WASHINGTON – American use of food diplomacy as a diplomatic and commercial tool was the topic of this month’s CCLP Communication Leadership lunch forum here, and the focus was on the success of the U.S. pavilion at this year’s world’s fair in Milan.
America was the unquestioned hit of fair, according to Beatrice Camp, Expo Milan Coordinator for the Department of State, who pointed to statistics showing the U.S. Pavilion was visited by 30% of fairgoers – a total of six million visitors – far more than any other country’s exhibit. And she shared one secret:
“We were one of the few pavilions without lines,” said Camp, crediting the unique design that accommodated the crowds without long delays.
The pavilion provided visitors with insights into American food and food safety, said Camp, and also was a platform for U.S. businesses, entrepreneurs and scientists from NASA. 60 American chefs came to prepare specialties, and food trucks brought different kinds of U.S. food to Milan, in a section labeled “Food Truck Nation” — perhaps a reverse of the role of food trucks in the U.S. which bring foreign foods to American streets.
One surprise was the reluctance of U.S. food companies to participate. One concern, widespread European resistance to genetically modified crops (GMOs), never really materialized.
“It did not become a point of protest,” Camp said.
Another speaker at the forum agreed: David Schmidt, President and CEO of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and of the IFIC Foundation, said some fairgoers asked whether GMOs would be served in the pavilion, and the answer was, quite possibly. And that was that: there were no protests during the fair. (Disclosure: I am on the board of the IFIC Foundation.)
Schmidt cited another reason for the lack of interest by American food companies: money.
“The kinds of budgets that might have been there 20 years ago are not there now,” he said.
But visitors from around the world were interested in food science, according to Schmidt, whose organization presented a program on science and communication. In addition, he co-authored a cover story on food that was widely distributed at the Expo, and IFIC released a middle school education program in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Foundation.
The USC Center on Public Diplomacy also published a number of stories about the Expo, as well as a video about student ambassadors who served there. The winter issue of PD Magazine is also devoted to food diplomacy.
USC was also represented by the USC Marching Band, which opened the pavilion, accompanied by USC cheerleaders. Camp said the USC band also opened the U.S. Pavilion at the 2010 world’s fair in Shanghai, where she headed the U.S. Consulate General, adding “but I don’t remember the cheerleaders.”
The PDFs for these presentations are below.