Slow Food, the Italian-born movement dedicated to eco-gastronomy and the battle against the relentless march of the international food giants, is to set up shop in Britain next week.

It has chosen as its headquarters the Shropshire market town of Ludlow, a place that has successfully reinvented itself from the haunt of weekend antique collectors to a foodie Mecca bedecked with Michelin-starred restaurants.

The organisation was founded by the Italian journalist Carlo Petrini 20 years after he noticed a McDonald's restaurant near the Spanish Steps in Rome. It now has 83,000 members around the world and a manifesto dedicated to the pleasures of eating "real" rather than mass-produced food.

Slow Food UK is the seventh national association after Italy, Germany, the US, Switzerland, France and Japan, and boasts 2,000 members in 41 groups.

Its chairwoman, Sue Miller, said Britain was now a nation divided by its attitude to food. "Our food culture is one of extremes - food tends to be either fast, low-grade fuel or an elitist lifestyle pursuit for the affluent," she said.

"Slow Food UK aspires to encourage and support a food culture where quality, delicious food, produced by environmentally sympathetic and economically sustainable methods, is the norm and accessible to all."

The Conservative leader, David Cameron, and the editor of The Ecologist, Zac Goldsmith, joined Mr Petrini at a meeting of movement members in London's Borough Market yesterday.

Britain had created a "junk food society", he said, and it was a "social responsibility"to produce and eat good food . "Too often we just treat it like fuel, shovelling any old food down, any time, any place, anywhere," he said. Cheap food was a false economy. "There is a price to be paid for it in our health, our environment and our culture," he said.

The Slow Food movement in Britain, which administers the UK's five Presidia - traditional products threatened by industrial standardisation, hygiene laws and environmental damage - for its international Ark of Taste scheme, was previously run from the international headquarters in Bra, Italy. Ludlow was the first British town to be awarded Cittaslow or "slow city" status. The Norfolk towns of Aylsham and Diss have also been awarded the title in honour of their determination to hold on to their traditional ways of living, shopping and farming.

Ludlow has established itself as a prime destination on a gastronomic tour of the Britain. As well as two Michelin-starred restaurants - Shaun Hill's Merchant House and Claude Bosi's Hibiscus - the town has a thriving food and drink festival.

Slow Food is organised into Conviviums, local organisations which organise food tastings and other events. It has also established a University of Food to educate shoppers into the way of laid-back eating.

Real British food

* Cornish sardines (pilchards):Only one factory still uses the traditional methods of salting the fish that have been employed for 400 years. It survives as a working museum

* Single and Double Gloucester cheeses: Using the milk of Old Gloucester cows, the region has been producing raw milk cheese by traditional methods since 1500

* Three Counties Perry: The product once commanded the respect accorded to champagne, but perry-makers rapidly disappeared from the west midlands during the last century

* Gloucester beef: By 1972, only one viable herd remained of the once commonplace Old Gloucester breed, but local farmers brought it back from the verge of disappearance

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