“Tomato – fruit or veg? Yes.”

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So, this happened …

Do you remember the moment you found out that your parents don’t know everything?

I’m not sure how old I was, but I recall being shocked to discover that my parents made mistakes. I sat there speechless, motionless, trying to decide if this was all just a bad joke.

And do you also remember the moment you discovered that tomatoes are actually fruit, not vegetables?

My older sister had learned this fact at school that very morning, and brought the knowledge home with her, and then shared it with me. She was two years older than me, so she was emotionally mature enough to be able to handle this fact. But for me, I wasn’t ready for this truth.

My disbelief fought back, so we went to the bookshelf and pulled out Volume T of the Encyclopedia Britannica. She was right, of course. From a taxonomy point of view, tomatoes are indeed classified as a fruit. The encyclopedia explained that fruit have seeds, like apples, oranges, and . . . tomatoes.

But the answer still didn’t fit well with me, and I continued to justify my stance.

My argument was that tomatoes are not sweet, they don’t taste like fruit. I’ve never had a fruit salad with tomatoes in it (nor would I want to). I’ve had banana ice cream, blueberry ice cream, mango ice cream, but I’ve never had tomato ice cream. Again, nor would I want to. When we ate tomatoes at home, it’s always with other vegetables, as a vegetable.

“I don’t care what the encyclopedia says,” I stood firm. “I eat tomatoes all the time, and a tomato is obviously a vegetable.”

When I got older, I learned to hold two conflicting ideas in my mind at the same time. I came to understand that tomatoes have a dual nature, and that’s perfectly OK. From a botanical point of view, tomatoes are fruit. That’s clear. But from a cooking point of view, tomatoes taste like and are used as vegetables, and they should be treated accordingly.

Depending on the context, I now appreciate that tomatoes can be seen as either a fruit or a vegetable. It depends on who is asking, and who is answering.

PS. Something I’m grateful for is that my sister forgot to mention to me, that same day, that pumpkins and cucumbers are fruit too. That would have been just too much for my little mind to cope with at the time!

Simple Definition

Tomato – fruit or veg? Yes.  This story reminds us that what is “correct” depends very much on the context. The tomato represents this concept, since it’s a fruit (botanically) but a vegetable (for cooking purposes).

Summarizing what it means

Although you might be tempted to say that the botanical classification is more ‘important’ than the cuisine-based classification, don’t try that argument with a chef, or with a class full of young children.

The point is, everyone contextualises and uses ‘facts’ in a way which is applicable to their own world, and alternative definitions just aren’t relevant to them.

The Wikipedia article on tomatoes says, “While tomatoes are fruits, they are commonly used as a vegetable ingredient”, and the article on cucumbers says, “fruits which are used as vegetables”. Regardless of what a botanist thinks, a chef sees tomatoes as vegetables.

But #HashtagYourLife is not a foodie’s blog – it’s about helping you understand the world around you. Now that you have a #hashtag for this dual-nature of ‘facts’, you have the ability to instantly spot and deal with similar situations.

I recently saw a debate on the internet where one person was arguing that colors don’t exist. In my mind, I immediately flagged this as being the same situation as #[Tomato – fruit or veg? Yes]. This label allowed me to see instantly that from one point of view, it’s true that colors are not objects which have a physical existence, and thus colors – in that context – don’t “exist”. But from another point of view, if different people are shown the same blue object, then they will all use the same adjective (“blue”) because – regardless of the physical ‘touchability’ – the recognition of colors can predictably and reliably be applied. Therefore colors exist.

In the above examples, we see that, depending on how the information is being used, two people can come up with two conflicting ideas, and both can be correct. This is the core of #[Tomato – fruit or veg? Yes].

(As usual, you’re welcome to stop reading after this Summary section. But it’s a short chapter, so you may as well have a quick read-through to the end, to see what other surprises await you. Especially the articles.)

Discussing what it means

The idea of this chapter isn’t complicated, so there is no need to spend time discussing philosophy and detailed methodology. Facts can depend on context.

Don’t play word games with me

I’m not saying that all facts are subjective. For example, 1+1=3 is not true, Julius Caesar is not alive today, Berlin is not the capital of France.

Similarly, it would be wrong to say that from a botanical point of view, a tomato is a vegetable – because that is wrong, it’s a fruit. But … there is a context, as we’ve seen, where a tomato should be seen as a vegetable.

And this is how we build our case.

How do you apply this knowledge?

Whenever you see a situation where two people are holding different points of view but – depending on context – both may be right, then the first step is to label that moment as #[Tomato – fruit or veg? Yes] for instantaneous appreciation of what is happening.

Indeed, telling a ten-second version of this #hashtag-story to the person you’re discussing with, will allow you to clarify that it’s better not to argue about who is correct, but to identify the context in which you’re each standing.

Your discussion should move to debating context, not correctness.

Examples of this concept in action

As a way of showing how often you might be able to use the #hashtag-story to create perspective in a debate that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, here are a number of examples to play with.

