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Paolo Nespoli. Don’t limit your dreams

Innovation / -

Paolo Nespoli, astronauta

In the future, we will probably be able to cook or even produce food in outer space, and in sustainable ways. Science fiction? You never know. Or so says a lad from the provinces who as a little boy dreamed of becoming an astronaut.

“From a long way above, problems look tiny.” This is the thought that inspires Paolo Nespoli’s life, as he reminds us with the title of his book, “Dall’alto i problemi sembrano più piccoli”. The European Space Agency astronaut is anything but indifferent to the problems that afflict out planet… indeed, since making his childhood dream come true he has devoted a great deal of his time to social causes, being convinced that one must never lose hope and that obstacles can often be overcome by changing perspective.
This was the spirit he was expressing when – on May 8, during his visit to Expo Milano 2015 – he signed the Milan Charter and took part in an event focused on the importance of space and satellite technology for the development of the new generation of Africans. This, as President of the jury of the DStv Eutelsat Star Awards, which give prizes to essays and drawings on the subject, submitted by African schoolchildren.
Was there a submission that struck you particularly strongly?
Quite a few of them. Some concentrated more on the technical side, describing practical aspects connected with the use of technology. Others looked at the subject with a more artistic vision, presenting the satellite as a kind of guardian angel looking down on the Earth. The best part was in seeing and understanding the children’s interpretations. Their imaginations… really wonderful!
Science is at the center of Expo Milano 2015. What do you expect from this event?
When you are in orbit, you can’t see the borders between different countries. You see that we’re all humans on board this ship sailing through the universe. And that we should try a bit harder to work together more. That’s what I expect from Expo Milano 2015. That it expresses this message, and that it continues beyond Expo, helping us to work all together to make sure that this ship travels through the universe even better.
What changes have there been in astronauts’ food in space since your last mission?
Although there haven’t been any radical or rapid changes, in recent years greater care has been taken over the ingredients. In particular, analysis has shown a massive presence of salt in space food, both in order to add a bit more flavor and to help preserve the food, since food in space is kept at ambient temperature. So in recent years there has been a process of rebalancing the composition in terms of salt quantities.
What other changes?
There has been an opening towards food variety. The problem is that before food can be passed as suitable for use in a space station it has to pass a whole series of tests and certifications, which are complex, costly and difficult. And this has blocked the possibility of adapting food to specific astronauts’ needs. Recently, however, even if in small quantities, it has become possible to send at least part of the food as destined for individual astronauts. In fact we are starting to see each one taking with them little portions from their own countries’ food traditions.
Without limiting your imagination, what do you think we will be eating in 2050… on Earth and in space?
This is a complex question. Food has important aspects in many different dimensions. It is of course nourishment for the body, but it also has a social dimension. And the preparation and management of food requires time and resources. Resources which then have an impact on the environment. So in the future, we will undoubtedly have to find a means of producing food in an increasingly sustainable way, but without losing its efficiency in nourishing… its proteins, calories and vitamins.
And what will happen in space?
I think we will be able to cook in space too, whereas at the moment we simply reheat pre-prepared food. And I think that eventually we will start to produce food in space, in order to be self-sufficient and not have to bring everything up from the Earth… because that is extremely expensive. This means that the space station will need to achieve a kind of self-supporting process, using a product that is effective for the body’s needs but also pleasant and tasty on the palate. This is an important future goal. And I think that by 2050 we will succeed!
What is your ‘astro-message’?
I always tell people that I’m not a superhero from space, but a lad born in a small provincial town who as a little boy wanted to become an astronaut. And effectively today I wear the blue astronaut’s overalls and I have been to space. The important thing is to try to project this kind of message: that one must have dreams, and then concentrate, work hard and take initiatives. Because even the biggest dreams – however bizarre they may seem – can come true.

'Arts & Foods. Rituals since 1851': A pavilion in the city entirely devoted to the arts in relation to food

Culture / -

Arts Foods Celant img rif e cover
ARMAN, Artériosclérose, 1961, Image courtesy the Arman Studio Archives New York

Exploring a world of art detached and disconnected from its environment is unthinkable. Thus Expo 2015 in Milan has chosen to follow tradition by including an event devoted to art, but not just an exhibition this time. Rather it is setting aside an entire pavilion, which has found its home in the Milan Triennale. The project aims to present an investigation of art and food, treated as a territory for analysis of the social and cultural factors that have conditioned the arts in relation to food produced all over the world. Entitled Arts & Foods. Rituals since 1851.

