May 2016: A Month I’ll Never Forget
by: Sara Roversi
There is a photograph by the renowned British photographer, Gillian Wearing, that I believe wonderfully depicts what is happening in the world. It’s called “Everything is connected in life…” and shows a man smiling from ear to ear holding up a sign that says: “Everything is connected in life the point is to know it and to understand it”. Gillian Wearing is not a mainstream artist, nor is his work. However, some are printed on postcards in the classic 21 x 10 format and are sold each day in the greatest museums across the globe to thousands of tourists in search of memorable souvenirs. The postcard that I’m looking at right now, the same one with the smiling faced man holding that sign with those thought provoking words, I purchased it at the Tate Museum of Modern Art in London a while back. It’s a little crumpled since I use it as a bookmark. The more I Iook at this beautiful photo, the more I think of how true those words are. Everything in life is connected, everything in the world, now more than ever; everything is linked by the thread of humanity that wraps around itself, searching for explanations, results, acceptance. The more you continue, the more answers you will find and the more questions you will inevitably find in front of you. Today, there are significant bonds that have been created, which years ago may have been deemed unjustified, let alone inconceivable. Such is the case between food, innovation and education, for example. The past month has confirmed this for me. May 2016 will not be easily forgotten, with over a thousand events and happenings focusing on food and nutrition around the world that are all worth mentioning I’m not sure where to even start. But here we go, let’s start from the beginning.
The Future Food Institute kicked off a marathon of activities in May starting from the city of Bologna, commonly known as the “city of food” in the heart of the Italian Food Valley. The month began with the Future Food Institute Retreat. For the first time we brought all our the partners, friends and supporters of this unique ecosystem together in Bologna. Experts, global food leaders, entrepreneurs, and professors who have been with us since the inception of the Future Food Institute came from all over to be part and take part in this significant moment of sharing, reflection and co-designing. It wasn’t a glittery event. No bright lights or the usual media attention which accompany such occasions. Instead, we were immersed in tranquility, housed in a renovated greenhouse located in a one of Bologna’s most historical public parks surrounded by the peaceful swaying poplar trees of a villa nestled in the foothills of the city.
Four years ago, everything was born from a Food Hackathon hosted by Tim West in San Francisco, and a chance encounter with Rebecca Chesney from the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, as well as an enlightening chat with Michiel Bakker, Global Leader of Google Food. That serendipitous moment triggered a snowball effect; a true inspiration, which turned into insight and then transformed into an actual idea that would then became a reality. Today, that idea has evolved into the Future Food Institute. Thanks to this group of people, we began to look at our country with fresh eyes. We began to have the courage to think of our territory as a place where we could speak of traditions and where the discourse of innovation came as second nature: traditions are nothing but successful innovations, and when it comes to food, Italy is constantly cooking up a storm in that department.
Our extended Future Food Family has grown over the years and our Reunion hosted an array of pillars of the Food Innovation Program community such as Steven Gideon from Ryerson University in Toronto, Matthew Lange from UC Davis, the new Summer School Mediterraneo team (Daniela Baglieri and Flavio Corpina from the University of Messina), Ludovica Leone, MBA Director of the Food & Wine Program at Bologna Business School, Simone Ferriani who helped set up the Launch Pad project; Andrea Segre, representative of CAAB and the Edmund Mach Foundation, Minister Maurizio Martina and Councillor Simona Caselli from the Agricultural Ministry of Emilia Romagna Region who are promoting and investing in innovation and sustainability in the food chain, and Matteo Lepore, Deputy Mayor of Bologna, who with great determination and passion, set up the “Bologna City of Food” initiative, enhancing the territory and its vision. We also had our wonderful friends from San Patrignano, the Jamie Oliver Foundation and the Marino Golinelli Foundation, all sources of daily inspiration for us all. There were over seventy people from across the globe: US, Canada, China, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, UK, Australia and all with diverse backgrounds: academics, politicians, activists, managers, startuppers, social innovators and entrepreneurs. We all came together with the focus of sharing and discussing the challenges that the food industry faces and to stimulate discussions towards the future.
We ushered in the weekend with a Food + Tech Meetup; the format, imported from the United States, was created by Danielle Gould, a brilliant American entrepreneur, founder of Food+Tech Connect, great friend and a reference point for the Food Tech movement. One theme, three startups, and great networking opportunities among industry experts and enthusiasts in full out “Silicon Valley Style”. The underlying idea was set up a real network among the array of individuals present. This set-up, which now we understand, is the molecular structure which evolution has used throughout history and continues to do so even today.
Future Food Ecosystem – Retreat 2016 Bologna
Inspiration, connections, knowledge, education, discovery. Network. It is difficult to find a keyword to describe this month of perpetual enthusiasm that at times left us all breathless. There was also Seeds & Chips in Milan, the exhibition of food tech startups, with so many amazing talks, pitches, meetings and forums. Oh, and then there was Cibus in Parma! It has been reported that this year’s edition held record numbers: more than three thousand companies were exhibited on 130 thousand square meters, seventy-two thousand visitors, of which 16,000 international and 2,200 buyers). Mind-boggling!
