The debate over whether veggies actually exist

For centuries people have debated what a vegetable is. Even the Supreme Court has offered an official opinion.
Posted at 4:55 PM, May 21, 2024

Are vegetables real? It may sound like a silly question, but from a biological standpoint, botanists say the definition of a vegetable doesn't make sense.

Cornell horticulture professor Steve Reiner says a vegetable is traditionally defined as a plant or part of a plant used as food. By contrast, a fruit is defined as anything with seeds that can be consumed as food.

In that case, things like cucumbers and eggplant would be considered fruits, even though they are widely recognized as vegetables.

Tomatoes have also been a source of confusion.

"I always start my classes off, the first lecture of the year, I ask who thinks a tomato is a fruit and who thinks it's a vegetable, and half the hands go up for one, and half the hands go up for the other," Reiner said.

In reality, Reiner said, both groups are correct. While the tomato meets the definition to be considered a fruit, the Supreme Court weighed in more than a century ago to declare the tomato is a vegetable.

"If we were talking 400 years ago, there would be people who say [to] never eat a tomato because it's poisonous, and we found that's not true, even though it's part of the nightshades family, and there are members of that, that are poisonous," he said.

Reiner adds that people are constantly learning new things about vegetables, but that doesn't change what makes them good for everyone.