It’s tough to eat in a hurry around Cat Compton.
As the co–chair of Slow Food Savannah, the easygoing nutritionist/food activist has made it her mission to help folks appreciate the value of a well–prepared meal. But the Slow Food movement is about much more than what goes into your mouth.
“People tend to gather around food,” explains the native Southerner in her charming drawl. “When you get people together to share a meal, it’s a good way to build community.”
First championed in 1980s Italy as an antidote to fast food culture, the Slow Food movement has found its way to plates around the world with its goals of promoting sustainable agriculture, supporting local producers and preserving regional cuisine.
“We have such a tremendous heritage here in the South around food,” says Compton, who will focus on ways to create more partnerships between local farmers and consumers in her TEDx talk.
“The whole idea is to connect with your food, to recognize the people who took the time to grow it, to honor where it came from,” she continues. “The end goal is provide clean, fair food for everyone.”
Compton first organized the Slow Food Savannah chapter two years ago with co–chair Katy Malloy, but its ideals have been a lifelong passion. She grew up eating raw okra and corn straight from the fields on her grandparents’ farm in Lexington, S.C. and remembers and picking figs and scuppernogs from the trees.
“They grew organically, but of course they didn’t call it that back then. But nothing was sprayed, and I learned that the less you do to fresh food, the better it tastes.”
Her mother was an early proponent of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and would organize her neighbors to purchase produce and meats directly from local farmers. Preparing seasonal foods was a family tradition.
“My parents had a cooking club. Everyone would come over with the ingredients and they’d cook and prepare the meal together,” she recalls. “I remember as a kid thinking it took forever. Now that was really slow food!”
The 6–foot former athlete played college basketball, first at Clemson, then at AASU, where she graduated with a Health Science degree. She started a career in personal training but switched tracks to nutrition after “I found I was talking to my clients about food than anything.”
She hopes to reach an even wider audience through Slow Food Savannah’s presence. At the recent Earth Day and Food Day festivals, she provided colorful lessons on easy–to–grow herbs and just how many miles those grapes from Chile actually travel.
Upcoming events include a monthly film series, cooking classes and a delicious fundraiser in the fall. She’s also at work creating partnerships between nearby meat and vegetable farmers with local chefs to provide even more opportunities for fresh, local food.
Compton believes a host of social issues can be addressed when folks slow down and bringing awareness to what’s on their forks.
“The goal is to connect all these different levels of food—the political, the traditional, the environmental—and bring them to the table to start the conversation.”
“Then we eat and enjoy,” she says with a grin.