Campbell Vaughn: Status of tomato can be a taxing question

Childhood playground arguments can get pretty heated. Who is stronger, Spiderman or Batman? Is the fastest animal on the planet really the peregrine falcon?

 

So when my 9-year-old came home from school discussing an epic controversy that happened that day, I was all ears.

According to him, the debate was so heavy that the class put it up to a vote. When he asked my thoughts, to his astonishment, I knew the real answer.

I told him the truth was so huge that it be had to be decided in the United States Supreme Court.

In the 1893 action Nix v. Hedden there was a monumental judicial decision that changed the way we live today. It established that the tomato is a vegetable and not a fruit.

Botanically, any seed-bearing structure formed from a flowering plant’s ovary is a fruit.

Since a tomato protects and contains the seeds of its host plant, the ‘T in BLT’ is technically a fruit. Same thing goes for a zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, squash and eggplants.

A vegetable is the edible portion of a plant that is not the ovary.

Vegetables are usually grouped according to the portion of the plant that is eaten, such as leaves (lettuce), stems (celery), roots (carrot), tubers (potato), bulbs (onion) and flowers (broccoli). Yes, broccoli is a flower.

So why does the United States officially consider a tomato a vegetable? It boiled down to money.

The Tariff of 1883 required that taxes be collected on imported vegetables but did not require it to tax fruits.

John Nix was a large seller of produce in New York and imported a lot of his product through the Port of New York.

Edward Hedden was a federal officer who was in charge of collecting import duties on foreign goods that entered the United States. Specifically, Mr. Hedden was the Collector of the Port of New York. Mr. Nix didn’t want to pay the government to bring his produce through the Port, so he sued, claiming that tomatoes are a fruit.

The court unanimously decided in favor of the Collector of the Port, claiming that “tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas. But in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables.”

Mr. Nix did not get his money back and the United States of America has it officially written into its law that this seed-bearing structure formed from a flowering plant’s ovary is a vegetable.

Don’t mess with the government when it comes to collecting money.

They can change a fruit into a vegetable with one knock of the gavel.

As for my third-grader, I wish him the best of luck in continuing this debate.

Reach Campbell Vaughn, UGA Agriculture and Natural Resource agent for Richmond County, by e-mailing augusta@uga.edu.

ANOTHER LESSON WITH TOMATOES

North Augusta High School Advanced Placement physics students will take on the annual Tomato Launch from 8:20-9:10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 13, on the “Jacket Regiment” marching band practice field (across Knobcone Drive from the football stadium).

The competition has been held at North Augusta High for more than 15 years. The AP physics students will be charged with designing and creating a mechanical device that will fling a tomato to a target about 67 feet away. Students must construct this device entirely from wood, and no pre-existing components may be used.

Anyone who is not affiliated with the school who would like to attend is asked to contact Mike Rosier with Aiken County Public Schools at (803) 645-8487.

 

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