Troubled Rant #14: The Fruit/Veg Binary

Now, allow me to break blog etiquette (blogiquette?) by talking about an unrelated subject.
My readers may not know this, but I am a committed fruit and vegetable activist. It has come to my attention that in my selfish blogging on gender issues, I have been casting a blind eye towards the plight of fruits and vegetables and their representation in the media. Before I can get into any actual analysis though, I feel it is proper for me to put some definitions on the table. I understand that many people may be unaware of these issues, and I acknowledge that. What you must know, however, is that much of the terminology used in this regard is actually very fluid. Bryce Noah’s seminal work ‘Not You Nor Anybody Else’s Side Salad’(1), for example, has revolutionised the usage of the word ‘legume’. On the other hand, the earlier compilation of Alice Buckman’s works, ‘Tomatos and Peppers United and Other Writings’ (2), provides many terms that are now considered offensive in the Fruit/Veg* community.
The main term that needs discussing is the so-called Fruit/Veg binary, and how it relates to the more well-known idea of a Plantiarchal system. You see, it is in the interest of those in power that Fruits and Vegetables remain as separate categories, in other words, a binary opposition. The definition of one, thus, is meant to completely exclude the other. This benefits a number of powerful agents, and on the day-to-day level, it grants those in the upper echelons of the Plantiarchy power over, and often well above, the common plant. It is, in essence, a hierarchical system of oppression.
What we must come to accept as a society, is that the Fruit and Vegetable binary is a lie, simple as that. There are numerous individuals and institutions which are dedicated to ensure the rigidity of this binary. Moreover, a great deal of hateful and bigoted intellectuals, such as Richard Hunter, whose despicable ‘No Apples in my Salad’ pretty much set back the Fruit/Veg movement 10 years. It is retrograde attitudes like these which must be vehemently opposed.
Hunter’s title speaks volumes about a kind of ignorance that has been allowed to run rampant even in the 21st Century. Someone needs to tell the man about the goddamn Waldorf Salad, for crying out loud.
Binary apologists often refer to the fact that ‘fruit’ is a scientific term, while ‘vegetable’ is a culinary one. As such, the argument goes, they have no place being in the same sentence, let alone the same discussion. However, we can see how this is simply oppressive discourse, aimed at keeping the thinking of alternatives to the binary as impossible to conceive in vocabulary. In common usage, the word ‘plant’ covers both vegetables and fruits, for example. Yet this word is too all-encompassing, and includes many beings that are not edible. The binary is so intrinsic in our understanding of fruits and vegetables that it is almost impossible for us to think in different terms. Luckily, that is beginning to slowly change.
There is only one radical answer activists can give to such a reactionary, binarist view of fruit/veg politics. Shut up.
And there is only one icon we can adopt. One whose plight represents our plight. One which defies the binary conventions as defined by elitist cooks and scientists, lording their privilege over fruits and vegetables, and defining them instead of letting them define themselves.
This icon is the Tomato.
Never has the binary’s oppressive nature been displayed in a more direct way than in society’s dealing with the Tomato plant. Many have attempted to suppress the Tomato’s identity as a fruit, by defining it a vegetable. Maybe some people sleep better at night, knowing their salads have only vegetables, and their fruit salads only fruits. But this is a falsehood, perpetrated by the plantiarchy, which coerces all fruit/veg, not just tomatoes, into buying into a plant identity they may not hold for themselves. Not to mention the 1887 dispute in the United States, regarding the taxation of fruits and vegetables. Leaving aside the horrifying fact of a tax on fruits and vegetables, it was only six years later when the greatest judiciary of that nation, the Supreme Court, reached a verdict. The Tomato was a vegetable based on its use, and that was that.
As an activist and concerned blogger, I cannot sit on the sidelines anymore. From now on, it will be my duty to work to dismantle this oppressive system in my own small way: by analysing the enforcement of the fruit/veg binary in comics, particularly manga, anime and european comics.
Let our Tomato brethren be at the forefront of our fight for fruit/veg justice. Let us not fall into the old pitfalls and stereotypes. Join me for a whole new era for Prepare for Trouble!
*I realise that many members of the community have found Veg used as an offensive term. However, I firmly believe there is a process to reclaim this short form of vegetable, and that we shall wear our Veg credentials proudly. We’re Veg, we’ve got the edge, and we want rights, now!