N°7 2014 I eat, therefore we are Taste under the aegis of marketing

N°7 2014
I eat, therefore we are
A Heritage of ideas
A year later, the second International Colloquium
of Expo Laboratory meets to discuss and define the
main questions that, in our different areas of research, may constitute the fundamental terms of the
Science Pact for Expo 2015 in view of the Charter
of Milan. The pact will be the outcome of the work
done in our international academic work shop, the
final result of which will be seen in the third and
final meeting at the end of April next year. Last year
we began with the recognition of the state of the
art of research, moving from the central theme of
Expo 2015, “Feeding the planet. Energy for Life”.
This year we will focus on a range of questions and
issues that we feel are crucial to this central theme.
Access to energy; collective goods; social sustainability; sustainability in food production and consumption;
food security; nutrition and health; taste and appearance of food; food and identity; cultural heritage of
food; new urban governance; urban fairness; technological and social innovation.
We are asked: why a series of questions and not
recommendations and policies? The answer is simple: because our scientific responsibility is to identify what the problem is, opening up forums for
the exchange of ideas and knowledge around the
great theme of “Feeding the planet”. We have the
intellectual duty to formulate questions in need of
answers. This is, after all, a tribute to a great tradition of Universal Exhibitions, to a feature that has
persisted as they changed over time. So thought the
polytechnicien engineer Alfred Picard, the Commissioner General of the Exposition in Paris in 1900,
who was convinced of the need to accompany the
display of products with “the universal exposition
of thought”. I remember that at the International
Congress of Mathematicians (6-12 August 1900) the
great David Hilbert of the University of Goettingen
who lectured at the conference became famous for
Les problémes futures des mathématiques, with the
list of twenty-three problems or open questions. In
deference to the great Hilbert, we will be more parsimonious and will have a list of only twelve questions.
The issues that emerge and will emerge from the
work of our Colloquium, which will be defined in the
coming months and will be proposed for the Science Pact in the Colloquium in April ask us, by their
formulation, to take seriously the essential tension
between the sense of reality and the sense of possibility. As Robert Musil wrote in the first pages of
The Man Without Qualities, “He who wants to pass
through an open door without trouble must be aware of the fact that door jambs are tough: this maxim
to which the old professor always abided is simply a
postulate of the sense of reality. But if the sense of
reality exists and no one can doubt that its existence
is justified, then there must be something that we
will call a sense of possibility”.
Allow me, in conclusion, to draw your attention to
three maxims which, along with that of Musil, accompany us in our work. The first sheds light on the
research method, the second on its commitment to
a different and more praiseworthy future, the third
about the meaning of our work.
i) On method, Otto Neurath, the great philosopher
of the Vienna Circle: “We are like sailors who have
to change the structure of their ship in the open
sea, without ever being able to dismantle and rebuild it from scratch in the dry dock with the best
ii) On activity, Max Weber, one of the fathers of sociology: “it is perfectly correct, and confirmed by all
historical experience, that the possible would never
be achieved if in the world did not always attempt
the impossible.”
iii) On meaning, we think back to the mildly anti-Cartesian maxim “I eat, therefore I am” and, in the
background of the great city of the human race, together reformulate it thus: “I eat, therefore we are.”
Food, art
and anthropology
in Expogate
Salvatore Veca
(Scientific Curator Lab Expo and Honorary President
of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Foundation)
Zero-sum urbanism
The city today attracts a lot of attention but in a different way than in the past when it was associated
with words like ‘crisis’ and ‘decline’, ‘violence’ and
‘conflict’, ‘pollution’ and ‘poor quality of life’. Today,
most of the books about the city, in their titles, use
words like ‘triumph’, ‘great’ and ‘creative’. The authors of these books offer suggestions and recipes
on how to help cities that are already players in the
global scene maintain their standing and how other
cities can get into the game and position themselves
at the top. What most of these books do not say is
that all this emphasis on competitiveness can also
worsen the living conditions of the people.
