UConn Magazine: Road Eats

When this Ph.D. student isn’t working in a genomics lab, he’s biking — and finding some truly wild things on the side of the road. (And, often, eating them!)

Ph.D. student and pro cyclist Geno Villafano biking outside

It started when he posted a video of himself taking a bite out of an onion he found on the side of the road. TikTok went nuts.

His partner was the one who pointed out that it was about eating. Most people don’t eat stuff they find on the side of the road, she said. They don’t even touch it.

Really, there are two types of people in the world. One sees something lying in the street and thinks, “Trash.” The other sees something lying in the street and thinks, “Yes! A 30-pound package of frozen cookie dough!” Geno Villafano, Ph.D. student and pro cyclist for Cannondale, is one of the latter.

He scored the cookie dough along Storrs Road last summer. It was still frozen. Had to have fallen off a truck earlier the same day. Other stuff he finds isn’t always obviously fresh, so he uses his background in biochemistry to judge safety.

“I’m acutely aware of how many heat cycles that sandwich or bag of chips has gone through,” Villafano explains. The finds come on his 30-mile commute to and from Rockville, Connecticut, to Storrs, specifically Leighton Core’s genomics lab, where he is developing assays to measure how genes are expressed — so we don’t question his precision calculation credentials. Other favorite food finds include fresh asparagus, sacks of potatoes, and oyster mushrooms.

Read on for more.