The Edibility Approach, Chemical Ecology and Relationality. Methodological and Ethnobotanical Contributions
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This paper combines ethnographic and ethnobotanical fieldwork with the edibility approach (EA), chemical ecology and Ingold’s ontology of dwelling. The EA aims to “push harder onto and through the boundaries between edible plants and the human-animals that eat them to consider the outcomes produced as a result of these interacting materials” (Attala 2017, 130). This approach places ingestion in the light of multispecies entanglement. As proposed by Attala, this is still a philosophically “open” concept, of limited operational use in ethnographic (ethnobotanical) study. Our article argues for an expansion of the EA, based on this combined perspective and giving more attention to cross-species interactions placed in an environmental context. Our cases are about how people live with plants, exemplified by foraging practices of agriculturists in Ukraine, Daghestan and Argentina. The everyday social relations of our interlocutors are more-than-human interactions, and in these relations we pay a close attention to non-cultivated edible plants. We present two modes of writing ethnographies, in which we focus respectively on a single plant taxon or a group of plants, and where both people and plants are protagonists. We argue that incorporating the dwelling perspective and chemical ecology into the EA is one of the potentially fruitful approaches to the analysis of plant – people relations. The use of language and of the tools of ecology in an attempt to present different aspects of co-dwelling of people and plants, although it may seem anchored in Cartesian dualism, in fact allows for a deeper understanding of the relations among protagonists and their co-dwellers in the environment, and hence goes against dualisms. The relations and the ways through which organisms co-create their environment are the very essence of ecology. The close collaboration of anthropologists, ethnobotanists, ecologists and chemical ecologists is postulated in the article.
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