Being Italian means eating tomatoes and loving it

I’ve known this for years about my son, who’s now 13, but the other day something hit me, and I didn’t like it. I had to bring it up.

Me: You’re my kid. You’re Italian. You have Italian genes and I raised you Italian. So how do you not like tomatoes?

Kid: It’s not that I don’t like tomatoes. I hate tomatoes.

Me: But you eat ketchup on your hot dogs, which, by the way, is a sin. Everyone knows you put mustard on a hot dog, not ketchup. But that’s not the point. The point is: Ketchup comes from tomatoes. The sauce you eat on your spaghetti comes from tomatoes. And you love ketchup and you love spaghetti. So you should love tomatoes.

Kid: You can’t taste the tomatoes in ketchup or spaghetti.

Me: You wanna know a secret? There’s tomato on the hamburgers you love so much, too.

Kid: No. I order hamburgers without tomato.

Me: Yeah, well, when I barbecue burgers, I make them with tomatoes.

Kid: And I take them off.

Me: That’s ridiculous. You’re Italian—how can you take the tomatoes off? You know what? We’re gonna try a tomato right now and you’ll see . . . Here, try this one.

Kid: I can’t. That thing horrifies me.

Me: Look at it, though. It’s beautiful. Do you realize that in the 1500s the Italians used to grow tomatoes just for their beauty? They were like ornaments.

Kid: I have no problem looking at them or even putting them on the Christmas tree with the other ornaments—

Me: We Italians call the tomato pomo d’oro. You know what that means? It means golden apple. You like apples, right? How’d you like a golden apple?

Kid: I wouldn’t like it if it’s really a tomato.

Me: Some tomatoes are sweeter than others. Try this grape tomato here. It’s like candy. You like candy, don’t you? Try it . . . It hasn’t even touched your tongue. Get your head out of the toilet.

Kid: It’s gross, Dad. I can’t eat it.

Me: If you can’t eat it, then how do you eat salad?

Kid: Without tomatoes.

Me: Of all the kids to have, I get the one that’s got the least Italian in him. Maybe you just don’t like the texture of the tomato. I’ll turn it into a paste so you can see it’s the same as spaghetti sauce or ketchup. (Whap!) Wait, don’t look at that or you’ll have your head in the toilet again.

Kid: See, I told you tomatoes are gross.

Me: What’s the point of you being Italian if you’re not gonna eat tomatoes? I guess you are half your mother. She has no Italian in her at all. I suppose I always hoped the Italian in you would outweigh the non-Italian in you.

Kid: What’s so great about being Italian?

Me: What’s so great about being Italian? Our passion. Our art. Our culture. Our food. Our passion! . . And, of course, tomatoes.

Kid: I have a question for you, Dad. Do you like seafood?

Me: No, I hate seafood. Why?

Kid: Because aren’t we Sicilian-Italians?

Me: Yeah. Why?

Kid: Because Sicilian-Italians eat lots and lots of seafood. We eat clams, sardines, anchovies, squid . . . It hasn’t even touched your tongue. Get your head out of the toilet, Dad.

(Pause for pondering.)

Me: You do like seafood, don’t you? And you have eaten it all your life, haven’t you?

Kid: Yeah, I love it.

(Pause for pondering.)

Me: Maybe you are my Italian kid after all.

This story appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, in May of 2017. You can find other stories like it from Michael Picarella in his book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” and at

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One thought on “Being Italian means eating tomatoes and loving it”

  1. I’m Italian on my father’s side, and I identify as Italian, even though I’m only half-Italian.

    I love seafood, so that’s one Italianate quality the non-Italian genes in me did not manage to eradicate.

    I don’t like tomatoes. I don’t hate them; I can eat them. I just don’t like them all that much. I have no talent for gardening. All of that talent went to my mother’s side of the family. If I did have a talent for gardening, I wouldn’t grow tomatoes, because I don’t like them.

    I love love love a good spaghetti sauce, though, especially if it is homemade, from scratch. Chalk up another Italian quality for me.

    It is a crime to put ketchup on a hot dog, especially a Nathan’s hot dog, which should be treated with the respect owed a great gastronomical experience. On the other hand, a hamburger without ketchup is like — a hamburger without ketchup.

    I don’t mind tomatoes in a salad. The salad dressing disguises the taste.

    Can I still consider myself Italian?

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