Expo wraps up but critics doubt social impact

Dedicated to the problem of feeding the planet, the World Expo in Milan winds up Saturday amid celebrations and doubts over visitor numbers but doubts regarding its contributions to the global food debate.

Expo wraps up but critics doubt social impact
As Milan's Expo draws to a close, Italy is undecided about the event's lasting impact. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Although preparations were riddled with delays and corruption scandals and May's grand opening was overshadowed by violent protests, over the months the Expo's popularity has increased and crowds have flocked.
The number of visitors soared in recent weeks, leading to five-hour queues to enter the most popular pavilions, including Britain, Italy, Japan and Kazakhstan. Some Saturdays drew up to a quarter of a million people.
The Expo has also played host to figures such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and US First Lady Michelle Obama.

Italian PM Matteo Renzi has declared it a “triumphant ride” to success after organizers said they expected the goal of 20 million visitors to be met if not beaten.
For Giuseppe Sala, the Expo's commissioner, the end has come too soon: “I would be the first to want to prolong the Expo but technically its impossible,” he said last week.

“The last day is reluctantly confirmed for October 31,” said Sala, whose success with Expo has transformed him into a local star now tipped as the favourite for Milan's mayoral elections next year.

Socially just or superficial?

Milan has indeed felt the benefits: the number of tourists leaped 35 percent in September to 910,000, a trend that city hall believes will continue thanks to the increased exposure the Expo has brought to Italy's northern economic powerhouse.
In the short term, the country should see an overall GDP gain of 0.1 percent for 2015 and some six billion euros in tourism revenue.

But there is a risk of serial bankruptcies – between 1,000 and 3,000 companies – in the most 'expo-dependent' sectors such as construction, according to a report by credit insurer Euler Hermes, one of the Expo's sponsors.
Renzi has promised the government will help transform the one million-square-metre (10.7-million-square-feet) venue once its doors close.

Dismantling the pavilions is expected to be completed by mid-2016, to make way for a research and innovation quarter, including the transfer of several scientific faculties from the University of Milan and business hubs.
But beyond the crowd-drawing exhibitions, critics have questioned whether the Expo – held under the slogan “Feeding the planet, Energy for life” – lived up to the lofty goals of promoting sustainable and socially just food systems.
Italian Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina argued it helped “awaken the interest, commitment and curiosity of millions of people.”
Today, he said, they are “more aware of their responsibilities and their duties concerning the important democratic questions about access to food”.
But detractors have complained it pandered to the interests of multinational sponsors and countries with a poor record on the environment.

Carlo Petrini, head of the Slow Food movement – which strives to protect local ecosystems and promote clean and fair food — described it as a “circus” and “a lost opportunity”, saying “you cannot boast opulence in a world where people are dying of hunger”.

And international Catholic aid agency Caritas criticized the Expo's manifesto as “lacking teeth” and offering “a limited approach to global hunger”, with head Michel Roy saying that “the voices of the world's poor are not heard”.
The Expo 'torch' now passes to Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates, the first of which will organize a smaller-scale international exposition in Astana in 2017, while the latter will host a World Expo in Dubai in 2020.

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RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study has revealed which of the most common 'crimes' against Italian cuisine are seen as most and least offensive.

Pasta with sauce on top and vegetables on the side.
The Italian food police are on their way. Photo: logan jeffrey on Unsplash

It turns out that putting cream in carbonara is not actually the worst thing you could do when holding a dinner party for Italian friends.

And, while not ideal, neither is snapping your spaghetti before cooking it, or even serving it as a side dish.

The many unwritten rules around eating and drinking in Italy are often baffling to foreigners, while Italians themselves are famous for raging against what they see as “disgusting” interpretations of classic dishes.

READ ALSO: Seven surprising Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of

But in Italy, some of these food-related faux pas are viewed as far more upsetting than others, according to the results of a international study published by YouGov.

At the end of last year, researchers compiled a list of 19 ways in which foreigners are often accused of abusing Italian cuisine and asked people in 17 countries, including Italy, whether each was acceptable or unacceptable.

Of these, eight culinary practices were judged as being either fairly acceptable or divisive by Italian survey respondents.

Eating pizza at lunchtime instead of in the evening was deemed wrong by only a minority of Italians; while many also reserved judgement on people combining Bolognese sauce or ragù with spaghetti – which is famously not the done thing in Bologna.

Putting sauce on top of pasta, as opposed to serving the pasta coated in the sauce, meanwhile, was seen as mildly controversial.

