by winter

tomatoes are well argued in terms of whether or not they are vegetables. Many argue that they are scientifically classified as a fruit. However, in the 1893 supreme court case Nix v. Hedden, tomatoes were legally classified as a vegetable. This case is very telling in terms of the validity of vegetable as a concept.


When foraging for plants it is important to be able to separate each plant into its separate components–such as leaf, root, and stem–as some components of a plant may be edible while others on the same plant are poison. Fruits are grouped together because they share the same component type logically called fruits. However there is no part of the plant described as “vegetable”. Broccoli is a staple in terms of vegetableness, however the parts we eat are actually the flower. Potatoes, the root. Cucumber is another fruit, right next to tomato. There are no vegetables that are vegetables at heart. Behind each one’s salady exterior you are going to find a leaf, root, fruit, or stem. Which might lead one to believe that vegetables don’t really exist.


When discussing what it means to be a vegetable one may find themself sliding down a slippery slope of semantics and science. If you get down to the nitty-gritty of botanic definition, tomatoes turn out to be berries and strawberries are an accessory fruit. At that point you should just call every organic thing you see by its scientific name. But there is a reason that the waiter doesn’t ask if you want Solanum lycopersicum on your salad. Why? Well, what is the point of language in a casual setting? It is of course, to communicate clearly and effectively with the intended audience. While in a scientific setting it may be important to distinguish between a fruit and an accessory fruit, if we were to bring this sort of language into the mainstream it would likely cause just another obstacle between you and your triple berry smoothie from Jamba Juice.


As argued in Nix v. Hedden, a vegetable is not defined by science or any universal method but rather in the public’s perception and in practice this method has been great for communicating well. If you were to say, “I love vegetables,” those within earshot could infer what sort of dishes to bring to the potluck that next Saturday. Asking for someone to bring a fruit pie to said potluck, you could expect apples, cherries, pears, and the like at the potluck baked up in a floury concoction.


While vegetables may not have an official definition the concept of a vegetable is integral to humanity!

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