Ce n’è per tutti?

The Swiss Pavilion at the World EXPO in Milano, Italy - is there enough for all?

The Swiss Pavilion at the World EXPO in Milano, Italy – is there enough for all?

I hardly know a word of Italian, but I’ll remember these words. They hang there, provocatively in red, on the towers of the Swiss Pavilion at the World EXPO in Milano, Italy. Is there enough for all? The theme of this year’s EXPO is ‘Feed the Planet, Energy for Life’. The Swiss found a unique way to portray the theme. They’ve set up four towers with four floors each. Each tower is filled with something Swiss – instant coffee packages from Nestlé, as Switzerland is the world’s largest exporter of coffee. Don’t believe me? They buy the raw beans and export the finished coffee. Export dollars are higher than from chocolate and cheese combined. One tower has 5 gram packages of salt – Switzerland’s salt mines supply the whole country. Another tower’s shelves are full of souvenir glasses that can be filled with water from one of the taps. The last tower has single servings of dried apple rings, symbolic of the diversity of Swiss agriculture and its traditions.

The taps are full of water, but there's no glasses to drink from.

The taps are full of water, but there’s no glasses to drink from.

Those touring the towers are told they may take as much as they wish of what is there, but to remember there are others coming after them. The floors of the towers are lowered every six weeks – together. The apple rings of the first floor lasted 16 days; the water glasses a few more. When I toured the towers with the Swiss farm writers association a month after the opening on May 1, there was about a third of the salt left and half the instant coffee packages. The other two towers sported ‘sold out’ signs.

For those of us standing before empty shelves, it was a very graphic reminder that our planet has limited resources. “When something is free and readily available, few people think of those coming after them,” Urs Schneider, President of Agro-Marketing Suisse told us journalists. Those hoping for a free package of apple rings are frustrated at the greed of people. People in countries with not enough food  get sick or die.

“You can take as much as you like,” our tour guide told us. “But think, ‘do I need this’?” I had a package of instant coffee in my hand. I put it back. I don’t even like instant coffee. It’s just – it’s free!

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