A Columbus transplant of 10 years by way of Cincinnati, Alexis Nikole Nelson hasn’t just taken the city by storm in improv comedy and as a social media manager for BARK—she’s become a TikTok darling through her dedication and knowledge of plant-based foraging.
Working remotely during quarantine, Nelson found more time to venture into nature—a knack that she picked up from her gardening mom.
“[My mom is] a super-cool Harvard Business School grad, and her way to decompress on weekends would typically be to work in her garden. If I wanted to spend time with my mom, I would have to spend time in the garden and start learning those tasks,” Nelson said. “Now as an adult, I have the time—especially in quarantine—and the agency to get more creative with dishes that I’m making.”
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While she spent much time in her mother’s garden, Nelson also absorbed plant-based knowledge at overnight camp, where she picked wood sorrels along trails to mix with water for lemonade. Curiosity stuck and Nelson soon began asking camp counselors about the usefulness of various plants.
While creating a TikTok channel during quarantine, Nelson decided to capitalize on her foraging knowledge she gained as a child. Turns out, people were just as interested as she was.
“In March, I decided like ‘Oh, I’ll just make a one-off TikTok about foods you can forage in your neighborhood.’ I posted it, didn’t think anything of it, and the next day it had thousands of views,” she said.
While discovering food in nature has been a source of creative inspiration for Nelson during the pandemic, she’s also embraced the mundane, showing off her improv chops against a backdrop of public grocery shopping. The 2015 Ohio State graduate’s clips have gone viral.
“A lot of the energy that I’d normally be putting towards comedy and writing for [sketch comedy show] ‘Monday Night Live,’ has now been going towards writing jokes and zingers both in videos and comments for other folks’ videos,” she said. “You also get to see what resonates with a very large group of people and what doesn’t, in a way that feels a little bit nicer than having a joke fall flat in the middle of a club.”
But Nelson isn’t just focused on making a name for herself online. She wants to lead in-person walks across the Midwest, and she’s been reading books on food history and the science behind it to refine her cooking skills. Her current staples are Koji Alchemy and Preserving the Japanese Way.
Although she’s turned to books to advance her prowess in the kitchen, Nelson has a wealth of knowledge about what can be found outdoors. Late summer and early fall are the best times to forage, she said. That’s also when pawpaws are in season in Ohio.
“You still get a lot of the summer flowers that I really enjoy: Wild bergamot or bee balm—which a lot of people have growing in their gardens,” she said. “ Echinacea, purple coneflower—you still have a lot of that going on, but fall brings nuts and more sugary fruits—more calorie-dense foods that are really fun to play with in the kitchen.”
Nelson encourages people to have fun with plant-based cooking—even if they have a junk food palette. Besides, veganism isn’t all vegetables and tofu.
Developing skill requires time, as does finding food that you like if you’re not already adept at cooking, she said.
“Be open-minded—try a lot of different things because you might be surprised at what you do like,” she said. “Take it slow, be comfortable with yourself, and don’t let anybody peer pressure you into making that transition faster than you are comfortable with—food shouldn’t have any right or wrong connotation.”
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