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Briefcase – Tomato: Fruit Or Vegetable?

Host: Dean Leonard Baynes



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Of all the eternal questions such as "Which came first: The chicken or the egg?" and "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" only a few have gone before the Supreme Court. Dean Leonard Baynes, with the University of Houston Law Center, looks back at the time the Supreme Court was asked to consider "Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable?"

"The tomato is considered a fruit because it has a seed-bearing anatomy. But legally, it's not. The Supreme Court ruled it a vegetable in an obscure 19th-century case, Nix v Hedden.”

“John Nix, the plaintiff, was a Manhattan produce wholesaler. Edward Hedden, the defendant, was the collector of the Port of New York. At the time, imported vegetables carried a 10-percent tariff, while fruit did not. Nix sued for a refund of tariffs paid, using Webster's Dictionary definition of fruit as evidence.”

“The Court ultimately ruled against Nix, reasoning that in general, tomatoes are not eaten or prepared like fruits and thus should be taxed as vegetables. In its 1893 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court held "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."

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