You say tomato… – The Ukiah Daily Journal
As pres. Ronald Reagan once said, “Words mean things. And a lot, a lot of legal questions revolve around this principle because, well, laws are written in words. For example, in a case that arose in New York federal court in 1960, the judge explained that the question was “What is chicken?” “
But vegetarians have also had their day. In fact, the United States Supreme Court itself has been called upon to decide once and for all a question that has plagued humanity for generations: Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
As is often the case in such cases, the issue arose in a tax dispute, between a family of fruit importers named Nix and the New York Harbor collector. In 1886, the collector levied a tax on tomatoes that the Nixes imported from the West Indies, based on a federal law imposing a ten percent import tax on “vegetables in their natural state, or in salt. or in brine ”. The Nixes, however, argued that “tomatoes” fell within the definition of “fruit, green, ripe or dried,” on which there was no import tax.
One thing is certain: domestic vegetable growers have done a better job of lobbying Congress than fruit growers. Whatever that was.
After the trial, the Nix family lawyer called only two witnesses, both of whom have worked in the fruit and vegetable business for more than 30 years. The lawyer read the definition of “fruit” and “vegetable” in several dictionaries, then asked each witness if the terms meant anything special in the import industry that was different from the dictionary definitions.
Each of the two men said the dictionary definitions, while not exhaustive, were “correct as far as they go.” One of the witnesses added that there were simply more kinds of vegetables than the examples given in the dictionaries, which listed examples such as “cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, peas, beans, etc.” .
The two men agreed, however, that the terms did not have any special meaning in the import trade different from what the dictionaries said. Then, to drive the point home, the lawyer of the Nixes read in the file from the same dictionaries the definition of the word “tomato”.
The government lawyer decided to fight fire with fire. He read the dictionary definitions of “pea”, “eggplant”, “cucumber”, “squash” and “pepper” in the file. The lawyer for the Nixes fought back once again, reading aloud the definitions of “potato”, “turnip”, “parsnip”, “cauliflower”, “cabbage”, “carrot” and “bean”.
Legal eloquence is no better than that.
But the Nixes lost and began to slowly climb the legal ladder to demand reimbursement of the taxes they paid in protest. Finally, in 1893, they reached the Supreme Court of the United States.
The court, Judge Horace Gray, answered their question in a remarkably short notice of less than 500 words. Judge Gray noted that the only witnesses to testify – both called by the Nix family – had stated that neither “vegetables” nor “fruits” had any special meaning in commerce or commerce other than that given in dictionaries. consulted. However, the court had to apply the ordinary understanding of words, as reflected in these dictionaries.
Judge Gray first noted that the dictionaries defined “fruit” as the seed of plants, or the part of plants containing the seed, especially the juicy and pulpy parts covering and containing the seed. He added that “botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just like cucumbers, squash, beans and peas. “
But the common understanding was that cucumbers, squash, beans, and peas were vegetables, not fruit. After all, Gray said, tomatoes – like potatoes, carrots, etc. – are generally served at dinner as part of the main meal. Fruit, however, is usually served after a meal, as a dessert. So, he concluded, a tomato is a vegetable, not a fruit.
Or maybe it depends on your definition of “is”. Oops, wrong legal dispute.
Either way, here it is: the final statement of the Supreme Court of the United States on an issue of vital importance to humanity. Tomatoes are fruits, not vegetables. Unless you tax them. So these are vegetables, not fruits.
And over one hundred and twenty-five years ago!
Now if only we could understand what the court would have done when the Reagan administration also attempted to reclassify ketchup as a vegetable.
Frank Zotter, Jr. is an attorney for Ukiah.