of view and perspective. 

It admit that I was also intrigued by the fact that visitors were invited to sign the Milan Charter without presenting its full text, even though underpinning principles were displayed in the pavilion of Italy.

Insofar as the Expo is targeting a large public (20 to 30 million people are expected to visit the exhibition), often young (many groups of students of all ages), considerable importance has been given to fun events (e.g. Brazil and its giant net), to eating and to various events (concerts, parades, etc.). This sometimes makes the Expo look like a theme park.

It was the first time that I visited a world exhibition and this is probably the reason why I did not find what all I was expecting as a professional. As I am used to seminars, and conferences, I thought I would have ample opportunities at the Expo to exchange with other professionals (exhibitors) on themes of importance to me and relevant to the Expo theme, but I found myself in front of videos and presentations (often excellent as for example in the case of the German pavilion) and of staff who were basically quite young and inexperienced, extremely kind and pleasant - often volunteers - but whose knowledge often lacked depth.

Civil Society however organises presentations of the work conducted by its members and their projects, and the direction of the Expo itself proposes a series of scientific, cultural and social events, sometimes organized with the National Research Centre, who aim at giving a « soul » to the Expo (as expressed by the President of the Expo) precisely to make of it more than just a theme park. I was lucky to take part in the last part of the first of these events the theme of which was the mediterranean diet, its characteristics and future.

Some pavilions also organise seminars (for example, I could attend a seminar held by Marion Nestle, the well-known US food writer and professor), but I found it rather difficult to know well in advance from the Expo Website what the programme of such activities is (it is probably safer to consult the specific sites of particular pavilions).


If you intend to visit the Expo (and I strongly advise you to do so), don’t miss the United Nations pavilion (Pavilion Zero - impressive), the German pavilion (the most interesting from a technical point of view, in my opinion), the beautiful Nepal pavilion (an opportunity to make a donation to help this country to deal with the consequences of the recent earthquake), the Austrian pavilion (and its micro-climate), the UK pavilion (better visited in the evening to enjoy the beauty of the bee hive) and many more.

But be careful, it can become very hot in Milano (don’t forget to drink!) and the distances to cover are quite large (make sure you have comfortable shoes and be ready to walk more than 15,000 steps every day!)

Enjoy your visit !


If you want to see my immediate reactions during my visit and a few photos, consult on Twitter @lafaimexpl between 12 and 14 May (in French only).


* United States of America, China (corporate pavilion), New Holland, Germany, Israël, Holy See, France, Futur Food District (Coop), United Kingdom, China, Cereals and Tubers (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Haiti), Italy, The Global Farm (World Agronomists Association), Biodiversity Park, Russia, Nepal, Civil Society, United Nations, Brazil, Turkey and Austria.

** This is apparently a deliberate choice of the organisers and of the two mentors of the Expo, Carlo Petrini (Slow Food) and Vendana Shiva, who did not want to see the Expo in the hand of multinationals and where too much space would have been given to ‘their’ solutions (GMOs, etc) and which almost resulted in the non-participation of the US which could only be avoided thanks to the Italian diplomacy and which probably explains the ‘vacuum’ of the large US pavilion.

*** Some multinationals such as Cocacola, Ferrero, Martini and MacDonalds have however pavilions of a commercial nature.


Last update:    May 2015

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