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Future food. Innovation at Expo Milano 2015

Innovation / -

Drones, satellites, robots: they are closer to our tables than we think. And Expo Milano 2015 proved it. It brought together hundreds of innovators who have found their recipe for healthier eating, after searching for it far out in space or inside our brains.

At Expo Milano 2015, the food of the future was discussed: which technologies will ensure that in 2050 there will be enough to eat for everyone? And what, exactly, will we eat? The answers are many and diverse, and the Universal Exhibition gave a broad overview of the multiple ongoing field trials. About 250 startups were present at Expo Milano 2015 and they had the chance to show off their ideas for the future at several events: we covered them on ExpoNet, acknowledging the most interesting and recurrent threads, with the help of some opinion leaders. To get an overall picture of innovations, the magazine invited David Orban, Advisor at the prestigious Singularity University, to be a regular contributor.
 
According to his articles, and as confirmed by a select group of opinion leaders and researchers, a particularly disruptive thread concerns production methods: the main observers recognize that, thanks to precision agriculture, we are on the eve of a third industrial revolution. Drones, sensors and satellites will profoundly change production techniques, for small farmers as well as large. 
 
The other hotspot for innovation is at the opposite end of the chain: the consumer wants to know more about the food he or she is eating, and smartphones will allow access to large quantities of information, thanks to which he can make more sustainable choices. And also minimize waste, through the sharing economy.
 
Future Food District: the future within reach of a trolley
The possibility, through big data, of knowing the food we are eating in greater detail and hence of making more informed purchasing choices was the principle behind the Future Food District, conceived by Carlo Ratti with the support of Coop Italia. Here too one could find YuMi, the shopping robot, produced by ABB. They assure us: future robotics will be collaborative and will not take any space away from man. 
 
Best Practices: more food for all
But alongside the technological proposals which will allow those of us in the western world to become #FoodConscious, innovation also means food security for developing countries: as shown by the Best Sustainable Development Practices, that the magazine recorded and explored in depth. The Feeding Knowledge project made awards to 18 out of the 700-plus food security practices which entered the competition. The first five were rewarded with a film that was shown in Pavilion Zero for the whole duration of the Universal Exhibition, whereas a photo story was made on the other 13.
 
Is the recipe of tomorrow written in the stars…
And if we really want to talk about the future, what place could be more like science fiction than space? During recent missions in orbit, a number of solutions that might one day reach our tables were tried out. We discussed these with Argotec and chef Stefano Polato, who together planned the “star” menu for spacewoman Samantha Cristoforetti.
 
…or in one’s DNA?
The innovation challenge is played out in laboratories too. A large number of researchers, doctors and nutrition experts brought their experience to Expo Milano 2015; scientists who passed on the most advanced scientific knowledge on food and DNA. And not to be forgotten is the interesting willingness of the farming world to enter the GMO debate.
 
 
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Luca Bressan. The globalization of indifference needs to be replaced with the globalization of love

Culture / -

CF Bressan imm cover
© Andrea Nuzzi

Food can become a powerful tool for sharing and respect among people and, today more than ever, for the survival of the planet: we need to go back to talking about ecology and protecting food products. This was the message from Luca Bressan, the Episcopal Vicar for Culture, Charity, Mission and Social Action of the Archdiocese of Milan, who is the coordinator of "Food for the spirit", the discussion table on inter-religious dialogue at the recent drafting session for the Charter of Milan.

What is the definition of happiness for Catholicism, and what is the diet that helps to nurture it?
The definition of happiness we steal, so to speak, from the Jews, because we take it from the Old Testament, that is, from the Hebrew Scriptures. We steal it from the prophet Isaiah whom Jesus quoted at the Last Supper in the great communion banquet that was ordained by God, and where all peoples gathered together.Happiness is the great communion that sees people come together without fear and that recognizes diversity as difference. Joy is linked to this sense of fulfilment of being able to feed one another.
 
So is the metaphorical diet for happiness sharing with one another?
In the sense that the technical concept of Catholicism means "all are gathered together". In addition, with regard to diet, we have to say that Christianity no longer forbids any foods, unlike many other religions. Our problem with diet is more about quantity rather than quality.
 
What significance does fasting have within the Catholic faith?
First, all of us Catholics need to apply self-criticism. In the last 40 or 50 years, and especially following the cultural crisis of 1968 and the secularization process as a whole, we have lost what was a fundamental process, that of writing our faith on our bodies, that is, fasting and abstinence.
The idea of giving up meat, or all foods at certain times, during Lent, served to reinforce the idea that there is something more important than food. Fasting allows us to focus our thoughts on the memory of Jesus’ death and on his resurrection.
 
How is food represented in your religion, and what are its main characteristics?
It is represented on various levels. First of all, the bread and wine symbolize God's presence among us. Jesus surrendered himself saying, "This is my body, this is my blood", so our everyday foods remind us of our religion. At the same time, food permits us to make the pilgrimage to the kingdom of God, thus it is also a great travel device. Food is about sharing, if we think about the manna in the desert, but it is also a way of showing that God loves us. Jesus multiplied the loaves, but also reassured his starving disciples, telling them not to fear hunger, but the leaven of the Pharisees. By this, Jesus was referring to the mounting anger of the Pharisees. Food, from this point of view, also becomes a great way of expressing emotions, through imagery.

