A big political battle is growing in Oklahoma. Seven years ago the state made the watermelon it’s official state “vegetable.” That’s right, the official vegetable–not the official fruit. This controversy is not like the long-standing debates about the fruit or veggie status of the tomato or the avocado. We all understand why there might be some confusion on those more savory foods. But who in their right mind would call a watermelon a vegetable? Everyone knows it’s a fruit, right? Apparently everyone except for some fruit-ignorant Okies!
Some Oklahoma lawmakers just can’t accept the watermelon as a vegetable and they are going to do something about it. A new bill was introduced this week in the Oklahoma legislature to repeal that official designation. After all, Oklahoma’s produce-recognition reputation is on the line here. We can already hear the jokes roaring up from Texas.
But before you laugh too hard at the Okies, realize that the NWA (What?! You don’t know what the NWA is? It’s the National Watermelon Association!) says that since watermelons grow on vines, technically they can be considered a fruit or a vegetable. And according to the Watermelon Board, the Latin name for watermelon is Citrullus Lanatus of the botanical family Curcurbitaceae, which makes it a cousin to cucumbers and squash. And if you have been in any five-star restaurants during the summer months, you may have noticed some pretty savory watermelon soups, salsas and gazpachos on the menu. So now perhaps you don’t feel so arrogant about your fruit and vegetable classification intelligence.
Yet this political wrangling might be about more than just horticulture. You see, official state designations are often about money. Joe Dorman, the retired Oklahoma legislator who co-authored the bill in 2007 to grant the watermelon its special status, says that he wanted the bill to help his district’s economy. His region grows a lot of watermelons and also has a festival every year celebrating the sweet and juicy fruit…uh…veggie…? He feels if the designation is taken away the people of his district will be adversely affected.
So why didn’t Dorman try to get the watermelon designated as the official “fruit” of Oklahoma? Because that honor has already been bestowed on the strawberry. And there’s no way anyone in Oklahoma is going to try to say a strawberry is a vegetable. That would be just too much fodder for the Okie jokes.
Not surprisingly, there are not many states that have “official vegetables.” According the Website NetState.com, there are only 13 states that have put forth the effort to identify their states with vegetables. Want to guess which vegetable has been given the honor the most times? You probably won’t be right, so we will just tell you.
Yes the veggie that you can never finish peeling, makes you cry, and sends your friends away after you eat them is the king of official-vegetable-dom. Why you ask? Because the onion is big business in the states that have designated them. Georgia, Washington, Texas and Utah all have famous sweet onions that people from all over the country will seek out enthusiastically and pay a premium to have on the dinner plate.
The potato is a close second. Idaho, of course, you have already guessed, but Louisiana and North Carolina have also designated a potato as their favorite vegetable, albeit a sweet potato.
In New Mexico they couldn’t make up their minds so they chose both the chile and the pinto bean. But we are pretty sure that these are mandated as inseparable in New Mexican cuisine, so we remain understanding.
If the Oklahoma fruit versus vegetable debate proves to be contagious, Arkansas might have a problem soon. They have determined that a specific variety of tomato is their official vegetable. Comedians in Missouri get your jokes ready.