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The next frontier in plant rights*

The following content is purely satirical and entirely fictional. This article is part of The Daily Princetonian’s annual joke issue. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet!

Take a look around any Princeton dining hall, and you’ll see eight flavors of ice cream, two dozen lettuce ingredients, four or five varieties of pizza — and one vestige of a discriminatory culture that harks back generations.

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I’m talking about labels. You can’t get out of a dining hall without seeing some edible plant hastily labeled as “vegetable of the day” by chefs who never asked the plants how they identify. That may have flown in 1746, but now that it’s 2017, we should move past our compulsion to pigeonhole plants into a category and allow them to identify however they please.

As a tomato, I belong to a strain of plant that has faced especially serious persecution. Our kind gets labeled as “rotten,” an insult still vivid in the minds of movie reviewers on sites like RottenTomatoes.com.

And tomatoes have also long been at the center of a bigger debate: fruit and vegetable identity. We’ve come a long way since the dark days of 1893, when the Supreme Court ruled in Nix v. Hedden that tomatoes were strictly vegetables, never fruits. (This really happened.)

Nowadays, botanists commonly make the argument that we’re fruits, and with opinions divided on both sides, we can sometimes get by with choosing the identity we feel allows us to express ourselves best.

Sadly, many people continue to insist that we must be one or the other. They don’t recognize our right to individual choice, the right for every tomato to decide whether to be a fruit or a vegetable.

Of course, this is not a right reserved only by tomatoes. We may suffer the most blatant discrimination, but every plant, no matter how big or small, has the right to choose its own identity. When all plants of a particular variety are categorically labeled as a vegetable, this basic plant right is denied to them.

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Not only do labels harm the plants they directly force an identity upon, but they also have a second exclusionary effect. By applying the vegetable label only to particular varieties, members of the fruit community who identify as transvegite are implicitly excluded. Why can’t a grape be recognized as the vegetable of the day? If it identifies as a vegetable and has been an active part of that community, it deserves the same recognition of its identity that we grant to cis-vegetables like green beans and cauliflower.

This year, Princeton’s dining halls should become a more inclusive community. Instead of labeling all broccoli with a “vegetable of the day” sign, for instance, we should stick to calling it broccoli. This way, every individual head of broccoli will finally enjoy acceptance of its identity as a fruit, vegetable, or non-binary plant. Every carrot, every squash, every melon — and yes, every tomato too — would get to express its own identity. We should never be put into a box, except during shipment.

The next time you eat in a dining hall, be mindful to stand up for the tomato. By taking an active stance against labels inside the dining hall, we can bring about real change outside of it. Because forcing an identity onto another plant — or person — is rotten.

Tommy Toe is a freshfruit from Terhune Orchard, NJ. It can be reached at ttoe2@princeton.edu.

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