  • Is black a color? From a scientific point of view, you might argue that black is the absence of all colors, and therefore cannot be a color itself. From an artist’s point of view, black is most certainly a color.
  • When I was a teenager, I went through a punk phase. I believed that as long as I listened to (and enjoyed) punk music (like Johnny Rotten and The Exploited) and I spiked my hair up before going out, then I was punk. But my friend insisted that because I wasn’t an anarchist and I didn’t live on King’s Road in London, then I could not honestly claim to be punk. Of course, we were both right, we just had different definitions of what a “punk” is. There is no rulebook of punk.
  • My parents insist that heavy metal is not music. And as long as you think that music needs to involve gentle tunes and sweet lyrics, I guess they’re right. But if you take the stance that music is anything that comes out of a musical instrument, then heavy metal qualifies, even if you can’t make out the lyrics amongst the screams, and it hurts your ears.
  • My high school English teacher said it was wrong for songs to fade out at the end because songs are a form of poetry, and poems never fade out. “Imagine,” he used to tell us, “reading a poem where the ink fades more and more until you can’t read it anymore.” And he’s right, but only as long as you think that songs are a form of poetry. On the other hand, if you believe that songs and poetry overlap, but actually are different forms of art, then it’s perfectly fine to fade out.
  • When I’m craving something savory, cheese is a great snack for me. But when I want something sweet, then cheese is a fail and chocolate is a better snack. This context-driven scenario was discussed in detail in #[Cheese or Chocolate] and shows us this #ItDepends perspective is more common than many appreciate.
  • A rich and a poor person might debate the concept of genetically modified corn. The rich person says that GM corn is a ‘Frankenstein food’ and should be avoided – which is easy for them to say because they can afford to buy natural organic foods. The poor person might say that GM corn is actually cheaper, and so it’s better. For them, the alternative to GM corn isn’t healthy organic food, but instead it might be starvation. Both are right, it’s just that they’re coming from a different perspective. There is no point in debating the nutritional value of natural organic food over GM crops with someone who barely has enough to eat.
  • I’ve witnessed discussions over the years where someone is arguing that a person is still a virgin, because although they have done W they haven’t yet done X. Others will counter that they have done W, therefore they’re not a virgin. Both are right, of course, in their own world-view, because that’s how they have defined virginity. There’s no point on debating whether someone is or isn’t a virgin until we’re clear on why we care in the first place, and what difference the classification will make. If a definition is being used just to judge someone, then that’s pointless. Drop it.
  • I’ve had religious discussions over the years, where the one statement is, “You shouldn’t do X because the bible says it is wrong.” But if someone doesn’t believe in the bible as being the word of God, then that obligation not to do X might not exist. Until you’ve resolved why you care whether you should do X, and who the authority is on the matter, there is no point in discussing X. You might just end up saying, “As with tomatoes being both a fruit and vegetable, in this case: let’s also just agree to disagree.”
  • When HIV/Aids was tearing through South Africa in the 1990s, there was a lot of debate around whether condoms should be handed out for free to people. Some argued yes, in that with condoms then there was an increased chance of safe sex, and therefore reduced HIV transmission. Others argued no, because they believed free condoms would encourage people to have more sex, and sex was the problem in the first place. As usual, they are both right. Condoms could make sex safer, and it’s a great idea if protecting people is your focus. And condoms might encourage more sex, which is a problem if you believe that the amount of sex is the problem. As always, you might disagree with the other perspective, but to the other person, that’s their belief. If all you’re focusing on is condoms-yes-or-no, then you’re not going to get anywhere.
  • “All models are wrong, but some are useful,” said the statistician, George Box. Two actuaries might produce two different loss models – but one is focused on maximizing profit, while the other is focusing on minimizing losses. Depending on what they’re trying to achieve, they can both be right. Even if their models produce very different answers, it comes down to the context of their work, and how they will be applying their models.

I’m sure you can think of dozens of other scenarios where #[Tomato – fruit or veg? Yes] could be raised as a way of addressing an argument, to make the point that both people are right, each in their own context.

Making it personal

Here are a few questions to play with:

  • In the tomato debate, would you fall on the side of the botanist or the chef?
  • When you’re debating with someone, are you clear when you think that they are fundamentally and factually wrong (1+1=3), and when it’s just a matter of their having a different world-view to yours?
  • Can you see that it’s OK for you to take one side during a debate, while at the same time seeing why it’s reasonable for your proponent to choose their side?
  • Or maybe you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum. Perhaps you tend to over-think things? And so, rather than actually taking a stance in a debate, do you find yourself taking the ”cheat” position of simply saying “it depends”, without committing yourself to one preference or another? If this is you, then it will help to read #[The red-dot on the wall].
  • Can you think of a discussion you’ve had recently, where the #[Tomato – fruit or veg? Yes] would have been useful to highlight the impasse you were facing?

Make sure you don’t miss any future chapters, each of which provides you with similar tools for simplifying your life and winning arguments. Subscribe to the #HashtagYourLife newsletter today – you’ll find plenty of material that doesn’t appear anywhere on this website.

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