Monthly Archives: May 2011

Fruits vs. Vegetables

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it on a fruit salad.

A few days ago we visited a favorite BBQ restaurant with family members who stopped by to visit on their way back to the Midwest.   Like most  restaurants that serve up Southern specialties, you would be hard-pressed to find anything even remotely healthy on the menu.  But what’s a little heart disease when the trade-off is the best BBQ, mac & cheese, and potato salad around.  Even  food that has potential to be good for you (ie, “greens”, a term I’d never even heard before moving south) has likely been doused with pig juice and butter.
Somehow, in the way round-about conversations seem to go,  a question was raised:  What’s the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?   If my friend Kim Foglia, the science teacher who inspired my blog, was around, I’m sure she’d know the answer.   However, the 7 of us, in spite of having  well over 100 combined years of education, could not figure it out.   We knew factoids such as a tomato is a fruit and corn is a grain, but none of us actually knew what, specifically,defines a fruit or a vegetable.
We came up with guesses involving seeds, and parts of the plant, and how they reproduce, but none of it seemed quite right.  Perhaps the best observation was from the youngest family member, our daughter Anna,  who stated, “If I like it, its probably a fruit and not a vegetable.”    Turns out that definition was probably as good as any.  Like most conversations and debates these days, we eventually decided to stop using our brains and instead put into action one of the many Smart phones dining with us that evening.

No question left unanswered with instant Google access

Droids, Iphones and their ilk have, in my opinion,  unfortunately replaced the debates, questions, ideas and discussions of “the old days” (2010 for our family)    but that’s another topic.     Out came the phone, and the magic Google oracle appeared.     “Oh great Google God,” we asked……”What IS the difference between a fruit and a vegetable, anyway?”

It turns out even Google was a little stymied by this question.   There were lots of instances where others had asked this question, and had gotten various responses and disagreements.    Even the valedictorian of Google, Wikipedia couldn’t really make up its mind.    The “seed” response was popular, as was  a fruit being “any edible part of a plant with a sweet flavor  whereas vegetables have a savory  flavor.  I’m sorry, but there is not a soul on this Earth who can convince me brussel sprouts are savory, unless savory is a synonym for “BLECH.”

Reproductive properties are apparently important for fruit definitions:   a fruit is the ovary or womb of a plant, containing the seeds.  When a Mommy and Daddy fruit love each other very much and are way, way older than you and able to support a family and are using safe methods,  then the Daddy fruit uses its special fruit parts that only boy plants have and the Mommy part has special parts that only ladies have (but which you should never show anyone)……oh, never mind, just go watch some HBO.

So it seems like “fruit” is easy to define, but vegetables not so much.   The dictionary defines a vegetable as:   The edible part of a plant, such as the root of the beet, the leaf of spinach, or the flower buds of broccoli or cauliflower.

So in other words, because a tomato is an edible part of a plant and is also a “ripened ovary that contains seeds”   that makes it a fruit AND a vegetable.   But wait a minute…..doesn’t that then also apply to apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, etc???  They are also edible parts of plants that contain seeds.   That doesn’t  make sense.     Someone else suggested that the difference is “generally determined by the amount of Vitamin C content.”    I think that person needs to get a Smart phone.

Finally, we found some responses from actual Botanists.   It seems that botanists don’t even really like the word vegetable.   Kind of like how psychologists don’t like the word “crazy,” a word which also has no technical definition.

One says:

“Botanists generally don’t use the word vegetable to mean a plant or even a plant part. The basic parts are roots, stems, leaves flowers/fruit/seeds. Vegetable is a grocery store term: Tomatoes are called vegetables to distinguish them from the sweeter fruits like peaches. Carrots are called vegetables but the part we eat is of course a root.” 
and another says:

“Vegetable is a culinary term. Its definition has no scientific value and is somewhat arbitrary and subjective. All parts of herbaceous plants eaten as food by humans, whole or in part, are generally considered vegetables. Mushrooms, though belonging to the biological kingdom, fungi, are also commonly considered vegetables…Since ‘vegetable’ is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in referring to a plant part as a fruit while also being considered a vegetable. Given this general rule of thumb, vegetables can include leaves (lettuce), stems (asparagus), roots (carrots), flowers (broccoli), bulbs (garlic), seeds (peas and beans) and of course the botanical fruits like cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and capsicums.”(Wikipedia.org)

So that solves it.   Vegetables don’t even exist.   It is simply a made-up word to make plants sound a little more appetizing.    The next time someone tells you to eat more vegetables you can safely respond that vegetables are imaginary and to do so would make you “crazy”.

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Things I’ve learned recently

In no particular order:

  • I learned about the history of the “Soccer Mom” stereotype, thanks to my college sophomore daughter Jenny, who wrote an A+, “best in the class” paper on the topic (they are never too big to brag about).  Here’s an excerpt:

  The soccer mom concept is a relatively new one; the phrase really took flight in the 1990s, but the first mention of the soccer mom is traced to 1982. A Massachusetts town was put in the spotlight when the “Soccer Moms Booster Club” was robbed of over $3,000 by the treasurers’ husband (Weisberg 1996). It wasn’t until 1995, however, that the phrase returned with a connotation attached to it. Susan B. Casey ran for Denver City Council under the slogan “A Soccer Mom for City Council,” intending to assure voters that, although she had a PhD and had managed presidential election campaigns, she was no different from them (MacFarquhar 1996). The phrase came about during a time of great doubt concerning women’s achievements, particularly with their ability to maintain a successful career while still showing love and support for their family. Casey ended up winning the election by just over half the votes, but the “soccer mom” concept was far from gone, and would actually take a large role in the 1996 presidential election the following year.

  • I’ve learned how to use Powerpoint.  I’m putting all my groups/class materials on PowerPoint.  Hence, little time left to blog.
  • Every year the US State Department has a lottery to allow 50,000 immigrants to move legally to the US without the usual family and/or employer requirements.  They select 90,000 randomly from more than 14 million applicants(!) then choose the winners based on “extensive interviews, background checks, and medical exams.” I know about this because this year they screwed up the selection process with a computer error then had to go back and tell people who thought they had won,   “Oh, not really….never mind.”

    I don't think I've seen this outfit in the women's department at Penney's.

  • Cher is 65??!!
  • The white, good old-boy network is alive and well in the South.  (oh wait, I didn’t actually learn that, I was just reminded of it).
  • Dogs can be allergic to their own cataracts and eyeball removal is called enucleation.    I would say its a new experience to have a 1-eyed pet, but its not because we had a 1-eyed cat for almost 20 years and a 1-eyed frog for awhile too.
  • At least I have a good personality

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