Exploring the interface of humans and their natural environment has been the unifying theme in my life. The physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the human-nature relationship fascinate me and seem foundational for meaningful, lasting conservation. Academically, my career in environmental studies began through a college study on environmental attitudes and behavior where I focused on interpersonal dimensions through measures of social norms and relatedness. Believing environmental, personal, and social well-being to be interdependent, I pursued the study of well-being through working with the self-determination theory and the field of positive psychology.
Today, I am researching how Illinois farmers relate to their land and negotiate agricultural practices. In-class opportunities to research the history and evolution of the sacred Kii Mountains in Japan and to write an ethnography on the meaning of a reconstructed prairie in my university town to its visitors were also informative. Emphases on place and on cultural constructionism bring fresh angles to familiar themes. Personal experiences have also enabled me to explore the human-nature relationship. As a young child I was immersed in the metropolises of Singapore and Tokyo, both overwhelmingly human-dominated settings in which nature was idolized through domestic animals and marketing. In high school, I fell in love with the dramatic landscape of the Swiss Alps and learned to engage with it actively. This was paralleled with the awe-inspiring discovery of the extent to which small-scale farmers and mountaineers had marked the land.
I spent most of my college time in Vermont, where I discovered the intimate relationship between myself, food, and the land, particularly through a year of eating foods from within a 100-mile radius. I also saw firsthand how land characteristics determine the availability of crops, which then induces its cuisine, and vice versa, as the people and culture shape agriculture. The realization gave a new meaning to the interaction between land and culture and deepened my appreciation for ethnobiological diversity. Today, I live in the mecca of industrial agriculture. Though the farmers I am learning about are the antithesis of the local foods movement, there are commonalities such as a desire to steward the land. I have always hoped to continue adapting to, interpreting for, and negotiating between cultures, and I would like to continue to dig at these perhaps less tangible, yet integral aspects of the human-nature relationship.
I am hopeful that my multicultural upbringing and academic background will enable me to navigate between communities and stakeholders, and to communicate the cultural and biological assets of undervalued communities. I hope particularly to assist the adaptive survival of traditional farmers in Japan who are threatened by competition with large-scale agriculture and the imminent introduction of GM crop. The agricultural and biological diversity fostered over centuries of close work with the land is invaluable not only to these farmers but to society at large.