The following text is taken from the essay by Germano Celant from the book "Arts & Foods. Rituals since 1851", [Electa 2015, pp. 32-36]
Having chosen to investigate the relationship between “Arts & Foods” as reflected in the rituals that surround cultural and corporal nutrition, it was impossible to consider all its creative and functional connections, or its complete history from antiquity to the present day. So the decision was taken to break down the theme into parts and cross-connections, and to limit the period of history covered to the time from 1851 (date of the first Universal Exposition in London), to the current Expo 2015, in Milan.
The intention has been to analyze and draw attention to certain structural and ceremonial elements from the perspective of their locations and functions, from the kitchen to the dining room, from the bar to the restaurant, from furniture to decoration, from rituals to practices. The exhibition looks at the chronology of the transformation of utensils and technologies, at the organization and industrial rationalization of the production of food and at the evolution of the equipment used for cooking from the ancient hearth to the electric hob. A history of crockery, flatware and glass containers has been outlined, playing on juxtapositions that reveal the various advances in function or, on the contrary, the hangovers from the past. Collections of menus and cookbooks are presented, along with paintings and TV programs that celebrate chefs and their profession.
Following forms of growth and creation in Arts & Foods, an attempt has been made to reveal the full extent of the emergence, from 1851 to the present, of a new mode of eating that, first appearing in the nineteenth century, has seen the service à la française give way to the service à la russe, along with the establishment of new rituals for cooking and presenting food, including the creation of menus. In particular, the advent of the industrial era modified techniques of cooking, with the development of methods and instruments that were increasingly used for the preparation of small portions and the maintenance of their temperature, as well as for the preservation of food.
The pleasure of eating has fallen more and more into line with the tastes of the middle class and its concern with the demands of work and family, with the consequent emergence and spread of restaurants and bars open to a less aristocratic and less wealthy clientele.
The exhibition also presents documents and artifacts connected with rituals and food for the spirit that are found in non-Western societies, as well as making connections between popular traditions and avant-garde experiments, on the plane of both art and cooking. It takes a look at historical developments like that of food for travel which, from the nineteenth century to today, have been characterized by phenomena like the picnic in the countryside, the quick meal at the roadside diner or the one of small dimensions served on airplanes, and later aboard space capsules. Elsewhere, with the presentation of the modern kitchen, whose design has been shaped by the advent of gas, running water and electricity, we see the changes that have occurred in the traditional meeting place of the family, whichhas moved to the dining room.
This revolution in the manner of preparing, cooking and preserving food has modified the social behavior of women, as the effort required for cooking and housework has been reduced and they have found more time for themselves. A section connected with the minimal lifestyle of a nomadic existence, tackles instead the time of the marginality of countercultures in the 1960s, with the invention of an alternative diet, while another examines the relationship between emotional existence and food and the distressing subjects of hunger, bulimia and anorexia. Other spaces of Arts & Foods take other thematic approaches, looking for instance at the expression of a knowledge of food and its rituals on the part of children and adolescents. These are defined by the presence of toys connected with the transport and preparation of food, but they are also privileged settings, owing to their exclusive nature, as they are “forbidden to grownups,” and to the unique opportunity they offer of an encounter with ninety-three masterpieces by Andy Warhol, produced in 1983 specifically for children.

Stefano Liberti. Land grabbing is growing, but so is awareness

Sustainability / -

Factbox land grabbing

After winning the Indro Montanelli Award in 2010 with 'A sud di Lampedusa' (South of Lampedusa), the journalist Stefano Liberti wrote the first report on the phenomenon of land grabbing. Three years after its publication it makes the point of what is changing, the players, forgotten misdeeds and the role of public opinion.

