The theme of the Milan World Fair (Expo 2015) is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Questions about how to feed a growing global population and eliminate hunger are not new. The Expo is expected to attract 20 million visitors from around the world by the time it closes in October (after opening last month). Individual countries have exhibits in addition to several large theme exhibits, for example biodiversity. With rhetoric about sustainable agriculture and the common good, this might all sound like a Green Festival on steroids.
Yet opposition to Expo is fierce and at the heart of criticism is the corporate takeover of the Expo, which mirrors the corporate takeover of our global food system. As one protester explains, “Why do people not have access to food and water? The Expo does not answer this question because the very same Expo organizers—big corporations—are the reason why people cannot access food and water.”
The sponsorship and presence of McDonalds’ and Coca-Cola have come under particular scrutiny. As Slow Food explains, “McDonald’s is already ‘nourishing’ the planet, feeding 70 million people daily and bankrolling the type of agriculture which completely goes against what many organizations, including Slow Food, have always worked to support.”
Via Campesina also issued a statement denouncing the corporate take-over of the Expo, saying, in part, “The Expo in Milan serves as a showcase for multinational businesses that control the world market of food, genetic material of animals and plant seeds, pesticides and chemical fertilizers…. One highly visible company at the Expo is Coca-Cola. Aside from producing products with no nutritional value whatsoever, it is among others involved in killing Colombian trade unionists trying to protect water resources and labor rights…. The Milan Expo clearly serves the interests of these companies in promoting their agro-industrial, elitist and capitalist model.”
This week diverse food justice leaders and organizations, including Slow Food and Via Campesina, will hold a People’s Expo in Milan to promote a global food agenda based on principles of food sovereignty and environmental justice. Although they do not have millions of dollars to invest in setting the agenda, these are the voices that need to be heard.