Monday, November 21, 2011

Science Friction: Read this "Tariff-ic" posting on the issue of "Tomato Paste/Sauce as a Veggie--Congressional Edition". Read, Cuss and Discuss...

The hottest debate in Congress these days is how much tomato paste (derived from a fruit) is required on a slice of pizza to classify said tomato paste as a vegetable (which is NOT a fruit).  Ha! And you thought it was the Super-Committees failure to arrive at a budget solution.

We have all heard the timeless debate as to whether tomatoes are a fruit or vegetable.  I think the botanical science is clear that it is a fruit, but in the public square it ain't a fruit, because, well, you don't pluck it off a vine or tree and eat it directly.  If you do, you just trying to be a hippie rebel...Simple as that...

I always look for an economics-related reason for the way things are and this debate did not disappoint me.  A quick search on Wikipedia brought me this unexpected gem:

""...In 1887, U.S. tariff laws that imposed a duty on vegetables, but not on fruits, caused the tomato's status to become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled the controversy on May 10, 1893, by declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, based on the popular definition that classifies vegetables by use, that they are generally served with dinner and not dessert (Nix v. Hedden (149 U.S. 304)).[51] The holding of the case applies only to the interpretation of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, and the court did not purport to reclassify the tomato for botanical or other purposes...."

So, the Supreme Court added to the blurring of the lines of science by using the popular notion of the tomato-as-a-vegetable in a ruling on a tarrif case. 

Looking a little deeper, I found a short history of the tomato in the US (not indigenous to the US, by the way, AND Thomas Jefferson had a huge influence in promoting it) HERE and the origin of the reason the Supreme Court took this case on in the first place.

""...tomatoes became very popular in the US. By the 1880’s, demand far outpaced US production, and tomato imports steadily increased. Ketchup and tomato soup (new foods to America) were becoming popular. Tomato sales soared.

In the Tariff Act of 1883, Congress dramatically increased taxes on imported vegetables. President Chester Arthur supported these taxes to protect American business from foreign competition. However, due to special interest lobbyists, fruit was not taxed at all.

A tomato importer named John Nix classified his tomatoes as “fruit”, the appropriate botanical classification, to avoid the tax. The government insisted on collecting the tax anyway. Nix sued. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Believe it or not, the Court ruled that even though the tomato is in fact a fruit, for purposes of the tax it should be considered a vegetable! Goodbye love apple, hello tomato tax.

That Supreme Court ruling is the reason we call the tomato a vegetable. It is the law of the land!...""

There you have it...Political interests over-riding simple science in the 1880's and 2011.  The more things change, the more they stay the same....

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