Actually some books are discussing the problem
of how to make cities more competitive and at the
same time improve the lives of the inhabitants. I
think, however, that the question itself is misplaced
and that in any event always basing it on competitiveness will not get us anywhere. Whether we focus
on a national or a global perspective, making competitiveness the primary consideration is to accept a
zero-sum game: the race to obtain competitive advantages that attract investment necessarily creates
few winners and many losers. The truth is that, while
following the advice of various consultants (and
spending a lot of money), we as a community, are
no better off than before. Indeed, in collective terms,
we can come out of it damaged.
If the goal is to compete, we know very well that the
result will be a city of great inequalities. When a city
is a winner, from a competitive point of view, it really
means property prices going through the roof and
large wage disparities. Think for example of New
York and San Francisco and the space surrounding
these cities, where privileged enclaves find space
in the best spots of the city while neighbourhoods
These are words of our time. They are not concerns
or questions only of our time. You do not need to be
a revolutionary to have this feeling or this sensitivity.
It means not being content with mere existence, to be
demanding rather than merely intransigent. To not be
satisfied with what there is and how it is, but project
a time now into a time further ahead and see if
everything remains the same, or if perhaps intervention might not be needed, to “govern”, “change“,
”innovate“. Identity, more than habits, is change.
Nothing is natural, Carlo Cattaneo reiterates.
Landscape is something artificial, not natural (the
same applies to what we eat, as Messedaglia reminds
us). It indicates how men and women have worked on
a territory. This is important to remember, especially in
a country, our country, where geography is traditionally only physical (descriptions of rivers, plains, mountains,...) or political (where are the borders?) but still
today finds it difficult to be “historical” (how do you
change the landscape, what does it mean to make one
choice and not another?) and above all to be “human”
(who inhabits a territory, how are groups stratified,
what are the cultural overlaps and intersections?) A
of desolation and abandonment lack basic services.
Some form of intervention must be done to mitigate
the effects of these transformation processes that
generate, it seems inevitably, such great social and
spatial inequality. The famous scholar Michael Storper (recent guest of Labexpo in Milan), has proposed
the creation of a model of fiscal redistribution, in
order to allocate part of the resources from successful areas to areas less affluent and more needy. I do
not know if this is the best strategy, but surely the
worst strategy is to continue to foment competition,
pushing the poor areas, for example the US city of
Youngstown, Ohio, to make yet another desperate
attempt to win the battle and take home the “metropolitan revolution” through the construction of
hotels or convention centers to attract large companies and visitor flows. More shopping centers: no
thanks, we absolutely do not need them! Instead
of imagining ways in which our mayor can create a
city more competitive, we should focus on how to
improve the lives of citizens who are physically in the
city. Parks are positive not because they would draw
new industries, but because people love them. Having good schools is important not only as a tool to
attract the most talented people or even to increase
admission fees at private colleges, but because they
give children a better human experience. I could go
on with other examples, such as bike paths, museums, areas with free Internet. The crucial point here is
to promote what is appropriate for the public interest, closely watching how things develop and how
they benefit the citizenship.
Harvey Molotch
(Professor of Sociology and Metropolitan Studies
at New York University)
subject which, not coincidentally, preoccupied Giorgio
Fua from an early age and that he had to get away
from here in order to write about, because his theory
of the population was so hard to reconcile with the
dominant thinking of his time.
The theme of water, its distribution, its control cannot
be left to chance as we are reminded at different times
by Gian Domenico Romagnosi and Luigi Einaudi.
The economy is not just numbers, not just increases
in production, but is to be worried about distribution, as Adam Smith reminds us. The same is true
for hunger, a condition that does not end once the
stomach is filled unless the many forms it has taken
or the obsessions that it generates are changed, as
recalls Louis de Jaocourt.
In every era, there have been people who began to
reflect because they felt the reality they were living
was too narrow, aware that it was necessary to ask
questions not being asked in the public discourse of
their time and moving rather “in a stubborn and different direction.”
