One of my favorite U.S. Supreme Court decisions of all time is the 1893 Nix v. Hedden unanimous ruling that, for the purposes of applying the Tariff Act of 1883, tomatoes are vegetables.
John Nix was importing tomatoes for sale in New York and was charged a tariff on them because they are vegetables. Nix sued on the grounds that, no, tomatoes are fruit — ask any botanist; they’ll tell you so — and the Tariff Act explicitly exempted fruit.
The Supreme Court didn’t care what botanists had to say about it. They sided with common usage. If the public calls tomatoes vegetables, they’re vegetables.
I like that decision because I am of the public and I call tomatoes vegetables, too. I also say that all fruits are vegetables. Oranges, plums, cherries, nasturtiums, bananas, cotton, rice — all are vegetables. All plants are vegetables. Trees are vegetables. Toothpicks are vegetables.
It’s not hard to figure these things out. There are three kinds of things: animal, vegetable or mineral. You can easily work out what something is by a process of elimination. Is a gallon of gasoline an animal, like a Corgi? No? Is it a mineral, like salt or sand or sheet metal? No? Well, then, a gallon of gasoline is a vegetable. It comes out of the ground. It’s a liquid rhizome or maybe a tuber.
About 10 years ago, Anitra “Always Sharing” Freeman felt the need to share with me how many begonias she kept seeing planted in Seattle. “Look! Here’s a begonia! Here’s another one! It looks completely different! Here’s a purple one!” I learned fast. Soon, every time she said, “Do you know what kind of flower this is?” I answered right up, “That’s a begonia. They’re all begonias. You’re a begonia. I’m a begonia.” When we got home to our apartment building, I called everyone I met in and around the lobby a begonia.
I didn’t take it to extremes. I reined it in. When we later went for a stroll through the Arboretum, I didn’t call all the trees begonias. I wouldn’t push it that far. I called them all trees, plants and vegetables. “That’s a green thing. That’s another green thing.”
I know the different kinds of trees. There are big ones and little ones. I’m not making that up.
Where were we? Oh yes. Tomatoes have been legally vegetables since 1893. Now, the Trump administration has got the USDA to accept pasta made from potatoes, soy and “other starchy vegetable flour” as vegetables for school lunches. Not only that, but the same foods can also double as fruit. I did not see that coming.
Like I said above, all fruits are vegetables. So we could have just started there. First, is a potato a fruit? Yes; potatoes are what potatoes come from. Ergo, potatoes are vegetables, because they are fruits. If you still aren’t sure, note that they come out of the ground, but they are neither rocks nor groundhogs. The evidence mounts and overwhelms.
The idea of the new rules for school lunches is that too many kids were tossing their green salad and fruit offerings into the garbage bins uneaten, so the change lets kids have food they might actually eat that doesn’t look like boring salads and fruit. They weren’t getting enough pizza.
Naturally, there are nattering nabobs of negativism vigorously objecting to the new rules. The Obama administration gave us the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” which succeeded in increasing the amount of healthy and nutritional foods that school children were able to eat, and some of the wet blankets who wrote that law still exist on this planet and can’t stand seeing their precious law disemboweled. But they’re fine with beans and wieners, because fiber.
Would you want your children to eat salads? As I have said, gasoline is a vegetable. So is toilet paper and plywood. So is cotton. Do you want your children eating mulched toilet paper, plywood and shredded linen with a gasoline vinaigrette? That’s just crazy. You can’t eat plywood. The solution? Keep your children away from all salads, including sawdust, until you have been introduced to the salads and know them to be safe.
While we’re at it, there’s a reason why we distinguish animal and vegetable. No one wants Chihuahua salad. No one wants Pomeranian fruit.
Potato is the über food. Now that it’s both a fruit and a vegetable, I’d like it to be an herb, a meat, a nut and a cream cheese.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at drwes (at) realchangenews (dot) org
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