Magazine article The New Yorker

YOU SAY TOMATO; STATES' RITES Series: 3/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

YOU SAY TOMATO; STATES' RITES Series: 3/5

Article excerpt

Two years ago, New Jersey counted among its state symbols an official folk dance (the square dance), dinosaur (the duck-billed Hadrosaurus foulkii), and tall ship (the A. J. Meerwald), not to mention the obligatory flag, bird, and tree, but it had designated no particular produce for special recognition--a shameful oversight, considering that it is the Garden State.

Then came the Trenton Fruit Showdown of 2003, a legislative battle for most-favored-fruit status between supporters of the renowned Jersey tomato and those of the highbush blueberry. In the end, the blueberry lobby, a loose but surprisingly fierce coalition of South Jersey farmers and Brick Township fourth graders (they were studying state government), proved stronger, and last year Governor James McGreevey signed into law a bill acknowledging New Jersey's first-ever state fruit: "Whereas, blueberries taste good. . . . Whereas, New Jersey is widely recognized as the blueberry capital of the nation. . . . Be it enacted . . ."

This session, vegetables are on the docket, and Jersey sweet corn, more than nine million bushels of which are harvested in the state each year, has been nominated for the representative honor. The tomato, by definition a fruit, was ostensibly out of the running, until it got a boost from another group of fourth graders studying government--this one, at Marlboro Elementary, full of committed tomato partisans. No less an authority than the United States Supreme Court, one precocious student pointed out, ruled, in Nix v. Hedden, that "as an article of food on our tables, whether baked or boiled, or forming the basis of soup, [tomatoes] are used as a vegetable, as well when ripe as when green." That was in 1893, predating by three years even the adoption of New Jersey's state flag. How about reclassifying the tomato for political purposes? the kids wondered. If ketchup could be a vegetable, then certainly the tomato deserved a shot.

Ellen Karcher, a state senator from Monmouth County and the sponsor of 2003's losing tomato-for-state-fruit bill, took up the charge, and proposed the tomato ("Whereas, the famous 'Rutgers tomato,' originally introduced in 1934, once accounted for 70 percent of the processed tomatoes in the United States . . .") as competition for sweet corn. "When I go to visit schools, we have a mock election for tomato and corn," Karcher said last week. "And clearly tomato has pulled ahead, not only among fourth graders but in the State Assembly as well." When it comes to lobbying, corn, apparently, is no blueberry.

"I did hear from an eggplant grower who was concerned--you know, 'Why aren't you considering eggplant? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.