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Italy is hosting a dinner party and the entire world is invited. Over the next six months, Expo Milan will showcase food and environmental technology. One hundred forty-five countries have exhibits over an area of 12 million square feet. Some pavilions have vertical farms. Brazil has transplanted a tropical forest, and staple products, such as rice, coffee and cocoa, are on display. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: One of the more low-key pavilions belongs to the Italian-born Slow Food movement. Slow Food is a strong voice against big, agro-industries, whose low prices push small farmers out of the market. Lorenzo Berlandis, vice president of Slow Food, says the world must change its mindset about food production and the culture of waste.
LORENZO BERLANDIS: We hope that at the end of this event we could reach a new vision and a new perspective in food production. How can human being feed the planet, feed humanity respecting biodiversity? It's the only chance we have for the future.
POGGIOLI: One pavilion challenging visitors on consumer responsibility is Switzerland. There are four silo-like towers filled with Swiss food products. Pavilion director Manuel Salchli says the towers will not be refilled.
MANUEL SALCHLI: People are invited to take as much as they want to take, but they're also reminded of the fact that after them, we expect another 2 million visitors, so think of what you take and what you leave for the others to come.
POGGIOLI: So far, Salchli says, visitors are not stuffing their pockets with freebies. Near the American pavilion is Food Truck Nation serving a variety of American dishes. Mario Lobbia, supplier of food appliances to the Expo, is sampling an American classic.
MARIO LOBBIA: Double hamburger - very good.
POGGIOLI: Lobbia says Italians need to be a little more adventurous in their food tastes.
LOBBIA: Always pasta, vegetables and so on. We start getting boring. Sometimes you need these kind of things.
POGGIOLI: That's what Mitchell Davis, chief creative officer of the American pavilion, likes to hear.
MITCHELL DAVIS: Whether it's food trucks on the street, whether it's artisans baking bread, making wine, making cheese or it's chefs at the finest level, the idea was to present America as a place of this sort of diversity.
POGGIOLI: One of the most striking pavilions is the United Arab Emirates. Designed by British architect Norman Foster, its 12-meters-high walls ripple like waves of sand and weave from big to small walkways, symbolizing a canyon. Peter Higgins, who designed the exhibit, says without a lake or a river, the Emirates has virtually no agriculture.
PETER HIGGINS: We just introduce you to stories about sustainability, about desalination, about the legacy and the history of the Emirates where they've learn to live with very little.
POGGIOLI: Visitors get more practical experience at the high-tech supermarket of the future where they can already do their shopping. Carlo Ratti, who teaches urban innovation at MIT, joined forces with an Italian supermarket company and put the consumer at the heart of the food chain. Just by moving a hand close to a product, a digital display lights up, providing information on origin, nutritional value and carbon footprint. Ratti was inspired by the novel "Palomar" by Italian writer Italo Calvino. In it, Mr. Palomar visits a cheese shop in Paris.
CARLO RATTI: He thinks he's at the Louvre, that every product, every piece of cheese, tells him a story about a different pasture under a different sun. And what he wanted to do here was a little bit - take inspiration from Calvino and make sure the products can tell us their story.
POGGIOLI: And when they're not shopping, visitors can choose among some 150 restaurants and sample a cornucopia of food cultures from across the planet. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Milan.
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