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The biodiversity of religious traditions, a valuable resource

Culture / -

Cibo dello spirito nella Carta di Milano
Barbara Francoli © Expo2015

The 13th anniversary of the World Day for Cultural Diversity was celebrated in Expo Milano 2015 by inviting religions to participate in a debate on the theme of food. During the meeting organized in the Theatre at the Centre of the Earth in the Biodiversity Park, each speaker illustrated their thoughts on the themes of food production and consumption and on the protection of the Planet. Then, each one blessed the meal, in their own particular way.

Science has already widely demonstrated that biodiversity is one of the most precious resources available to us to ensure the quality of our future and the resilience of our food system. 

Today's event aimed to demonstrate that cultural biodiversity (in this case the type specific to the various religious traditions) is also a valuable resource that we should strive to use as effectively as possible.
Over these last few years, science has rapidly led us to discover new technologies and new knowledge with a frenetic rhythm that makes in-depth comprehension difficult to achieve. 

And now, precisely when scientific knowledge is offering us such a wide range of choices, this is the right moment for cultural and religious traditions to help us out. Indeed now, as we are faced with so many choices and opportunities, it becomes essential for us to have clear ideas about who we are: only by knowing ourselves and our values well that  we enable us to succeed in making the right choices that allow us to design the world we desire.

Comparing different elements causes several basic principles to emerge 
Comparing different religious traditions immediately demonstrates that there are some basic principles common to everyone, and that they should not, under any circumstances, be taken for granted. 

For example, regarding the procedures we should use to produce food that nourishes us, all the religions agree that the Earth was given to us to safeguard and preserve, and not so that we could take advantage of it and strip it of its resources. Therefore, agriculture and productive processes should always respect nature's regenerating cycles and minimize the chemical agents and substances that lead to the impoverishment of the Earth in the long term. 

The ideas about how we raise animals are also very clear: our objective must be to avoid violence, and favor an attitude of respect and gratitude. If these concepts were to be applied to reality, we would certainly witness a revolution in all the production chains. 

The approach is not ideological, the solutions are concrete 
The unexpected gift we receive from a quality inter-religious debate is the realization that our approach is never ideological and that our directions are very concrete: the Islamic concept of "integral" food that must not corrupt the earth or men, is also reflected in the practical indications of Judaism (according to which, it is forbidden to plant vines and corn near one another; and in fact is an action that impoverishes the land) and can also be found across the other traditions. 

When the theme is food waste, the game becomes easy. If religions were to lay down the law, it would be easier to recover food not sold by supermarkets and shops that would otherwise be wasted. (the same food that organizations such as Food Banks working hard to collect).

Everybody pauses for a moment of prayer, for food

Culture / -

Preghiera per il cibo
© Lindsay Hebberd/Corbis

Every culture in the world and every religious tradition have formulas and moments for giving thanks for the food on our table, as a sign of our union with our fellow diners. The event ‘Food for the spirit’ at Expo Milano 2015 reiterated a message of brotherhood and reconciliation, in full respect of the differences which exist between the various religions on our Planet.

When travelling all over the world, it is possible to encounter populations that are very different, in terms of their traditions and lifestyles. Some of them have not even discovered writing yet, while others are hyper-connected and constantly wired up to technology. Some are ultra-rich, others are desperately poor. However they all have one thing in common: at least once in their histories they have been used to pausing for a moment before eating their meal to bless their food, saying a prayer or even just remain silent for a few seconds. 

Gratitude for food, an inter-religious sentiment 
A short pause, but one that embodies a deep meaning: gratitude for the food that we need to survive. 

Sometimes it is a religious habit; in other cases it is a small gesture of the lay person that simply acknowledges the food. Even pronounced atheists have their own rituals (for instance they may stop for a few seconds before taking their knife and fork). 
In each case, regardless of the words that are said (if indeed any are said), this is a moment we need if we are to regain consciousness of what we are doing, and avoid trivializing a daily practice that should never be taken for granted. 