One of the greatest highlights of the month of May was the World Food Forum, which I would like to sum up with the experience using a quote borrowed from one of the day’s exceptional speakers: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime”. Words of truth. This timeless proverb of uncertain origin is one that I truly enjoy. Some attribute it to the British writer Thackeray Ritchie, others to Mao Zedong. There are even those who trace this quote back to a Native American saying. However, it is not so crucial to unearth who said it first; universal wisdom is often nameless. But if someone had asked me ten years ago to think of a person and a situation where you could probably hear a phrase uttered like that one, I would have said “a teacher of food education”, or “a missionary recounting his achievements in their biography”, or even “a politician during an election campaign”. Certainly it would not have occurred to me to say “an executive of the most visited website in the world at a conference about food and nutrition”. Yes, it’s true. On May 9, Michiel Bakker, Director of Google Food, took the stage at the splendid Paganini Auditorium in Parma (designed by Renzo Piano, another individual with great vision and foresight) and addressed the audience of the Forum, explaining how a digital giant like Google is taking great strides in the world of food.
Many would ask why exactly a company like Google with billions in turnover and whose name has even become a verb in more than one language (If you do not believe me, look up the word “googling” on the Treccani website or “to google” on the Oxford Dictionary website!) should care about an issue such as food that is seemingly so far away from its essence of algorithms and strange formulas? There’s no need to go on and on with praises on the visionary nature of the epic company from Mountain View, it would take way too long! But I will say this, Google is what it is today and what we all have come to appreciate because its founders have managed to pass on to all its employees a certain vision of the world and offer a privileged point of view on the future. Food is one of the greatest issues of our time, and Google has long understood this.
In this significant moment in our history, it is critical that even Italian companies in the food sector help in spreading the awareness of the value of food plays in our lives, especially in a country like Italy, the Food Valley for excellence on a global level where innovation and tradition have always come together to represent a unique example on the global stage. We live in a world today where everything is interconnected at unprecedented levels, where “everything is connected in life”, going back to the words of Gillian Wearing, “the point is to know it and to understand it”. The word, “understand” is an English word that has always fascinated me. If we dissect the word and investigate the etymology it means “to stay under,” or be in a situation from which to watch carefully what is going on, scrutinize the details, get to know the reality of things: like when you look at the sky and you study the constellations. As an entrepreneur, the action to understand what is around me is one of my prerogatives. I have to “stand under” the sky of reality and weigh different points of view about the events that occur around me.
And with that, such a momentous reality such as the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that will soon take into effect will have direct impact on all of us (precisely, 800 million people, between the US and EU). On May 7 in Rome, a huge protest took place denouncing the possible adverse consequences and the possible risks involved. Especially in the world of food: the organizers of the event (among others CGIL, FIOM, Greenpeace, Water Movements and Legambiente) describe the TTIP as “a threat to democracy, health, product quality and the Made in Italy legacy”. The subject was also repeatedly addressed by the Minister of Agriculture, Maurizio Martina, who in this frenzy month of May (reminiscent of last year’s days of Expo), spoke about many initiatives related to food, confirming the central theme. “Italy will never give up its food safety standards for a trade agreement,” said the minister, and I stand behind his words. Harmonization of norms and standards of production, in the intricate food sector, can have a positive impact if the enlargement of the Euro-American trade were to take place in a balanced and respectful way that respects the agriculture and food diversity. Conversely, it could also a negative impact if you reveal the innate “animal spirit” of the market. We will have to see and carefully stay vigilant on how this issue will unfold. Only time will tell.
Last but not least, Food Revolution Day. This is an project that holds a very special place in our hearts and is circled in red with smiley faces in our agenda! The whole essence of the Future Food Institute revolves around our educational campaigns. These are the true disruptive elements through which real change can be made in the food system. On the 20th of May, hundreds of people, companies, associations and trusts like ours all around the world took up the Jamie Oliver Challenge to try to “revolutionize” the way we teach our children to approach food by organizing educational activities in schools.
For this occasion, each year we visit the Kinder College in Bologna, where for one magical day the school cafeteria transforms into a multi-ethnic kitchen and the little kids transform into pint-sized chefs who experiment with various ingredients, from pudding, chia seeds to sushi to creating healthy veggie burger. All this because we believe that food should be synonymous with culture and well-being and, like Jamie, we believe that children have the right to healthy food, and that healthy food is a topic that is worth talking about and deserves our attention and efforts, just like our ideals. Education and knowledge are the real springboards for change, and in this spirit we want to involve an ever wider strata of the population: children, teenagers, students, startuppers, entrepreneurs and also those who are already well on their way but need an extra boost of support and perhaps in search of a new compass to get through the chaos of everyday life. Educate to innovate, this is the philosophy at the heart of everything we do.
Well, there we are. Continuously trying to “stay under” or “on top” of all these amazing events, trying to understand, and we understand that in this process it is essential to have the participation of as many people as possible. For this it is important to keep the attention focused on these issues and continue to create moments of discussion and cross-pollination. This is why May 2016 was a month to remember for me, and so many others, and worth writing down in a journal, framing a calendar page or simply marking it as memory with a postcard bought one day in the gift shop of a London museum. For this we must remain convinced, as we are now, that teaching to fish is a far more revolutionary gesture than simply giving a fish.