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The Edible Gardens of Ethiopia: An Ethnographic Journey into Beauty and Hunger
by Valentina Peveri
University of Arizona Press, 2020
Paper: 978-0-8165-4115-7 | eISBN: 978-0-8165-4203-1
Library of Congress Classification SB317.E58P48 2020
Dewey Decimal Classification 635.0963

What is a beautiful garden to southern Ethiopian farmers? Anchored in the author’s perceptual approach to the people, plants, land, and food, The Edible Gardens of Ethiopia opens a window into the simple beauty and ecological vitality of an ensete garden.

The ensete plant is only one among the many “unloved” crops that are marginalized and pushed close to disappearance by the advance of farming modernization and monocultural thinking. And yet its human companions, caught in a symbiotic and sensuous dialogue with the plant, still relate to each exemplar as having individual appearance, sensibility, charisma, and taste, as an epiphany of beauty and prosperity, and even believe that the plant can feel pain. Here a different story is recounted of these human-plant communities, one of reciprocal love at times practiced in an act of secrecy. The plot unfolds from the subversive and tasteful dimensions of gardening for subsistence and cooking in the garden of ensete through reflections on the cultural and edible dimensions of biodiversity to embrace hunger and beauty as absorbing aesthetic experiences in small-scale agriculture. Through this story, the reader will enter the material and spiritual world of ensete and contemplate it as a modest yet inspiring example of hope in rapidly deteriorating landscapes.

Based on prolonged engagement with this “virtuous” plant of southwestern Ethiopia, this book provides a nuanced reading of the ensete ventricosum (avant-)garden and explores how the life in tiny, diverse, and womanly plots offers alternative visions of nature, food policy, and conservation efforts.

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