Tag Archives: sketpicism

There is no fruit in a BLT

First, I want to say that tomatoes are a fruit. Here is a scientific definition of fruit:

Fruit noun, plural: fruits

(1) (botany) The seed-bearing structure in angiosperms formed from the ovary after flowering.

source

See? Tomato is a fruit.

Having said that, in common English parlance we do not call a tomato a fruit. We put the tomatoes in with the vegetables. Is this because we are unknowledgeable? No. It is because we are wise. Anyone who reads Fortune Cookies knows this:

Knowledge is knowing that a Tomato is a Fruit. Wisdom is not putting a Tomato in the Fruit Salad.

There are two things that bother me about this. First, we don’t do this with cucumbers. Cucumbers are also a fruit. Or butternut squash. That’s also a fruit. Or peppers. Fruit. We only do this “I’m a smart skeptic look how smart I am” thing with tomatoes. Why? Perhaps because of all the “vegetables” that are “fruit,” tomatoes are the most fruit-esque, more near the vegetable-fruit line, more positioned, as it were, to challenge the common knowledge. Or, maybe the “knowledgeable” who like to make fun of the villagers by pointing out that this vegetable is a fruit don’t know that a lufa sponge is also a fruit. Personally, I think it is because tomatoes are red, and so are a LOT of fruits. (Most of which are inedible, it seems, but that’s another story.)

So, the first thing that bothers me is that it isn’t taken far enough. The second thing that bothers me is that it is taken too far. Tomatoes are not fruit, they are vegetables, as are summer and winter squash, carrots, lettuce, and onions. Why? Because that is what we call them in English. Oh, the scientists? They have a different set of terms for these things. In fact, scientists have a huge big pile of terms related to plants…Achene, Laevigate, Inframedial, Staminode, and Spinescent to name a few…and among those terms there are two that look a lot like common English words and that have overlapping definitions: Fruit and flower. Just as the word “fruit” in English does not overlap with the scientific term “fruit,” the English word “flower” does not overlap with the scientific term. You do know, for instance, that those showy red flowery things on Poinsettias are not flowers. Those are just red leaves. Yet, they are flowers. When you visit Grandma at Christmas time and she’s got a big Poinsettia sitting there on the side table, you don’t say “Oh my, Grandmother, what large and pretty leaves you have there!”

So, the second thing that bothers me is this: The “fact” that tomatoes are “fruit” is not true. In English, they are vegetables. They are in the vegetable section, separate from the fruit, in the store. We treat them as vegetables. They taste like vegetables. There is no fruit in a BLT. Oh, sure, in Science Tomatoes are “fruit” … I know this because I wrote my PhD thesis in Science on Fruit so I’m a total expert on the subject. But I also wrote my PhD thesis in Anthropology of human-plant interactions. And I noticed that while the scientific lexicon and the natural language lexicon often overlap, they are not the same. I’m not big on “separate magisteria” because that’s a bunch of crap. But if we see the world as having One True Terminology, then we see the world without its culture. That would be wrong, boring, and close minded.

So, this is the thing: Science can’t communicate by standing on a box and shouting out its rules and insisting that variance between science and culture is indicative of culture being wrong. Tomatoes are not fruit, and the word “theory” means an idea that is weak. In English. Scientists and science boosters can insist as hard as they want that everyone who believes these things are wrong, and if they insist hard enough, in intro science classes an on the Intertubes, then everyone will eventually get it and use proper botanical terms and make correct reference to The Scientific Method when talking about their’ boyfriend’s chance of getting a job at the Target. Not.

Besides. Did you ever ponder the scientific meaning of the term “Vegetable? Turns out, Tomatoes are vegetables if we consider that “The noun vegetable means an edible plant or part of a plant.” Vegetarians eat vegetables, including strawberries.

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a vegetable. Wisdom is understanding that a seeming contradiction is not a contradiction at all, but rather, a reflection of the cultural complexity of science and the scientific complexity of culture.


Image by Nina Matthews