Joan Gross' research interests range from language to food. While it could be said that the two are linked through the mouth (language coming out and food going in) it is more a concern with local culture in the face of globalization that ties the two areas together. Gross has had a long interest in lesser-known languages and how people pass them along in the home or through verbally artistic forms or through teaching programs. She has worked on Tamazight in Morocco, Walloon in Belgium and Oregon Native languages. All of these languages have suffered in the face of national languages. Many national languages also have had to take a back seat to global languages like English.
Interesting parallels exist within the food system. People who have been able to sustain themselves in particular environments for many generations now find themselves dependent on food that is shipped around the world. Small farmers in developing countries find themselves victims of this imported food and often feel forced to orient their own production for the export market or to leave their land to work in agribusinesses in richer countries. As people become more disconnected with the source of their food, nutritional health problems rise. Small-time food producers are dwindling as are speakers of Walloon and Kiksht. But neither group is content with disappearing. Gross wants her research and that of her students to assist people in figuring out how they fit into the global network and to help them validate local culture and agriculture within that context. She has incorporated students into several of her research projects in Oregon and has developed a rural Oregon ethnographic field school with Nancy Rosenberger.