Happy palindrome week (plus)! From May 10th through May 19th, every day is a palindrome. This means that all the dates are symmetrical and read the same backward and forward.

In celebration of 5/15/15, UC Food Observer chooses a handful of important stories for you to read as you finish your work week. On the menu, in no particular order: a UC Food Observer interview with Berkeley professor Philip Stark, who is studying edible weeds in food deserts. Master Gardener Teresa O’Connor interviews three experts about trends in edible gardening. GMOs? Antibiotics? Nathanael Johnson helps us critically evaluate what all the changes being announced by food manufacturers and restaurant chains really mean. Vermont teaches the nation about local food. And American GIs in World War II brought a taste for oregano home.


1. UC Food Observer Q&A with Philip Stark. Dr. Stark is a statistics professor at UC Berkeley. He is also on the vanguard of the urban foraging movement, which is quickly gaining traction. One of his research questions? Whether urban foraging could contribute meaningfully to nutrition, especially in “food deserts.” He is currently investigating wild foods in the East Bay.


2. Food gardening is experiencing a big resurgence. We’re seeing a mix of innovative growing systems as well as a return to traditional homesteading skills such as preserving food. There are community gardens inspired by World War II Victory Gardens, and even kitchen gardens on roofs and buses. Gardeners are growing food not only in rural areas and suburbs, but increasingly more in the nation’s and world’s largest cities. UC Food Observer hosts guest blogger and gardening expert Teresa O’Connor (@SeasonalWisdom). She turns to three leading names in the edible gardening world for the scoop on this tasty topic.


3. The GMO controversy misses the point. The list of companies announcing changes to the foods they manufacture and retail is growing in response to consumer demand. Chipotle has nixed GMOs (well, at least partly). McDonald’s has announced it will strive to not source chicken treated with human antibiotics. Kraft is eliminating the coloring used in its iconic mac and cheese and Pepsi is ditching aspartame. GMOs. Antibiotics. Artificial food coloring. Artificial sweeteners. All good, right? But will these moves actually improve “public and environmental health?”Undoubtedly, some of these things will be good for us individually and collectively. But some won’t matter much. As Nathanael Johnson (@SavorTooth) writes in Time, “it’s crucial to differentiate.” A highly intelligent analysis of what all these things really mean.


4. Vermont: America’s food relocalization laboratory. Vermont is a national stand-out for the quality of its public educational system, for its low unemployment rate and its overall quality of life. And it’s no slouch on the local food front, either. In the last ten years, Vermont’s lawmakers, businesses, farmers, and schools have done more to re-localize its food system than any other state, bar none.” It’s become a laboratory in which food activists can study policy and cutting-edge business models. Think “Vermontrepreneurs.” Steve Holt (@TheBostonWriter) pens a terrific piece for Civil Eats.


5. In addition to being palindrome week, it’s also the 70th anniversary of World War II’s VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), when Germany surrendered to Allied forces, marking the end of the war in the European theater. As GIs liberated Europe, some brought American chocolate bars in their backpacks to share with the civilians they met. But they also brought a taste for foods they experienced in Europe back to America. One of those tastes was for oregano, used in Italian foods. Oregano “was practically unheard of in American cooking before the war.” Today, Americans consume more than 14 million pounds of the pungent herb each year. We hope you enjoy this piece from NPR’s The Salt…we did.


Have a great weekend!