You say Tomato; I say Tomahto
Gather ten people in a room and put a plate of vegetables in front of them and, unless the vegetables are fried, odds are that none of the ten will be in complete agreement about all of the vegetables. I am not talking about ten very hungry persons or ten vegetables that are all common to the specific culture or spirituality of these ten people. Select just ten ordinary people and ten typical but also healthy vegetables. Odds are at least one person will not like at least one of the vegetables on the table.
Now if you are in a snarky mood and know a bit about biology, right about now you are holding up your hands saying “Stop!” First let me say that I had such an experience as the above-suggested experiment about twenty-five years ago. The wonderful man I had newly married and I had gone shopping for food items. My wonderful spouse was being very patient and, in fact, having a great time going up and down the aisles of the market. To my surprise, however, halfway down the canned goods aisle, he stopped and turned around. I stood there stupefied as I watched him disappear around the next aisle over, over to reappear at the end of the aisle I was on. It seems that my big, brave husband had not wanted to walk past the canned beets sitting on the shelf.
Beets were an item I had always politely turned down when offered any because I thought I did not like them. However, in the market that day, stunned that a small can could hold such power over a grown man, I realized that I could not describe what beets tasted like. The next day at the office I mentioned beets to the staff gathered for a meeting and immediately there was on outcry of people disgusted with the mere thought of having to eat beets. It seemed that no one liked them. I then asked exactly what they tasted like and was met with a hush and then stony silence. Although everyone was certain, completely certain, they detested beets, no one could described what they tasted like. A week later while eating at a salad bar, I took a chance and put some beets on my plate. To my amazement and the utter disgust of my husband, I discovered I loved their taste. Emboldened by my example, a few others also tried them and most also agreed they tasted fine.
The point is not that I think everyone will love beets or should eat them (although you probably should because they are considered a “super food” and are very healthy). The point is that we can all be looking at the same thing and perhaps even have the same reaction and yet, the reality is something quite different. The Greek mythologies were much the same. Although we think of them as firm and concrete stories and most have evolved into basic tales, at the time these myths were being told and heard by our ancestors, there were many different variations. And while many of the Greek gods became Roman deities, the field of agriculture was one area in which there were differences.
The Greek term for the various gods of agriculture was “Theoi Georgikoi” of “Theoi Khthonioi” which translates as “gods of the earth”. They were also deities of the Mystery Cults of two more prominent deities, Demeter and Core. The mere process of growth among nature was a miraculous and mysterious things to the ancient civilizations. They knew they needed the growth cycles and the harvests they produced but they had no knowledge about how to control them, encourage them, or protect them. Demeter was the Greek goddess of agriculture; her Roman name was Ceres.
First, though, I have to clarify something. Originally when I began this post, I had a list of ten vegetables. Then I realized that someone would call me on one or two. You see, there are culinary fruits and vegetables and then there are the scientific ones….sorta. Most people tend to think of the avocado and/or tomato as vegetables. In reality they are a fruit. In fact, in both biology and botany, there are no such things as vegetables. Now do not tell a parent or dietician that you don’t have to eat your veggies because they do not exist. They exist but under a different label.
A fruit is a scientific term and designation. A fruit is the edible reproductive body of a seed plant. Some common assumed-to-be vegetables include the afore-mentioned avocado and tomato, the eggplant, cucumber, squash, okra, olives, and pumpkin. Peppers fall into two categories but some are fruits like the chili pepper. There really is no word that means what we refer to as vegetables. Instead, these food items are classified by the part of the plant they represent. For instance, rhubarb and celery are stems. Technically, tomatoes are a berry along with eggplants, chili peppers, and grapes. What we call berries, though are sometimes not berries. Strawberries, blackberries, mulberries, and raspberries are an aggregate fruit as are pineapples.
While it may seem like these food items have nothing in common with the deities of ancient mythologies, they really do. Both are often misrepresented and misunderstood. Once considered a part of the theology of the culture, these deities have no living worshippers today and have become a part of literature rather than theology. It is important to remember, as we go through the family trees of these deities and visit their stories, these ancient mythologies are subject to interpretation and revision and are the object of both, a thousand times over.
The Greeks thought the world was flat. Greece existed in the middle of this flat world with Mount Olympus or either the Delphi Oracle at the middle of the country. Surrounding all was the great River Ocean. A happy race of people inhabited the Northern Hemisphere who were free from disease or warfare and were known as the Hyperborean. The Southern Hemisphere was populated by the Ethiopians who were so good and virtuous that the gods themselves often visited them. The Elysian Plan lay on the western margin of the earth and offered immortality to those mortals who pleased the gods. The ancient Greeks knew nothing of the world to their west, our east and so they imagined it populated by monsters. “Here there be dragons.”
The poets of the ancient world are the storytellers to whom we give thanks for our knowledge of the Greek and Roman mythologies. Although their interpretations do offer differences, both Homer and Ovid greatly influenced how we perceive these stories and their impact on the world that followed them. No storyteller worth his or her title ever tells a story exactly the same way twice. It is a creative process. The myths I discuss will probably not be the ones you read or studied. That’s okay. Life itself is a creative process and none of us go about it exactly the same.
Enjoy your fruits and vegetables today and thrive in the creative process that is your life. I hope you experience the joy of living and find strength to muddle through the mazes of challenges that might come your way. What is good for one may help you or it may hinder you. That’s okay as well. We are all created unique individuals and that diversity makes us strong as the human race. Pity instead the poor Greek who never tasted a tomato. Whether we call it a fruit or a vegetable, tomato or tomahto, anyone eating it will reap its nutritional benefits. One average size tomato is just 18 calories and is very low in fat contents with zero cholesterol. Additionally, they are excellent sources of antioxidants, dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins. The important thing is not to squabble over what it is called but to use it wisely. Much of the same might be said of life.