EXPO 2015 has been a great opportunity for Italy to offer the world a forum for tackling a fundamentally important theme for humankind, that of food, with the focus, at least since Milan was first chosen as the exhibition seat, on two main topics as well as their many off-shoots: the present state of food that still today, as regards quantity, does not meet the world’s needs, and a future one that seems to imply an ever greater need as a result of population growth and per capita consumption.
The exhibition, however, has taken a very different path. As was predictable, taking into consideration the exhibitors’ economic and commercial interests and the necessity of all exhibitions to be a fantastic world to attract visitors and business. High hopes regarding respect for the basic issues were placed on the Milan Charter, a document that should have included thoughts, suggestions, and commitments concerning the search for answers on the overall theme of food.
A careful reading of this document, however, produces more doubts than certainties, more confusion than consensus, and more disappointment than enthusiasm, both for its general approach and its content. First of all, it appears in some regards pompous and ambitious, and careless in its presentation and the actions suggested for tackling such a complex issue. Secondly, its content and practical planning suggestions appear weak, prisoners of trends and ideologies that, although widespread, are unsuited to dealing with the matter’s principal issues.
The references to the great principles, paraphrasing passages from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights only in part, were twisted right from the start. A fundamental right is not food per se but food as sustenance which, like health, is what permits one to survive. Sustenance is different from food. This confusion coincides with the prevailing gastronomic layout at EXPO that for many is enjoyable and for some is useful, but is not the heart of the present or future food problem.
The tool suggested to safeguard this right is a joint action. But why choose this ominous and vague approach to talk about rights, facts, and individual behaviors where a human being is free to act or not, to have or not have certain behaviors that nonetheless are individual? Access to productive resources – and their use by consumers, farmers, or producers – is linked to individual behaviors and to humankind’s fundamental right to freedom. The solution is not to impose a collective action, but rather to appeal to individual responsibility.
The most disappointing aspect is how little there is on agriculture itself in a document that contains so many side issues – almost a compulsory concession that falls back on condescension and annoyance. Bothered by so many things, the Charter seems to forget such key themes as how to increase the food quantity and quality, how to make use of the necessary scientific and technological progress, and how to expand productivity in agriculture and of the limited natural resources at our planet’s disposal. It seems to have lost sight of the basic goal by concluding with a promise of major commitments and a hasty support of those that have been identified and quantified by international agencies for some time now. It is a broad piece of work but basically off target, an opportunity lost to vanity and a time bomb if anyone ever dreamed of imposing some of its proposals that seem – but perhaps are not – superficial and backed by an uncontrolled and uncontrollable rush of keen but perhaps naïve support.