Do you have any interesting facts to relate on a specific tradition, or an anecdote about a particular food?
During Expo Milano 2015, we would like to remind people anew of the experience, skills, and wisdom possessed by the monks with regard to their relationship with nature and agriculture. Well before the canals that Leonardo da Vinci designed, areas of the Po valley to the south of Milan had been reclaimed by waterways built by monks. The Benedictines created a rule that brought together contemplation, knowledge, community, work and love for food, all in a balanced fashion.

Food, in the Catholic faith, represents important topics such as the bonds of family, joy, and sharing. Have I forgotten any others?
Food definitely represents our relationship with God, so much so, that the devil tempted Jesus after his fast, telling him, "Turn these stones into loaves of bread". He reminds us that man does not live by bread alone, which is also the theme with which the Holy See is presenting itself at Expo Milano 2015. The relationship with food, which is important, reminds us that our relationship with God is even more important.
 
The agricultural system we currently use to produce our food is ruining the planet. How important is the way food is produced to the Catholic religion?
Christianity has grown alongside the development of the western world. We didn’t address this problem before, because no one saw it. But gradually, the Christian faith has started to reflect on ecology. Popes Benedict XVI and Francis continue to speak of an ecology of humankind as a whole that needs to be at the heart of the entire production process. Looked at from this perspective, the Catholic Church would like Expo Milano 2015 to be a place to reflect on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), and to generate a serious debate that goes beyond the tensions and the many examples of politically-motivated unilateralism that have been adopted on this issue.
 
Our faith teaches us that creation was given to us so we would cultivate it and nurture it. If there are certain discoveries that can help us, it’s right that we use them, but they must be used to help the people and creation, and not just to serve the interests of the few. We must become aware of the paradox that we are now experiencing: that we are able to produce food for all, while at the same time we are living in a world where many are still dying of hunger.
 
In your book (Alla tavola di dio con gli uomini. Idee e domande di fede intorno a Expo 2015), you condemn consumerism and food waste.
From the very beginning, the Church has always condemned consumerism. We must learn to use that which we have as if it were a gift; everything has to be seen as a means for reaching God.
We have production capacity that could feed everyone on earth, yet there is still so much hunger, and this tells us that we have not yet matured as human beings.
 
As the Pope says, the issue of world hunger is not only a moral or ethical issue, nor is it about unfair distribution, but it is an anthropological problem. He tells us: if we thought of those people who are dying from hunger as human beings just like us, we would not be so indifferent. How can we look into the eyes of someone who is starving and not react? To that which Pope Francis calls ‘the globalization of indifference', we must replace with the globalization of love.
 

Mario Tozzi. Let's stop forcing soil, seas and nature

Sustainability / -

cover mario tozzi
©Antonella Antonucci

The 5th of December is FAO World Soil Day 2014. Mario Tozzi, geologist, Senior Researcher at the CNR (Italy's National Research Center), author and television presenter, vegetarian for environmental, ethical and health reasons, explains the risks that we run in our unwitting exploitation of the planet’s resources.

Food and soil. You, geologist, TV celebrity, environmentalist, know the Earth to its very depths. How much food can our planet give us?
We cannot turn the entire planet into a garden or a cultivated field, and therefore the food it gives us is not infinite. On our planet there are mountains, icy poles and deserts and it is good that they continue to do their job. The irrigation projects in the deserts are doomed to fail for logistical reasons, but also for a general reason: because the planet has its own dynamics that cannot be countered or forced in order to produce more food or more fish in the sea. This is something that also brings about chain reaction of damage. If we think about agriculture as serving men and animals, the fertile lands have all been cultivated, even those closest to the sources of irrigation. What remains is the forest, and we cannot continue to cut down sections of forest for farming. The food of the earth is limited and we have to deal with this limit. This planet has a limit to the number of humans that it can accommodate.
 
Positive downscaling We’re about to interview the philosopher Serge Latouche. Both of you have affirmed that sustainable development is an oxymoron, since there is not one human activity that doesn’t impact the Planet negatively. Is our only chance of survive that of downscaling?
First of all, the downscaling that economist Latouche speaks of is of a positive kind, while ours is not at all positive, in my opinion. It seems to me, that to wish for it to be positive is still one step ahead. From the theoretical point of view, we have already been in decline for several quarters. The only solution, is to limit our resources, be it water or mineral resources, and to progressively reach the number of human inhabitants compatible with the planet, which should be much fewer than what we have today. Of course, you cannot physically remove people, but we must deal with more compatible numbers. Our actual headcount is not compatible with just one planet.
 
