It’s Reconstruction. You are Black and you are newly freed. Fair to assume that the very last thing on your mind might be scavenging through a dark and unfamiliar forest for food you could grow. Or better yet, buy from Black farmers.
“There’s been this cultural separation between a lot of Black folks and the outdoors,” Alexis Nikole Nelson admits to NPR. Alexis, better known as “Black Forager” on social media, is one of the Black voices shaping the 21st-century conversation around finding fresh produce in someone’s backyard and making food with it that is unimaginably delicious. As she points out, it’s not a coincidence that, after emancipation, laws were put in place to prevent newly freed people from eating off the land.
The descendent of both African and Indigenous (Iroquois on her father’s side) people, eating off the land is in Nelson’s blood. She credits both mom and dad for passing down this outdoorsy spirit and love for cooking.
A gift—nay passion—that she shares with her followers every day. And part of sharing this beautiful lifestyle is de-stigmatizing the notion that foraging is only for very poor people or, worse, only for white people.
“And in the 1950s and 1960s, being a Black person out in nature, out in the woods, out in predominantly white spaces was a very scary thing to do,” Nelson tells Manoush Zomorodi and Diba Mohtasham. “For the sake of your safety, that’s not a space that you would want to necessarily be in. So it was kind of like a three-combo punch to us culturally moving away from getting to know our natural spaces. And I am one of myriad people who is actively trying to combat that.”
@alexisnikoleACORN BACON ? ? ##foraging ##acornbacon♬ original sound – Alexis Nikole @alexisnikole##stitch with @bratty.princessa ##greenscreen I KNOW THIS ONE!!♬ fue mejor – Kali Uchis & SZA
But Alexis’ mission, and that of other foragers regardless of ethnicity, extends beyond race or birthright. Many foragers believe in the healing power of eating directly from the land, specifically what we harvest. A lot of that has to do with moving away from processed food, of course, but it also has to do with empowering ourselves when it comes to exploring new foods and ways to cook.
“I grew up very overweight, and I was always being pressured to eat less, cook less. I, full disclosure, dealt with an eating disorder in my early and my mid-20s in which food was very much the enemy — in which I trained myself to stop thinking about this subject that I had loved thinking about and dreaming about my entire childhood. In a way, diving back into foraging was the way that I fell back in love with food.”