Professor Van Esterik is a cultural anthropologist who has done most of her research in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Lao PDR and Indonesia) with additional field experience in Kenya, Colombia, United States and Canada.
Research interests include nutritional anthropology, gender and development, and advocacy anthropology. She has published several books on Southeast Asian topics, including Cognition and Design Production in Ban Chiang Painted Pottery (1981), Women in Southeast Asia (1982, republished in 1996), Taking Refuge: Lao Buddhists in North America (1993 republished in 2002), Materializing Thailand (Berg, Oxford, 2001), in addition to articles on infant feeding, food symbolism, Theravada Buddhism, Southeast Asian refugees and material culture.
Long term research concerns infant feeding among the urban poor in developing countries (Beyond the Breast-Bottle Controversy, Rutgers University Press, 1989), and advocacy work on women's health (Women, Work, and Breastfeeding, 1992, Risks, Rights and Regulations: Communicating about Risk and Infant Feeding, 2002).
As a founding member of WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action), she combines academic writing with advocacy writing for public use internationally.
She is currently following up on several projects, including advocacy communication about risk and infant feeding (in the face of commerciogenic contamination and HIV/AIDS), Lao food security and natural resource management (with Peter Vandergeest), and Others in our Midst, a project exploring how concepts of cultural difference are first introduced in introductory anthropology classes and textbooks in different countries (and what this might tell us about teaching and studying at York University).
Current writing projects include these books:
Food and Culture in Southeast Asia (Greenwood Press)
The Dance of Nurture: Explaining Breastfeeding (with Richard O’Connor)
How Virtue becomes Vice: Explaining Anorexia (with Richard O’Connor)
Food and Culture: a reader (with Carole Counihan) Routledge Press (updated)