However, the majority deemed 11 of the listed transgressions to be completely out of order, issuing a clear warning against certain habits which are widespread outside the country – and which, for the most part, were not seen as problematic by the majority of respondents in other countries surveyed.

Here’s the list of the very worst crimes against Italian food according to the study – ranked from the offences seen as deeply disturbing to those deemed slightly less terrible.

1. Putting ketchup on pasta – this was by far the most distressing item on the list according to Italians, scoring -82. It was one of only two food crimes on the list that Americans also deemed unacceptable (-48), with Spaniards similarly against (-46). However, in 11 countries people said this was perfectly fine, with Indonesians (+76) and Hong Kongers (+79) the most enthusiastic. People in Sweden also seem to enjoy pasta with ketchup, the survey found (+46).

2. Putting pasta in cold water and then boiling it – the results are clear with a score of -71: don’t do this in front of an Italian unless you want them to run screaming from the kitchen. Of course, you’re supposed to add the pasta to water that’s already gently boiling. Adding pasta to cold water was the most disdained practice around the world overall, including by Americans, with only Chinese (+16) and Hong Konger (+31) respondents more likely to be ok with it. 

3. Putting pineapple on pizza – there’s a reason you won’t see a Hawaiian listed on the menu in many pizzerias in Italy – it’s seen as the third-worst thing you could do to the national cuisine with a score of -63 .France isn’t keen either (-15) though Australia appears to have plenty of fans of fruity pizza toppings (+50).

4. Serving pasta as a side dish – think a mound of spaghetti would be a nice accompaniment to your grilled meat or fish? Think again if you’re in Italy, where the idea of having pasta as a contorno ranked as one of the worst possible food crimes with a score of -63. As all Italians know, pasta is served before the meat, fish or other main course, as a primo. No other country surveyed had a problem with this, though, and the French were especially big fans of pasta as a plat d’accompagnement.

5. Cutting long pasta with a knife while eating – the message is clear: don’t snap it, don’t cut it; you’ll need to learn how to twirl your spaghetti elegantly around your fork if you want to be invited back to an Italian home for dinner. This habit is another one people in the country apparently find disturbing, with a score of -46.

6. Putting cream in carbonara sauce – perhaps surprisingly, this famous crime against Italian cuisine – which regularly provokes furious online outbursts and stern warnings from Italian chefs – came in at only 6th place with a score of -45. As any Italian will tell you, there’s no need for cream in the authentic recipe.

7. Topping seafood pasta with cheese – this rule may not seem obvious to non-Italians, but we don’t recommend asking for the grated parmesan after being served a steaming plate of spaghetti alle vongole. It’s a major faux pas in Italy, where it scored -39, while Americans gave a far more positive rating of +38.

8. Rinsing cooked pasta in cold water – while many people abroad may think they need to rinse boiled pasta, Italians wouldn’t do this. Instead, many recipes call for the starchy pasta water to be conserved and used to finish the sauce. While perhaps seen as more senseless than revolting, this practice scored -23 in Italy.

9. Drinking cappuccino after lunch – Long, milky coffees are for breakfast in Italy, and while the barista probably won’t refuse to make you a cappuccino at 3pm, be aware that this might cause confusion and could turn other customers’ stomachs, as Italians gave this habit a score of -23. That’s despite the rest of Europe being fine with the concept; it scored +65 in Spain, +62 in Germany and +53 in France.

10. Boiling pasta without salt – Italians will tell you that a pinch of salt is essential in the cooking water for pasta, and leaving it out is highly controversial, with a score -17. Meanwhile, the British don’t see a problem (+15).

11. Eating garlic bread with pasta – While the rest of the world may ask what could possibly be wrong with this, the concept of filling a baguette with garlic butter and baking it just doesn’t really exist in Italy – even if it does seem to exist in every Italian restaurant on the planet outside of the country itself. Americans are particularly enthusiastic about this combination (+83), as are Brits (+80) but Italians gave it the thumbs down with -14.

The results also showed that attitudes to some of the established food rules are shifting among young Italians.

The biggest difference comes with drinking cappuccino after a meal, something which 18-24 year-old Italians tend to think is fine (+24), but which older age groups – and especially the over 55s (-36) – say is unacceptable. 

READ ALSO: The common Italian food myths you need to stop believing

Young Italians are also substantially more likely than their older peers to say that eating garlic bread with pasta or having risotto as a side dish is ok.

However, younger Italians seem to have turned against the practice of adding oil to the water when cooking pasta. Those aged 18-24 and 25-34 tend to consider this unacceptable, whereas their elders tend to see it as fine, the survey found.