On Wolf Peaches and the Republic

In Nix v. Hedden (149 U.S. 304, 1893), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that the tomato is a vegetable within the meaning of the Tariff Act of 1883. Writing the court’s opinion, Justice Gray basically boiled it down to how the tomato was commonly used in cooking: “Botanically speaking, 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 which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”
     Within this opinion is the acknowledgement that botanically tomatoes are a fruit; specifically the fruit of plant Solanum lycopersicum. They originated in Mesoamerica, and were widely and rapidly distributed across the globe following the Spanish conquests in Central America. That’s right — Pomodoro sauces weren’t present during Caesar’s time in Rome. To sum it up, the tomato is botanically a fruit, gastronomically a vegetable.
     So, you see, the tomato has always had something of a split personality; one more along the lines of the yin yang rather than a chemical imbalance. The light and the dark become one, and so on and so forth. Which is why the slogan for East Nashville’s Tomato Art Fest is so . . . sublime: A Uniter not a Divider — Bringing Together the Fruits and the Vegetables.
     That’s right. We’re all in this together, like it or not. Recent anthropological studies done among the few remaining primitive tribes that have little or no contact with the outside world uncovered convincing evidence that they are better at resolving disputes than us civilized folk. Of course, it’s all about community to them. Concepts like nation-states are as inconceivable to them as passing a bill is to congress. A close-knit tribal community can’t afford divisions along party lines or winnertakes- all politics. To them, resolving their differences amicably is a matter of survival.
     Sure, I’ll stipulate the fact that we are indeed a nation, albeit a schizophrenic one undergoing a paradigm shift. What’s more important to me is that we are a people, and as a people we live and die by the covenants set forth by our enlightened forefathers in the Constitution. It’s essence, it’s very brilliance, lies in the framework it provides for balancing two constant, elemental and powerful forces that are often diametrically opposed to oneanother: The General Welfare and Individual Liberty.
     In this respect, we all have both some of the liberal as well as some of the conservative in us. Case in point: The unwelcomed situation in which Family Wash owner Jamie Rubin recently found himself. A die-hard Obama supporter, he was nevertheless a victim of exactly the type of government over-reach that has Libertarians screaming, “police state.” The bottom line is this: Our republic was designed for these opposing forces to forever be in a dance with one another, and for things to work — for our tribe’s survival — there must be compromise.
     It’s easy to stand behind party, or worse — the anonymity of the Internet, and lob spitballs at the other side. It’s a much more difficult proposition when the spitballs one is lobbing are aimed at one’s neighbors. Community is the last bastion of compromise. Working together we can promote the general welfare and at the same time respect one another’s individual liberties, being ever mindful of the fact that perfection doesn’t exist in this world.
     So it is with the “feeling” Meg MacFayden describes when she talks about the Tomato Art Fest, when the community comes together in unity, led by a fruit and a vegetable.
     A uniter — not a divider.
       The tomato.

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