Christine Shearer Wilson, who died of a stroke May 31 at her brother's home in Annapolis, was an influential scholar in the development of nutritional anthropology -- a scientific discipline that lends understanding to the reasons people eat what they eat as well as when, how and where they eat. She was 86.
Dr. Wilson joined a group of other scholars in the 1970s as they began to connect two dissimilar fields, the science of nutrition and the social science of anthropology. The early works of noted anthropologists Audrey Richards and Margaret Mead laid the foundation for a field that examines the intersection of nutrition, human behavior and culture.
With her training in biochemistry, nutrition, epidemiology and anthropology, Dr. Wilson became a major force in establishing the interdisciplinary field as an independent science.
She was a "founding mother" of nutritional anthropology, said Leslie Sue Lieberman, director of the Women's Research Center at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
"She shaped the discipline with her own research publications and presentations, her innovated teaching, her more than two decades as editor of Ecology of Food and Nutrition and her organization of national and international symposia and conferences," Lieberman once stated.
Dr. Wilson was born in Orleans, Mass. As a child, she was given an IQ test and was found to be quite bright. However, she wasn't encouraged to go to college, and after high school she went to secretarial school. "One of the lasting benefits of this experience was shorthand, which proved useful for college work and fields studies," she told Lieberman in 1998 for an archival interview.
She attended George Washington University part time for two years while working at a federal agency involved with biological warfare. Later, she began working on the newsletter for the Food and Nutrition Board, before graduating cum laude from Pembroke College of Brown University with a bachelor's degree in biology in 1950.
She then worked as a research assistant in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and later became assistant editor of Nutrition Reviews. She left Harvard in 1956, worked as a nutritional analyst for the Department of Agriculture and was a publications editor and technical writer with the U.S. Public Health Service.
She received a doctorate in nutrition in 1970 from the University of California at Berkeley and afterward was research nutritionist for the University of California at San Francisco in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She lived in a hut for two years while doing research on food beliefs and practices on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula. She met and was encouraged in her research by Mead, and she subsequently was considered a world authority on Malay food habits.
She wrote in 1998: "A Malay man friend privy to the opinions of government officials told me at that time (1984) the Ministry of Health as well as state government people considered I had done a lot of good for women's and children's health in that part of the country."
Dr. Wilson held a number of positions throughout her career, including with the Food Research Institute at Stanford University.
She taught nutritional anthropology, epidemiology and international health at the University of California at San Francisco; the University of Guelph in Ontario; San Francisco State University; St. George's University in Grenada; and the University of Delaware, among others. Most recently, she worked at the Center for Human Nutrition at Johns Hopkins University.
She was awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Drum Major Award from the Anne Arundel County Economic Opportunity Committee in 1996 for her work on nutrition issues regarding Head Start programs. She was named an Overseas Fellow at the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland in 2003.
She was the author of numerous books, monographs and book chapters and served as editor and consultant for many organizations dealing with cultural factors in nutrition. She was an active member of several professional organizations, including the American Anthropological Association.
Family members said that her greatest satisfaction came from the opportunity to foster the careers of younger professionals.
Survivors include two brothers, Donald S. Wilson of Severna Park and Neil H. Wilson of Annapolis.