Tomatoes Are Vegetables

Did you know, tomatoes are technically fruits? You then felt the need to repeat this ‘fact’ to every innocent new person you encountered. Some say this chain of “Well, actually” still continues on playgrounds to this article.

Image: Till Westermayer

Until now, because tomatoes are vegetables. While we’re reliving middle school, some of us in more ways than one, let’s get a quick Biology refresher: Botanically speaking, a ‘fruit’ is defined as a plant’s ovaries — the reproductive structure which protects the seeds until they reach maturity, at which point animals are attracted by its juicy flavor and bright-color — spreading the seeds and continuing the species.

Simple enough, right? But wait a second — by that definition, not only are tomatoes fruit, but also cucumbers, squash, peppers, avocados, vanilla beans, corn, wheat, and rice! Acorns are a fruit! That should really raise some red flags. And, what, then, is a vegetable?! Well, that’s when these smug botanists with their plants and their ‘soil’ — you know that’s just dirt, right? — That’s when they get all quiet. They had all the answers a second ago — where are they now? Some claim — I kid you not! — That a vegetable is the quote “edible portion of a plant” — what?! Are fruits not also edible parts of a plant? So just… anything is a vegetable? The rest are just lazy — shrugging their shoulders and admitting there is no real definition. Apparently “I don’t know” is what you get for 90 grand a year. I mean come on, botany is starting to make economics look like a real major.

Clearly we need a more credible authority. And there is no higher authority than the Supreme Court of the United States of America - who, in 1893, ruled on this very important matter. Ten years earlier, a tariff had been placed on imported vegetables, but not fruit. You can see where this is going. In Nix v. Hedden, John Nix, the owner of a produce company, and the grown-up version of that kid on the playground who said thumbs aren’t fingers, argued that his tomatoes, as a botanical fruit, should be exempt from the tax. After reviewing the literature, a.k.a the dictionary, the court unanimously sided with the defendant, and common sense, ruling that tomatoes are legally vegetables.

Even Socrates dared not ask the necessary and sufficient conditions of a vegetable. I mention the Supreme Court only to highlight its reasoning — sure, tomatoes are juicy, sweet, and some weirdos bite into them raw — but the purpose they serve is that of a vegetable. You put them in lettuce salads and they feel right at home next to squash and onions and zucchini. They belong in the main, nutritional course, not dessert. When you find a tomato in your Runts, Skittles, or, God-forbid, Hi-Chews, then let’s talk.

Stubborn, pea-brain botanists should be forced to eat tomato candy, tomato ice cream, and bananas below the cheese on their pizza - since fruits belong there anyway, right? Enjoy your ketchup ice cream, idiots. As I learned in this gripping vegetable tell-all, in the 1700s, Europeans feared the tomato, believing it to be fatally poisonous. Do you really think the cousin of a mere banana or strawberry could instill such terror? They’ve also long been used as a powerful symbol of social dissent.

Anyway, at what point while cooking, or eating, or growing tomatoes do you think of them as the ‘ovaries’ of a plant? That’s just a weird technical classification that somehow escaped the scientific domain. And sure, words have contexts but botanists lost the right to theirs when they labelled acorns a fruit. If a definition offends common sense, confuses the average person, and only serves as fodder for the overly pedantic, why use it? Calling tomatoes fruits is like casually dropping in conversation that a chimpanzee isn’t a monkey— sure you can do it, I guess, but why? And more importantly, what attention-seeking condition motivates you? I, on the other hand, am only here to find the truth.

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