Meat industry. You said, citing the documentary "Meat The Truth", that the climate is harmed more by eating meat than by driving cars. On Earth, there are 1.3 billion heads of cattle. How does the Earth support this weight?
Well it simply doesn't. The problem is not limited to just the industrial farming of cattle, but also involves other types of farms: for example, pig farming in Italy. In other parts of the world, almost ten billion fowl are bred. We are talking about huge numbers that are not sustainable for the planet, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. There is not enough land to for pasture or grains. Above all, the health conditions for producing the meat is not always crystal clear: you have to give antibiotics and anabolic steroids to animals and make them stand in feedlots, not to mention the lives they have. The consumption of red meat, indeed meat in general, is not compatible with the planet because to produce a pound of meat takes thousands of liters of water; it demand the consumption of fuel and involves a whole series of movements and environmental costs that are very difficult to compensate for. This is also true for fish. If today, the people in India wanted to eat all the fish currently consumed by the Japanese, it would take about 100 million tons of fish per year. Keep in mind that the world is catching a total of 100 million fish and it cannot fish for anymore. We are already above the limit, but do not realize it because a part of humanity lives under these limits, while we in the West live above it. This is why the system is maintained, otherwise it could not take anymore. If the Chinese want to eat the amount meat that Americans eat, there will not be enough pasture for all the animals needed to feed them.
 
Nutrition. You conducted a series of public lectures on the theme of ecological nutrition. What is the most sustainable diet?
On the one hand, we should look to the consumption of water and soil and, on the other, at our carbon footprint and energy consumption. The more sustainable diet is one that involves the least possible distance between those who consume and the place where food is produced (the famous zero kilometer) which includes low - or zero - levels of animal protein. It is a diet that involves the intelligent use of water and wine because these substances must be taken into consideration. The Mediterranean diet, for example, that is the diet of our ancestors that weighed little on Planet because it involved the use of very little very little meat and fish. It was practically a vegetarian diet, made up of various types of carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits. This is the only diet that is compatible with the planet.
 
Climate change and food. Global warming is changing the geography of agriculture. It is increasingly difficult to cultivate cocoa in Africa, and in France wine production is moving to England and Greenland. What scenario do you see for 2050?
I do not know if wine production can end up in Greenland, but it could reach the northern parts of England and perhaps Scandinavia. This has happened before, during periods of extreme heat in the Middle Ages, when England cultivated vines. The climate will change the course of cultivation, but mostly it will expand swathes of desert, so basically helpful soils will be diminished. If we then touch the rain forest, then we will be in serious trouble; so more than worrying about the movement of wine production, I'd be worried about having fewer forests to breathe, which also depends on the thoughtless use we make of our wood resources.
 
Oil. You said that fossil fuel resources are not infinite and that it is easier to understand the use of oil to make a plastic material rather burning it in an engine. Even if we use it only to produce plastic, how much would be left?
I do not wish to be taken for an advocate of plastic. Even if fossil fuels are used to create plastic materials, they involve a number of significant problems. Given that in the United States 15 new polymer patents are produced every week, I would say that there is not much remaining of the resource. I would say that to exploit a resource up to that point, with the consequences that this exploitation produces is not the work of an animal as intelligent as we think we are. Remember that burning hydrocarbons produces devastating consequences for the environment.

Oil and food. The food we eat is produced using fossil fuels. Fertilizers are made using oil, tractors use oil as fuel, some food additives (artificial colors and flavors) are derived from petroleum. Are there alternatives?
First of all, there are paths that you can take to make better food and then there are the organic farms that do not use chemical fertilizers and also make use of compost as a sensible way to recover organic waste. Basically, extensive use of pesticides has been seen to cause damage, and while it is true that it can eliminate a pest, it also puts the crop under threat from other kinds of pests. To think about how to grow crops and increase their intensity using chemicals is not really smart. This is not acceptable, as we have already seen in the first green revolution, and the agricultural revolution of the 70’s and post-war, the pesticide and DDT revolution, because plants simply become resistant and we do not gain much by it all. It seems to me that today the productivity of the land has remained roughly that of the Middle Ages: 30 to 40 percent, maybe a little more, despite the use of chemicals. This means that it they are not needed.
 
GMOs and biotechnology Studies on GMOs began 40 years ago. The problem began when we started to do research on edible plants. How can we tell if research or technology is "over the top" or useless? Is it a matter of cost? Or is the problem the risks?
From a certain point of view, it is a question of costs because these technologies have a cost, but it is also a matter of effectiveness because they are usually not very effective. In the case of GMO’s, the technology speeds up in the plant what it would normally take longer to do. If we think about it, grafts have always been done, man has always selected plants, but over much longer times. Instead, we want to accelerate timing, but we have seen that this can lead to counterproductive results. And let’s not forget the Indian children who need to eat golden rice to fight glaucoma because of its vitamin B content, and for this to happen they should eat a few pounds of rice a day, which is not the case. In fact, there is much more Vitamin B in the spices used in their diet; coriander for example. The illusions of genetics are just forcing Nature’s timing, and this forcing of things is something that since we are not yet gods, we cannot afford.
 
 
 

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