La Tomatina is a food fight festival held on the last Wednesday of August each year in the town of Buñol, near to Valencia in Spain. Thousands of people make their way from all corners of the world to fight in this ‘World’s Biggest Food Fight’ where more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets. The tomato fight has been a strong tradition in Buñol since 1945. No one is completely certain how this event originated. Possible theories on how the Tomatina began include a local food fight among friends, a juvenile class war, a volley of tomatoes from bystanders at a carnival parade, a practical joke on a bad musician, and the anarchic aftermath of an accidental lorry spillage. One popular theory is that disgruntled townspeople attacked city councilmen with tomatoes during a town celebration. Whatever happened to begin the tradition, it was enjoyed so much that it was repeated the next year, and the year after that, and so on. The holiday was banned during the Spanish State period under Francisco Franco for having no religious significance, but returned in the 1970s after his demise. The festival is in honor of the town’s patron saints, Luis Bertran and the Mare de Deu dels Desemparats (Mother of God of the Defenseless), a title of the Virgin Mary. At around 11am many trucks haul the bounty of tomatoes into the centre of the town. The tomatoes come from Extremadura, where they are less expensive. Technically the festival does not begin until one brave soul has climbed to the top of a two-story high, greased-up wooden pole and reached the coveted ham at the top. In practice this process takes a long time and the festival starts despite no one reaching the meaty prize. The signal for the beginning of the fight is firing of water cannons, and the chaos begins. After an one hour the fighting ends. At this point, no more tomatoes can be thrown. The cleaning process involves the use of fire trucks to spray down the streets, with water provided from a Roman aqueduct. The authorities seem more concerned with cleaning the town than cleaning the visitors, so some people find water at the Bunol River to wash themselves, although some kind residents will hose passers-by down.. Some important rules to follow are:
• Do not bring bottles or hard objects because they can cause accidents and hurt other participants;
• Do not rip other people’s T-shirts;
• Squash the tomatoes before throwing them as this reduces the impact;
• As soon as you hear the second shot, stop throwing tomatoes.
During the festival it’s advisable to wear old clothes, bring a waterproof camera to take photos but above all climb the Palojabon – a greased pole with a Spanish ham at the top. Whoever can climb the pole and get the ham can keep it!
I don’t know what to call this festival – it’s a bit weird, unusual and certainly fun. What is certain is that, in modern times, wasting a foodstuff to such an extent could be considered quite insane.