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The Bizarre Salem Tomato Trials (proving Tomatoes Aren't Poisonous): The Success Story

Nigeria Student Forum / Books/Literature/Writing / The Bizarre Salem Tomato Trials (proving Tomatoes Aren't Poisonous): The Success Story

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
We’ve all heard of the horrific Salem Witch
Trials – where more than 200 people were
accused of witchcraft between 1692 and 1693
– with over 20 being executed.

Eventually, the town’s leadership admitted the
trials were a mistake and compensated the
families of the convicted – although no
compensation could ever make up for having a
loved one ripped from this world.
It’s no wonder the Salem Witch Trials gathered
so much notoriety. It’s one of mankind’s
biggest blunders, letting fear and hysteria
cloud reason and logic.

However, one Salem Trial that is rarely
mentioned is the Salem Tomato Trial. Yes,
tomato, those juicy red things people put on
your burgers or in your salads.
They held a trial against tomatoes.

The Backdrop

Tomatoes, shortly after their introduction to
the western world, were long considered to be
a poisonous fruit. After all, red in nature
usually means danger.

Also considered to be a “sinful” food due to its
mild aphrodisiac properties, the tomato didn’t
get much love between the 1500’s – 1800’s.

John Gerard, a barber/surgeon and one of the
fruit’s earliest cultivators stateside, believed
them to be poisonous because they contained
low levels of a toxin called tomatine. Whilst
tomatoes do contain very low levels of toxins,
we today know they are far from harmful.

Safe to say, Gerard’s views went old-timey
viral and for centuries the red fruits were
widely considered to be unfit for human

The Tomato Trial

So, with all that backdrop, and full-well
knowing how much the people of Salem love a
crazy trial, it should come as no surprise that
tomatoes were put on trial in the town’s
courthouse in 1820, to answer for their

One man, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson,
refused to believe the tomato was poisonous.

In fact, he’d been holding competitions to see
who could grow the biggest tomatoes every
year. The good Colonel even offered a prize to
the winner.

Not only that but he’d even been eating them
regularly – what a madman!

Be that as it may, the general public still
believed Colonel Johnson to be a lunatic, and
they still believed the tomato to be an
ornamental plant rather than one for eating.

A Point to Prove

Knowing something drastic had to be done to
calm the fear in the courthouse, Colonel
Johnson walked in front of the gathered crowd
with a basket of tomatoes in his hand.

With steely determination and steadfast nerve,
Johnson – much to the horror of the
spectators – proceeded to munch his way
through the deadly fruit. One after one, he
made his way through the basket of tomatoes,
very much enjoying himself by all accounts.

For those who came to see blood, there was a
lot of disappoint to be had. Johnson, against all
scientific and religious belief, stood firm after
his healthy afternoon snack.

After this theatrical turning point, the tomato’s
supposed toxicity was wholly disregarded. The
food then went on to become something
grown in nearly every garden, and served with
nearly every meal across the continent.

A tip of the hat to you, Colonel Johnson.


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