After All My Kid’s Pandemic-Related Questions, I Will No Longer Be Explaining Why A Tomato is A Fruit And Also Sort Of A Vegetable

Enough is simply enough, after a year fielding my kid’s pandemic-related questions while barely keeping up with the constantly changing information about what’s safe for children, school protocols, vaccine efficacy, as well as systemic threats to general safety, especially for minorities. I simply do not have the bandwidth left to explain to my seven-year-old son why a tomato is a fruit but also kind of a vegetable.

The tomato appears alongside other foods my son despises—lettuce, pickles, anything green—and behaves like a vegetable. Apart from the very weird tomato soup spice cake, the tomato is also basically cooked and baked like a vegetable. It’s even the “state vegetable” of New Jersey, which actually explains a lot about New Jersey.

And yet, when my son asks about the tomato, I’m somehow supposed to explain that it’s technically a fruit because it has seeds, like some sort of devil berry. And never mind the follow-up ketchup questions: If a tomato is a fruit, is ketchup kind of like a fruit smoothie? Or is it more of a jam? And what about tomato sauce? Is that a jelly or closer to a grape juice in the certainty of its involvement in a kid-caused mess?  

These types of queries only seem to come up after I’ve patiently mustered up thoughtful answers in response to a host of other big, pandemic-adjacent questions:

Why do I have to wear a mask when the other neighborhood kids don’t?

Why don’t the other kids wear their masks?

Why can’t I invite my whole class to my birthday party?

Why did you get the vaccine when my teacher says it’s dangerous?

I can’t tell my son his teacher is an idiot and the other kids don’t wear their masks because they are jerks (or their parents are jerks) and that’s also why his classmates can’t come to his birthday party. Or at least I probably shouldn’t. But I can say to him: the tomato isn’t a vegetable or a fruit; it’s an asshole.

Just as some kids are bigger jerks than others, so too are some tomatoes bigger assholes than others. The cherry tomato, for example, is trying way too hard to make the tomato’s fruit case. But, in so doing, it’s actually making things much worse. If the tomato is really a berry, does that make the cherry in tomato form a berry, even though supposedly the cherry is not a berry but just a normal fruit? Also, there’s beef tomatoes. BEEF tomatoes.

Sometimes the tomato conversation comes up after I’ve been helping my kid with his asynchronous school work, drilling math facts or explaining the difference between “their” and “there” for the fiftieth time. Sometimes it comes up after I’ve started to get some work done only to realize I’m late for school pick-up, with the new two-hour per day, two-days per week, in-person schedule. I race to school with mismatched shoes and a vague sense that it’s actually Sunday, and, as we’re walking back to the car, my son asks again: Is the tomato really a fruit or is it actually an herb, like the banana?

I have nothing left, in these moments, for the tomato and its obvious bullshit. So, as of today, I will no longer be supporting tomatoes, whether through purchase or consumption. I can’t do much about the state of the world today or the many related questions. But I can at least take this stand. And when my son complains that we never have pizza anymore, I’ll simply tell him the truth. It’s the tomato’s fault. And his, kind of, with his crazy obsession with tomatoes. Either way, I will not be offering any additional explanation at this or any other time.

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