It’s the last week of the month, which means … It's time to raise a glass to another amazing Science Communicator!
For October, I want you to get to know THE Alexis Nikole Nelson, otherwise known as the Black Forager.
Feeding Her Audience with Scientific Nuggets
Alexis is an Ohio-based Science Communicator who is enthusiastic about edible plants; sources her own flora for food; invents delicious recipes from her findings; and regularly, publicly sings her feelings—a girl after my own heart!
Basically, her extensive scientific knowledge of plants enables her to forage for edible varieties in the woods, beaches and neighborhoods in her community. Once she discovers a bounty and removes it safely to take it home, she’ll come up with a way to cook the item.
She shares the entire process with her audience by making easily digestible (ha!) videos that often show her singing her recipe as she prepares the food, injecting factoids about her finds as she goes. To say it’s entertaining would be an understatement. See for yourself as she forages, then fries up some “Chicken of the Woods” nuggets:
There’s a reason she draws over 2 million followers across all of her social media channels!
The Bigger Picture
Though her delivery is infectiously positive, there are deep cultural reasons why being a Black forager is so unique. So much so, that Alexis is cautious enough when she goes into a public space to forage that she dresses nicely to be more approachable in case people become suspicious of what she’s doing. She’s had encounters that unfortunately confirm that her elevated fashion choices are justified.
Culturally, it’s not the “norm” for Black people to be outdoorsy. This reality was passed down from prior generations for safety reasons and, where foraging was concerned, because laws were formed to make it illegal. The juxtaposition is that many Black Americans who were freed from slavery had learned how to cultivate the land, and shared space with Indigenous groups that also traded their knowledge about nature. If anyone knew how to “live off the land” it was Native groups and people of color, who didn’t have financial security and were supplementing the food they couldn’t otherwise buy with items from their surroundings. Furthermore, less than 2% of farmers today are Black due to racially motivated discrimation and violence (thankfully organizations like Soul Fire Farm work toward reclaiming space for Black farmers).
Alexis was fortunate to grow up in a home where both of her parents enjoyed the outdoors and her grandmother was of Iroquois ancestry, so her father had been exposed to alternate foodways, which he passed along to her. Alexis struggled with disordered eating in her 20s and “fell back in love with food” by returning to her foraging roots to create healthy, inexpensive (or free) meals from things she’d learned as a young girl gardening with her mother.
Now, as a successful public personality, you can see the joy she gets from sharing this knowledge and living a healthy, vegan lifestyle of her own creation.
Why Foraging is Good for Climate Change
Not only is eating wild food—undisturbed by chemicals—healthy and inexpensive, it’s also great for climate change.
Our environment is in trouble on a global scale, but many haven’t got the memo that this is an incredible scientific emergency we’re collectively facing. According to the World Health Organization, 7 million people die from air pollution each year. A lack of significant action could truly be catastrophic for future generations.
If we return to our more primal roots and renew our connection to nature not only by enjoying nature trails or outdoor activities, but by literally nourishing ourselves by what we find there, we’ll develop a closer bond with the earth and by default care more about saving it.
Forage and Follow
Though Alexis makes it look very easy, there’s a lot to learn before throwing random leaves from the forest onto your plate to make an impromptu salad. Eating items that haven’t been properly cleaned can cause illness and consuming certain varieties of plants can be deadly … which is why getting to know the science of the environment you’re in is so vital. FoodPrint offers a wonderful list of books (scroll to end of article) about sustainable foraging and Edible Wild Food has an informative Foraging for Wild Food Guide that breaks down the basics.
I’m off to try out some of her recipes for myself … I’ll let you know how it goes!
Have you ever foraged for food in the wild? If so, what were your results? Share your experience in the comments section.