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Common Reading 2020: Kelly Annabelle Smith

"Why the Tomato Was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years"

"No one made this connection between plate and poison at the time; the tomato was picked as the culprit."

—Kelly Annabelle Smith


Answer to the Picture Riddle Challenge: Tomatoes!

Author: Kelly Annabelle Smith

Kelly Annabelle Smith is a reporter based in New York City and a recent Santa Fe, New Mexico transplant. She is currently a freelance writer for, Outside Magazine, and She spends her free time rock climbing, hiking, and searching for buried treasure. 

Introduction: David Imhoof


Dr. David Imhoof is Professor of History and GO Director of Curriculum at Susquehanna University. He teaches courses on modern European, German, and cultural history. He publishes on twentieth-century German history and is currently completing a European history textbook. He enjoys music and travel and gets to showcase both during his GO trips to Austria every summer and performances with fellow Susquehanna professors in the rock band Faculty Lounge. 


It’s okay to admit it: you might not be super curious about the history of the tomato. This essay uses that history to consider something that is curious, namely, that a well-liked food today was once maligned as poisonous. Smith creates curiosity by juxtaposition. She sets the popular fruit of today next to the “poison apple” of the past and invites us to wonder why its reputation has changed so much. Smith thus investigates not the history of the tomato but the history of attitudes about the tomato. 

Is her curiosity generous or condescending? On one hand, she traces a positive history that explains why something popular today was previously frowned upon. People once attacked other things that we value today: women’s rights, environmental concerns, hip-hop. When we write those histories, we are curious about how people in the past understood something important to us so differently. We are investigating the perspectives of people in the past. We are also thinking about how foolish people were in the past. “OMG, can you believe those people back then considered tomatoes to be dangerous?” Writing history is always a little condescending to people who came before us because we know things they couldn’t.  

History should make us curious about the past in generous, open-ended ways. We should not assume that knowing newer things makes us superior to people in the past.  Historical wonder should drive us to understand people of the past and ourselves. 

—David Imhoof

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. How can misconceptions hurt not only education but also friendships?


2. What makes misconceptions such an issue?

Classroom Activities

1. As a class, come up with a list of common misconceptions to talk about.

2. Ask students about misconceptions of high school vs 
misconceptions of college, then address them as a class.

Additional Resources

Seafood Industry Australia's response to Edgar, Ward and Stuart ...

You are probably wrong (and that’s ok) - Challenge Your Misconceptions

Within misconceptions, we see a danger of strong beliefs working with the mentality of thinking you're right. It's important to challenge misconceptions not because you're wrong because we should work together to find the truth. This link is both an introduction on how to challenge misconceptions but also how to avoid confirmation bias.

Confronting Psychological Misconceptions in the Classroom

Now that we have worked out ways to identify and challenge misconceptions let's look at how we can confront misconceptions in a respectful way. By looking at how teachers defuse misconceptions in the classroom we can learn how to discuss stressful topics calmly and collected.