International exhibitions, like the one under way in Milan, Italy, have been credited with causing important innovations in products, in manufacturing and in industries that have quite literally changed the world. It was the first Expo held in London in 1851 under the guidance of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, that brought attention to how central electricity would be to modernizing. Food-related “inventions” include the first brownies served at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and popcorn introduced at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901. Expo Milano 2015, which is running through Oct. 31, has the same promise for food, considering that it is the first expo to have food at its center.

Each Expo emphasizes the most promising new technologies related to the official theme, which for Milan is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Nearly 140 nations have committed to participating, including the United States with a pavilion and a theme of its own, “American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet.” With that hint of technology in the American theme, it is significant that the opening event is managed by Microsoft Corp. Twelve teams, each with the goal of developing a way to change the national and world food systems, will have access to a Microsoft business accelerator that accesses global networks, monitors and distribution power. The winning team will be chosen based on whether their ideas spur a re-think of the food system.

While the competition is under way, the American Pavilion will present this country as an innovator in food, with attention to products, industry and entrepreneurship. Using interactive exhibits and digital media, the American Pavilion will promote collaboration among nations in research seeking to solve food system challenges. Housed in a one-of-a-kind building that flows in activity from top to bottom, it includes a massive vertical farm as the front wall. The wall, planted with 42 different varieties of grains, vegetables and herbs, will feature daily harvesting of mature crops. In addition to pointing to crop potential from vertical planting, the wall represents an integrated approach to
farming. Is this the future of food?

An important part of the U.S. Pavilion has been named the Great American Foodscape. Described as a journey through America’s food culture, past and present, stories are told about cultural adaptation, regional specialties and peculiarities. The way that many popular foods are “clear appropriations” of cuisine from other countries is shown. The overall aim is to give visitors an introduction to different people working in the food system. Short video interviews are shown that illustrate, a Pavilion spokesman said, “our dedication to improving global food security.”

It should be no surprise that food trucks will also be a feature of the U.S. Pavilion, reflecting the “hottest” food trend. Described as a symbol of entrepreneurship as well as food creativity, the food trucks will be parked at the pavilion to offer food to visitors in a range that includes barbecue, burgers, Korean tacos, grilled cheese, pizza, schnitzel, waffles, cupcakes and vegan. Parked in an area named Food Truck Nation, the trucks will show how social media may be used to expand reliance on food trucks. This approach will be explored to understand why the food truck trend is gaining speed.

Milan and Italy make great sense as the locale of this Expo dedicated to many aspects of food. More than 20 million people are expected to visit the Expo’s more than 3 million square feet of space. American food manufacturing’s long-standing role as leader in adopting technology to assure sufficient food domestically as well as shipping large amounts abroad will be front and center. Much also will be learned from attending in order to see what other nations believe they are doing to provide healthy, safe and sufficient food. The Expo promises to help the world make significant progress toward that goal, while unveiling ways that improve how food is made and distributed.