Let’s talk about pizza. But first, let’s see a show of hands. Who wants to be the first in Maine to call President Barack Obama and Congress and tell them that the tomato is not a vegetable, it’s a fruit?

Don’t argue with me. You can Google it. Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit, and can be further classified as a berry since it is pulpy and has edible seeds.

Didn’t we all know this already? Sister Rosanna told me that in the fourth grade. We were all stunned by that. And then we got home and proudly told Mama, she just put stewed tomatoes on the plate and said, “Eat your vegetables.”

How did it all come to this? Here’s news you can use and show off at the Christmas party: In 1893, an importer claimed the tomato as a fruit in order to avoid vegetable import tariffs imposed by the United States. This dispute led to the Supreme Court ruling (this is pre-Roberts, Scalia, Thomas) for taxation purposes that the tomato be classified as a vegetable, since it was primarily consumed in the manner of a vegetable, rather than a fruit, which was usually used in desserts. So there it is. Ever since 1893 we’ve been brainwashed into thinking the poor tomato was a veggie. So how does that work for vegans who don’t eat fruit?

I wouldn’t be bringing this up at all but for a decision by our friends in Congress, who want to put french fries and pizza back on your kids’ lunch plates. A conference committee found a way to get around proposed nutrition guidelines, and inserted a new guideline in a bill that the president signed. It classifies 1/8 cup of tomato paste as a veggie. So this balances everything on the school lunch, and pizza can stay. I imagine this covers french fries as well, as long as you pour tomato paste or sauce over the fries. What’s the problem? If you’re a fries lover, you always put ketchup on your fries, except in Maine where some use vinegar. The great President Ronald Reagan already said that ketchup is a veggie. So there it is: Ketchup on fries, tomato sauce on the pizza. It’s the American way. End of story.

First a quick history of pizza. Pizza historian Linda Stradley on “What’s cooking America” tells us that: At the height of the Persian Empire, in the third century B.C., Marcus Porcius Cato, also know as Cato the Elder, wrote the first history of Rome. He wrote about “flat round of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey baked on stones.” Think how a slice of that would taste with a diet Coke.

In the sixth century B.C., Stradley said that the soldiers of Darius the Great, accustomed to lengthy marches, baked a kind of bread flat upon their shields, and then covered it with cheese and dates. Upon retiring from the army, Darius the Great opened the first pizza parlor in what is now Iran. I made the last part up, but I like it.

I’m all for putting pizza and fries back on the school menu if it’s done right.

J.P.’s Pizza: Whole wheat thin crust with veggie topping of green and red peppers as well as olives chopped up really, really tiny so the little ones will think they’re sprinkles. Then add the fruit, oops, sorry, tomato sauce. No sausage or pepperoni.

It’s never too early to avoid blocking their arteries and skyrocketing their triglycerides. Hint: If you slice tiny Italian tomatoes really thin and bake them, they kind of look like pepperoni. Problem solved. This is so healthy they can eat it every day.

Just before Christmas I’ll publish my recipe of partridge in a pear tree pizza. Thanks for listening.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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