Only 60 days until the event officially begins and Expo is looking more and more like a battlefield. A place in which the two contrasting systems of food production and consumption are set to come face-to-face: the industrial system and family farming. The former, responsible for the problems and conflicts of the present food system; the latter, a form of production that is able to truly nourish the world.
Since February 27 the news is that McDonald’s will be one of the official sponsors of Expo 2015. During the six-month event, they will have their own space: a 400 square meter restaurant, plus a 200 square meter terrace (seating 300) and a menu offering specials using recipes from all over the world.
But above all, they will be concentrating on a project called “Making the Future”, which will offer 20 young Italian farmers under 40 the possibility to become suppliers of McDonald’s for three years, specifically producers of beef, poultry, bread, lettuce, potatoes, milk and fruit.
However, McDonald’s isn’t doing this all on their own. In fact, the Making the Future project benefits from the sponsorship of the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. In regards to this, Minister Maurizio Martina announced, “This project represents an opportunity to trial new working relationships with young agricultural entrepreneurs, focusing on the innovations they embody, giving them stability even in the mid term, and contributing to generational turnover in a key sector such as agriculture.” He also expressed a need to specifically focus on youth in order to develop the sector, presenting fundamental contributions in terms of technology, skills and experimentation.
But are we really sure that we want to trust McDonald’s with the task of guiding the future of youth in farming?
The contradiction is jarring. And it hurts. Expo 2015 has given itself an ambitious task if ever there was one: to address the pivotal topic of how to nourish the planet in the future. From this point of view, the presence of McDonald’s seems more like a clamorous self-imposed goal rather than their claim of the right to freely compare different theories, which Expo would like to promise.
The presence of McDonald’s means that the planet can continue to gorge itself on fast food or junk food – call it whatever you like – without concern for our own wellbeing. With 36,000 restaurants spread across 120 countries throughout the world, McDonald’s is already “nourishing” the planet, feeding 70 million people daily and bankrolling a type of agriculture which completely goes against what many organizations, including Slow Food, have always worked to support.
On the other hand, the presence of Slow Food and other grassroots organizations will tell a different story: that of a planet which can and must feed itself while protecting biodiversity, defending small-scale producers, and promoting respect towards natural resources and farming communities.
Let’s ask ourselves if giving the same dignity and importance to these two contrasting points of view makes any sense or whether it can be justified. We continue to believe that in order to feed the planet, it is essential that we consider social and economic sustainability, in terms of access to good, clean food that is fair for all. We also continue to believe that multinationals cannot in any way represent solutions as to how to nourish the planet. This, despite publicity campaigns through which they stress their support for local production and young farmers. Despite a commercial made by an Oscar-winning director where they focus on the ability of McDonald’s to generate new jobs for young people.
No. For us, the policy of equal importance is wrong and completely lacks coherence. To have chosen an entity that is among those responsible for the problems and irreconcilable conflicts of the present food system as a spokesperson for the vision of the alimentary future of the planet is dire. An event such as Expo should provide guidelines and orientation, not be a sounding board for contradictory visions that can never be considered equally valid solutions to the same problem.
How can one promote the Charter of Milan welcoming the words of Pope Francis and Carlo Petrini as points of reference and at the same time not only welcome McDonald’s, but even jointly build a project which aspires to be part of the solution.
Expo risks missing out on a big opportunity: to make millions of visitors aware of the need to pay attention to healthier food which is both fair and sustainable; to pave the way for how to feed the planet in the coming years. What will McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and who knows who else say to these millions of visitors? That feeding the planet or fattening it, caring for it or depleting its resources, seems to be the same thing.
Read the press release regarding the participation of McDonald’s at Expo 2015 (in Italian)