Terra Madre is held in Torino, Italy from 21st -25th October 2010 and coincides with the international Slow Food Fair, Salone del Gusto.

Since taking over as CEO of Slow Food UK in 2008, Catherine Gazzoli has put the full weight of her experience and enthusiasm behind the British arm of this global non-profit organisation, the goal of which is to promote and protect locally-produced food and regional cooking and provide good quality food to everyone.

Tomorrow, 5000 representatives from the global Slow Food network will meet in Torino for Terra Madre, a 4 day project conceived of by Slow Food as a way of uniting food communities, cooks, academics and youths around the world and crystallizing its philosophy that “eating is an agricultural act and producing is a gastronomic act.” We caught up with Catherine Gazzoli to find out more.

We have lost touch with food… in terms of who produces it and how and where it is grown. This has led to us losing an appreciation of food along with our many rich food traditions, culture and cooking skills that bring us together and benefit both our health and the environment.

In the UK, Slow Food has over 50 local groups… from the Scottish Highlands to the Cornish coastline, who are creating a positive impact in food culture within their communities, choosing the focus and activities that best suit their environment. With the help of our groups, we also champion biodiversity with the UK Ark of Taste, a catalogue of rare artisan food products and breeds that are promoted at a local level.

Food has become a double-edged sword… On one side of the spectrum we have more than 3 million Britons seriously underweight and at risk of malnutrition, and on the other side we have 3 out of 10 children seriously overweight or obese, with diet related disease costing the NHS £20 billion each year. It’s a worrying trend that we need to overcome.

I’m pleased to be a woman in the role of CEO at Slow Food UK… There is still an imbalance in women in leadership, yet in most parts of the world, women are the main food providers. For example, women farmers grow 80 per cent of Africa’s food. I actively advocate for further gender equality in the food industry, as well as in the voluntary sector where I also play a vocal role.

My happiest food memory is… that defined by my nonna! My grandmother was a dinner lady and she brought the same passion for making good meals for school children to our Sunday family meals. It seemed like torture to me those long Italian-American style big lunches when I was little but now I understand more why it was so important. It was grandmother's way of making sure all the family came together.

My favourite restaurant in the world is… L’Amina in London, meaning “soul” in Italian, which is exactly what this restaurant has! Francesco Mazzei, the head chef there and long term Slow Food member, sources local, seasonal ingredients and supports British and Italian small-scale producers to create divine, contemporary dishes inspired his regions in Southern Italy, Calabria.

The person I most admire is… Prue Leith. She helped me set up Slow Food UK, is one of our founding board members and my personal hero. She is a pioneer in the fight for good, clean and fair food for children in schools. It is thanks to her guidance and know-how that Slow Food UK has been able to develop our national educational programs for babies, children and parents.

My last meal would be made by love and passion by… my partner Massimo. He has a creative, no recipe style that sometimes drives me crazy and defies his region of Friuli Venezia Giulia's roots. I love him because he is rule defying and finds instructions boring. I am a bit the opposite - I love reading recipes and following the instructions to the last letter.

Without stereotyping too much… it’s true to say that Italians and French are having to combat fast food culture just as much as we are in Britain. I have family in both Italy and France and I am seeing the change in both societies in the past years markedly. The availability and marketing tactics of fast food is partly to blame for that as is the devaluation of important basic life skills like cooking.

Celebrity chefs have a lot of power and can do much good… many do! Jamie Oliver is an absolute legend and really understands the devastating effect of cheap, fast food and its relation to obesity at center stage both in the UK and increasingly in the US. He was very kind to Slow Food UK since we set up a year and a half ago, as have many other well known chefs like Raymond Blanc, Richard Corrigan, Mark Hix, Thomasina Miers, Theo Randall and Angela Hartnett.

I think that home economics should be… brought back into schools as compulsory for all boys and girls. A whole generation has lost important food skills, such as learning to make dishes from leftovers, or preserving foodstuffs better throughout the seasons.

While nutrition is important… I think our national obsession with “five a day” and balanced diets, often scares people away from food, making us see it as fuel rather than something to also get pleasure from.

The problem with our global food system is… the centralisation of our food and seeing food as a commodity to be traded with rather than to be eaten, causing hunger in some parts of the world while creating diet problems in others. Then there is the issue of seed patents, monopolies and privatisation, preventing farmers and food producers from having true food sovereignty.

Access to food is the biggest issue… and this was highlighted on the recent World Food Day on 16 October, a day organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, where I first started my career. We need to find stability and put our local communities first. The biggest challenge in the UK is good, wholesome, nutritional food for all, not just for the privileged few.

One of my favourite British producers is… Sheepdrove Farm meats. This is probably because I have visited the farm and gotten to know how their animals are cared for. My tip is to keep your eye on their organic turkeys for the festive seasons which are just divine. Order in advance; they go fast!

You might not know this, but… I have a fanatic love of baking! Last week, I made a chocolate pear tart, chocolate chip oatmeal walnut cookies and pear ginger almond muffins from my Once Upon a Tart on Sullivan Street book. I keep this right next to my bed and like to read a recipe right before I go to sleep. It makes for very sweet dreams!

Find out more about Slow Food UK and Terra Madre.

Emily Jenkinson

20 October 2010