Wealthier populations appear to have lost this habit: when food appears directly on the tables of those accustomed to more, after being cultivated, farmed, processed and delivered by someone else, it is much easier to forget just how valuable it is. 

‘The food for the spirit’ in the Charter of Milan 
During the inter-religious meeting held on May 21 to mark the UN Day of cultural diversity, those in attendance experienced a symbolic moment charged with strong emotion: each representative blessed the food with a prayer chosen from their own religious tradition. And then this same “superfood” was eaten by all the participants. The Jewish rabbi ate the food blessed by the Islamic imam and by the Buddhist monk, the Catholic priest ate the food also blessed by the Hindu and Protestant traditions… and so on for all the attendees, including the Italian Minister of Agriculture, Maurizio Martina, a non-believer, but nonetheless touched as were his fellow diners.

May 21 is World Day For Cultural Diversity, Dialogue and Development

Culture / -

21 maggio, Giornata Onu della Diversità Culturale
© Huy Lam/First Light/Corbis

The meeting between the religions organized on the Expo site is designed to encourage a sharing of viewpoints, and experiences, in the drive to identify common areas of agreement, highlighting the similarities between the faiths, with special reference to their ideas on safeguarding the planet and the fight against food waste.

May 21 is World Day For Cultural Diversity, Dialogue and Development, an event instituted in 2002 by the United Nations, shortly after the adoption of UNESCO's Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. The annual World Day for Cultural Diversity provides the citizens of the world with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to learn to live together better.
Expo Milano 2015 celebrates World Diversity Day by inviting the world’s faiths to choose a menu for happiness
In line with the UNESCO Declaration, Expo Milano 2015, as an international platform for debate on food, has decided to mark the 13th annual World Day for Cultural Diversity by inviting some of the key representatives of the world’s religions to take part in a debate on the theme of food, from an ethical point of view.
Attending the meeting, which has been arranged by Expo in association with the Diocese of Milan’s Service for the Development of Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue, are Don Luca Bressan (Episcopal Vicar of the Archdiocese of Milan), Hamid abd al-Qadir Distefano (Imam, representative of Co.Re.Is, the Italian Islamic Religious Community), Giuseppe Platone (Pastor of the Waldensian Church in Milan), Elia Richetti (Rabbi, representative of the Milan Jewish Community), Vickie Sims (Chaplain of All Saints Anglican Church, Milan), Svamini Hamsananda Ghiri (Vice-President of the Italian Hindu Union), and Tenzin Khenze (Monk, representative of the Ghe Pel Ling Institute in Milan).
The Happiness Menu: every faith has its own recipe and its own blessing
Conceived in an ecumenical perspective, the Happiness Menu theme is informed by the wish to bring together the world’s faiths, considered by many to be a source of nourishment for the soul. The organizers believe that both traditions linked to food, and those linked to belief, can help people to help each other and to grow, each with their own recipe.
In the conviction that societies must strive to ensure harmonious integration between the different cultures and encourage all to participate in the life of the community for the good of all, and, as happened at the event held on April 23 (in Italian only), participants will be invited to concentrate on the similarities between the faiths, with special reference to safeguarding the planet, the environment, and preventing food waste. For, all agree that the environment is “the garden of the Lord that we need to tend with love and respect”. Highlighting the importance of food, the participants will be invited to bless the vegetarian menu that will be composed as a result of the meeting, a gesture of high symbolic importance.
Diversity enriches us on a cultural and on a human level
The event that took place on April 23 was one outcome of the meeting entitled The Expo of Ideas ("Le Idee di Expo verso la Carta di Milano") held on February 7, and where one of the topics discussed, with Monsignor Luca Bressan moderating, was how food and respect for the environment were powerful tools for bringing together people of different faiths (See an interview here, in Italian only).
UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity
Indeed, this view is reflected in the first of the twelve Articles that go to make up UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, which stresses the fact that cultural differences, including those related to religion are to be safeguarded, for, “As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature.”

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