On tomatoes

The players are far from unknown. There’s the tomato: a round, plump fruit, often confused for a vegetable (although definitely a vegetable for taxation purposes, according to a 19th century U.S. Supreme Court ruling). Then there’s McGill University: a Canadian research institution with global renown and an annual late-August set of welcome exercises for new students.

It was, in retrospect, a match made in heaven.

A week ago this Tuesday, McGill’s Student Housing and Hospitality Services organized a five course, tomato themed meal, culminating in a 500 pound tomato cake. As I wasn’t there, it’s hard to tell whether that would count as the dessert—that probably hinges on the fruit vs. vegetable distinction. Even so, the event last week could not outdo last year’s welcoming gambit, an 11,197 pound fruit salad that, according to no less an authority than the Guinness Book of World Records, was the world’s largest at the time.

Sounds tasty. But what’s the point? According to an article in the McGill Reporter, the event certainly attracted some local luminaries—Members of Parliament and city councilors, doubtless ever-aware of a photo opportunity. This year’s event, certainly smaller but in a similar vein, was more of the same: foods from Macdonald Campus, donations to charity, all that good stuff.

But are we really served by these festivals of epicurean excess? In this age of reduced budgets, our university needs every dollar it can find. Every serving of tomato cake is probably equal to 1/2000 of a library budget that does not need to be cut, or one third of a course lecturer’s semester wages. I’m not saying we can’t have these events, but we need to be asking these critical questions of our administration. Perhaps eliminating these events could even allow for a fraction of a cent discount on every first-year’s residence bill, who knows.

Even if the goal is breaking records, the triumph is ephemeral at best—earlier this week, the University of Massachusetts Amherst  bested  McGill with their own, 15,000 pound plus fruit salad.

Still, if the administration ignores my humble suggestions, let’s hope that our next food-based welcome event features foods that are a bit less acidic. My stomach upsets easily.


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