Two days ago I returned from a wonderful vacation/work trip to Italy. Since I've been getting up at 5am, still feeling it's 11am, I started to mentally list my touristique accomplishments (use of French ending is deliberate... but not actually correct). My wonderful friends Roger Mazzeo and Federico Badiali catered to my every request to stay off the beaten-to-death path, while still exposing me to exciting experiences. And they did that with the style of a seven-star... Galleria!
Indeed, we treated ourselves to James Beard's American Restaurant at the ONLY official seven-star hotel in the world, where I got to go to heaven via Edward Lee's ridiculously good mix of American Southern and Asian food cookin'. I feasted my eyes on Lake Como's villas and magical towns. I spent two days on the well-run beaches of Loano. And, for the first, but hopefully not last, time in my life, I gazed on daVinci's impressive and humbling 15' X 29'-masterpiece, The Last Supper.
But the experience that touched me the most came on the last day there, on our visit to the Food Expo in Milan. And the emotional charge didn't stem only from the Nutella Concept Bar, or the Citterio’s Italian Salami Academy lunch (... I can't even describe how much fun a human being can have eating ham and salami). The feeling that I still can't seem to shake off came from the energy of the Expo, from its purpose and mission easily sensed, from its theme: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.
The Expo's literature says that the aim is to reflect on and try to find solutions to the contradictory realities of our present and, therefore, of our future. Morton's Fork, a paradox that contemplates choosing between unpleasant alternatives, applies well to the choices our species has established for itself. Here's some quick, yet sobering, data from the Expo's website:
- from 2010 to 2012, about 870 million people were undernourished WHILE about 2.8 million people died from diseases related to obesity or to being overweight (I'll let you muse about what regions of the world respectively account for those figures).
- about 1.3 BILLION tons of food are wasted every year
How can this happen in 2015? As Dickens might say, if he hadn't an ounce of creativity, 'no one's to blame, everyone's to blame.' But one of the central causes for this tragedy was captured powerfully by a display in Pavilion Zero: a giant global food stock exchange screen, showing the fluctuating prices of foods, and pointing out that foods have become commodities. If you take a moment to think about what that means, you'll realize the implications of treating food the way we treat shares of stock: food production and distribution becomes vulnerable to economic manipulation and to political and corporate leverage. Those that produce are no longer necessarily masters of their destiny but likely dependents on the desired economic outcome of governments and private companies.
Divinus halitus terrae: the divine breath of the earth. The slogan above Pavilion Zero welcoming visitors to the Expo is a positive reminder that we all breathe the same air, so to speak. That we occupy the same time and space. Indeed, the design of the library entrance into the Pavilion was inspired by Saint Augustin's concept of time, where past, present, and future all co-exist in the soul. The human soul. But an honest observant would argue that the definition of 'humane' has changed dramatically in practice. It has lost its soul.
But there is hope - about 150,000 daily visitors to the ExpoMilano 2015, from every single corner of the world, are walking along each other, exposing themselves to each other's cultures, as well as to critical challenges of the future. And 150,000 daily visitors might gradually understand that, on this little spec of the universe called Earth, someone's problem is everyone's problem... eventually. You might want to think about being one of those 150,000 before the end of October. Saint Augustine also said that "the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." What can we possibly understand about this book from reading just one page of this ephemeral journey?
I remain optimistic. Respect your journey, and we have a chance.