It's been three years since the publication of your book Land grabbing. Has the phenomenon has grown in this period?
Land grabbing has maintained consistent growth that is in line with past trends. But awareness has also increased. This means that the topic is covered in the media in countries where freedom of the press allows it and has become part of a public debate. Because of this concern, governments are with greater caution and some agreements fell through due to public pressure. This is the case, for example, with the agreement between the Italian-Senegalese company Senethanol and the Dakar government. There is a civil society that is concerned and worried about the phenomenon in the countries of both the South and the West. So in recent years investments have continued, but with no significant acceleration compared to 2008, when it all started.
Up until 2011, you wrote that governments and corporations had captured around 45 million hectares of land around the world, especially in developing countries: an area which is slightly less than the size of Spain. Making a comparison with the size of a State today, which would you choose?
Today the surface area taken up is more or less double the size of Spain. Most of the land is not sold, but leased (leasing) for very long periods. Usually 25, 50 or 99 years, even if the investment horizon is actually reduced because whoever wants to make a profit has an interest for this to occur within the first five years and then they usually leave those same lands. For this reason, in the face of unclear agreements, we can only make estimates ranging from 60 to 300 million acres. This equates with a dimension ranging from the size of France to the whole of Western Europe. I believe that the true estimate lies somewhere in between. The biggest problem though is what is going to be imposed is a model of agricultural production that is very different from the family farming that has existed for centuries in those places. It is a more impactful, monoculture production model.
What are the motivations that drive the purchasing countries to buy or to lease foreign lands? For example, what role do they play in all of this climate change and population growth?
The only country that has invested in this phenomenon for a real problem of development is Saudi Arabia which has decided to outsource agricultural production because its territory is not in a position to meet domestic needs. Most of the players involved, however, are made up of financial funds, and investors from the financial sector, much more than other countries and multinational corporations; players who think only of profit. And this leads to a "financialization" of the food chain, the arrival of those who until now were not interested in the sector.
You, other persons and NGOs speak of neo-colonialism. But this time it is not only Western countries that are taking part in the race to grab land. Are there other non-Western countries who are actually participating in this new form of investment?
In addition to Saudi Arabia, Qatar is also looking to outsource its agricultural production. As regards the expression "neocolonialism", it can be used up to a certain point. From a formal point of view, that is, from the removal of resources from countries or private entities such as financial funds and foreign corporations, this form of land grabbing is very similar to the colonialism of the past. It is less so if you look at how it is not coercive or forced.
In fact, your book shows that the Ethiopian government would have an active role in the sale of land. What is the real responsibility of the governments of the countries in the developing world because, unlike the colonial period, isn’t this just like armies conquering new territories?
There is a consensus on the part of the governments of the countries in the developing world and they have some responsibility. They choose to market their lands, also under the pressure of international organizations like the World Bank and the FAO, because they believe, in good faith, that such forms of investment are the vector of economic development. Another aspect to consider is that in some countries, corruption is a very serious problem. And then there is an inferiority complex that has led governments to put huge portions of territory on the market at low prices and on very favorable terms convinced that only foreign direct investment can help them grow economically.
If you were to draw a map of land grabbing, what would be the country with the most territories outside the "homeland"?
United States, Brazil, the Gulf States, European countries and South Korea. These countries are very active abroad. Brazil, for example, is investing in the Portuguese-speaking African countries, such as Mozambique and Angola. However, the phenomenon itself suffers, even though in a different light here because the land issue is very old and the knowledge of indigenous peoples and of the Brazilian population is very high, thus making the land-grabbing less predatory. Meanwhile the worst situations are found in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Tanzania, Ethiopia and Sudan, where the phenomenon is recent, where governance is lower and civil society is less active.
Is land grabbing something we will hear about more and more, or are you already doing something to curb the phenomenon?
This is not a transient phenomenon, but something that goes on a regular basis. If things do not change, investment in land will be very profitable. However, it is difficult to predict because there are many factors at play that can change the interest of investors. The guidelines adopted in 2012 by the Committee for Food Security of the FAO contain a number of non-binding declarations but are the result of negotiations with the participation of representatives both of governments that have given and give lands, and representatives of the countries that acquire. It is a purely formal regulation, but one which, if adhered to, could mitigate the phenomenon of land grabbing.

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