The future is not waited for: it is prepared for.
To help build it also means not being afraid to think
beyond our time.
David Bidussa
(Director of the Library and Archives of Giangiacomo
Feltrinelli Foundation)
Taste under the aegis of marketing
If for many societies nourishment still remains tied
to its seasonal rhythms, in a large part of the world
it has undergone diffuse crossbreeding and a consequent impoverishment.
The globalization of food and its transformation into
merchandise has led to its estrangement – from the
soil, from history, from culture – relegating it to a
mere bailiwick of marketing and of agronomic and
chemical laboratories, with the object of manipulating food, creating something new, even to altering
its rates of growth, its form or its substance.
Nourishment is rationalized in favour of economic
performance contrary to its symbolic value; goods
shared collectively, part of the machinations of industry in fierce competition.
In the day of the Second International Colloquium
of Laboratorio Expo, Expogate, located in the heart
of Milan, becomes a meeting place between art
and anthropology.
Ivan Bargna, anthropologist of art, and the curator
Gabi Scardi submit the projects of artists working
in the field of ethnography, a method which is both
the heart of anthropological research and an experimentation way in contemporary art.
Their works occurred in different places of commensality in Milan (like schools and homeless shelters), pursuing a reflection about food as sharing
experience but also as an element that creates
barriers and social differences.
Emilio Fantin (project La cena dei desideri), Maria
Papadimitrou (project Cum panis) and Adrian Paci
(project Le cucine di Via Monluè 65) present their
work, then the journey through food experience
in different cultures continues with Paola Anziché
and a preview of the documentary Il faut donner
à manger aux gens, dealing with food and culture
in Cameroon.
Finally, Steve Piccolo, musician, artist and curator,
presents his project Suoni a tavola, held at the primary school “Narcisi” in Milan.
With him, the audience is involved in a performance: a sensorial aperitif, to regain the intimate
dimension of sounds, one of the most important
element in food experience.
Marina D’Alessandro
(Communication Scolarship Laboratorio Expo)
It no longer is an understanding inherited from a
long tradition of implemented local knowledge, but
a logic that is commercial, with little attention paid
to ecology or food quality. This production deliberated under the aegis of marketing tends to attract the
consumer with visual cues. Taste, however, is rarely
part of the picture. Apples, pears, peaches and a lot
of other fruit in supermarkets are now reduced to a
handful of selected varieties, beautiful works of art
to look at, that shine as objects of cultured design.
The sensory experience of food has changed significantly in recent decades, very much impoverished for
a large number of our contemporaries condemned to
buy low-cost products in large distribution centers.
Fast-food restaurants are now widespread, where
they help to change the culture of taste, not only in
European societies but also in the rest of the world.
The frequent reduction of the meal to a kind of feeding reflex to be urgently satisfied, favours these
types of eateries, a form of grazing throughout the
day. Family members no longer eat so often together, each has his own time, after work or school,
preparing his own meals, often individually packaged and only requiring reheating. Eating together is
no longer so popular. The modern consumer is often
solitary and in a hurry. Idle savouring of taste is not
on his horizon.
The symbolism of the table transforms us. The younger generation especially, has adopted the eating
habits of their American peers. In this way they complacently create new cultures of taste, preferably
consuming products that satisfy basic standardized sensory thresholds, unlearning the subtlety of
the taste experience. Saturated with fat and sugar,
these foods fill biological needs for young people
uneducated in differentiating tastes and balancing
their diets. Many experts complain about the weakening of the myriad nuances of perception for these
generations acculturated to fast-food or meals-ready-to-eat. Taste is instead provided by sauces, squeezed out, contending with each other and by the
strong flavours of sweetened beverages (coke, soft
drinks, etc ...). In this sense, considerable work must
be done to re-educate young people about taste,
opening them up to more elaborate experiences, so
that they become less accustomed to simple sensations in favour of flavour complexity.
David Le Breton
(Anthropologist and Professor of Sociology at the
University of Strasbourg)