I specialize in food systems, farming, food security, gender, agro-biodiversity, ethnobiology, and methodology development. My research interests are primarily at the interface of human culture, specifically gender, and the food environment. The approach I take in the research I conduct is grounded in how people conceptualize the food environment, how they reason their actions, and their perceptions of the outcomes of their actions. My approach is also materially and socially grounded in that what a person in a particular context may or may not do is conditioned by social and material parameters. Issues such as food traditions, food security, food equality and sovereignty, and entitlement thus come to the fore. My geographic area of specialization is Mainland Southeast Asia, although my experience covers many locations in Asia and Africa as well as North America and the Pacific.
My first love is my on-going research in the area of agro biodiversity. This work has centered on the use, gathering rights and management of wild and semi-domesticated plant foods among farmers. I began working on the topic of “wild” gathered foods in 1985 and have continued my research activities over the years in both Thailand and the Philippines. My work has centered on examining consumption, species rarity, women’s protection and propagation of these plants and the income women earn from marketing these foods. My work in this area continues to deepen, particularly in the examination of how plant gathering activities and entitlements change over time and the implications for the poor to maintain culinary traditions and children to acquire local food knowledge in the face of parental labor migration and other aspects of modernization. Most recently, I have an interest in the impact of change on food security and food ways and ecosystem services.
My interest in the human/environment interface also includes how men and women (or children) in a given culture conceptualize aspects of the food environment and environmental phenomena and how this is linked to their actions. This interest is exemplified by my research in the area of ethno- entomology and ethno-pedology.
Among other activities, my professional service has included being an Associate Editor of the journal Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine and acting as an expert advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Netherlands Delegation on gender and cultural diversity in science education for the UNESCO World Congress on Science as well as on the Impact of HIV and AIDS on women and rural food security in Africa. I have worked in scientific quality control for the European Research Council, the National Science Foundation in the USA and Fulbright as well as for SIDA in Sweden. I also do some consulting and have worked for the World Bank on the development of a methodology for qualitative impact assessment for gender and demand responsiveness of water supply and sanitation in Asia, Africa and Latin America and am currently a consultant for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on farmer and community seed systems with an emphasis on gender and nutrition in South Asia and Africa. On an international level, I participate as an expert on gender, culture, agrobiodiversity, natural resource management and international and community development in think-tank meetings throughout the world.