Recap of Expo Milano:
The World’s Fair of Food

Terry at Milan Expo

Why did I attend Expo Milano: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life?  Yes – I wanted to taste my way through new and interesting foods from 145 countries – like kumys – the sour, fermented horse milk I tried in the Kazakhastan pavilion. But mostly I wanted to be awed, inspired and better able to help others by learning about the best and brightest innovators of food trends, technology and sustainability, by country.

Well, it wasn’t exactly like that. 20% of pavilions weren’t up yet, and many were more focused on tourism and selling products. Still – lots of great learnings! The biggest takeaway for me was about the larger context of the future of the global food system. In the microcosm of the US specialty food market, it’s easy to forget that we’re part of a much bigger picture.

So, with today’s population of 7 billion people, rising to 9 billion by 2050 – what is the future of food?

  • Food Paradox – We need to balance food overconsumption with starvation and hunger.
    • There’s enough food produced to feed the planet. Yet:
      • 500 million adults and 42 million kids under 5 are obese – increased risk for diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc.
      • 800 million people and 200 million kids under 5 don’t know where their next meal is coming from and 3 million children annually die from starvation-related causes
  • Food Loss & Waste – We need to stop wasting food. An insane 30% of all consumable food worldwide – 1.3 billion tons – is still either lost in production, or literally thrown away.
    • Yes – there are some great organizations working hard to deal with this serious issue, by generating less waste, donating to the needy and recycling. But still – 1/3? Wow.
  • Food Shortages with causes including:
    • Climate change – impact from global warming and greenhouse gas emissions
    • Demographic shifts – increased meat consumption, especially in developing countries
    • Using food / ingredients to feed animals and meet growing meat demand, and for biofuel
    • Decreased land for food production
  • Food Security Issues – “30 crops supply 95% human food energy needs”
    • Agricultural biodiversity is key for future environmental adaptations as adverse conditions negatively impact crop survival
    • 60% daily calories from only 3 crops worldwide – maize, rice and wheat
    • Sustainable production is key
  • Genetic Erosion – reduction of agro-biodiversity / loss of varieties
    • Rice, for example, has 117,000 varieties (cultivars)
    • Germplasm banks store nearly-extinct varieties
      • Lets us hedge our bets on which cultivars can adapt to future climate change…
  • Food Distribution Injustice – “50% cereals, 75% soy feed 4 billion animals that feed 1 billion overfed people vs. those in desperate need.”
  • BioTech Food Combining science and technology
    • Not just GMOs
    • DNA barcoding – identifying species and cultivars; ensuring food traceability
There is hope! New technologies like aquaponics and vertical farming lead the way...

There is hope! New technologies like aquaponics and vertical farming lead the way…

Positive Trends for a Sustainable Food Supply

  • Vertical Farming –  Seen in many Pavilions – including the USA, Germany, Poland and Kuwait
  • Aquaponics – symbiotic environmental cycle with plants and fish, excretions taken from water and used to feed plants; 500% greater productivity than soil farming, 90% less water usage
    • We’ll be going to visit an aquaponics farm, Verticulture, in our NGI food entrepreneurship class
  • Foods for the Future
    • Insects – 2 billion people eat insects; 1,681 insect species are already consumed
    • Sorghum – ancient grain, highly weather-tolerant – for food, fuel and livestock feed
    • Fonio – small gluten-free grain, ancient cereal – mostly grown in Africa
    • Buckwheat – high protein, gluten-free, fiber rich, antioxidants
    • Wild plants – only 200 plants are regularly consumed, but >50,000 are edible
      • I went on a foraging tour in Central Park with Steve Brill and NYWCA – it’s amazing how many edible plants are in the middle of the city that go to waste!
  • Food Security Measures (Qatar’s plan)
    • Procurement, storage and distribution of staple foods at subsidized prices
    • Stabilizing prices of staple food in local market
    • Distribution of food supplies monthly via smart cards
    • Maintaining strategic food stockpiles

Call to action – what we can do:

Eat less
Eat less meat
Be more aware of our carbon footprint

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