| Treeo Feature |

La Tomatina

The world’s largest food fight

It’s the last Wednesday of August in the quiet, tranquil town of Buñol in the Valencia region of Spain.

At least, it usually is quiet and tranquil. Now, some 20,000 people crowd the narrow, cobblestone streets that are home to 9,000 residents. In the city’s main square, Plaza del Mayor, shopkeepers conceal windows and doors behind huge plastic covers. Tremendous trucks with heavy loads are lumbering into the center of the town, and over the entire scene, there is the scent of very ripe… tomatoes?

What’s going on?

It’s the legendary annual festival called La Tomatina, the world’s biggest food fight!

Remember what we said on the first page! For us, throwing food is bizayon ochlin– disrespecting Hashem’s great of food!

The First Tomato 

The very first tomato was thrown in August of 1945 during a parade through the streets of Buñol. Some pushy youngsters collided with one of the men in the parade, knocking off his mask and ruining his costume. In a rage, the embarrassed man grabbed some handy vegetables from a nearby street stall and began tossing them into the crowd.  Angry crowd members joined the fray until the peaceful parade became a frenzy of flying veggies! Eventually, the police had to come to control the crowd, but everyone was having so much fun that they decided to repeat the food fight, making it a yearly tradition.

Although it’s been banned and unbanned over the years, today, La Tomatina has become a global sensation. Most of the tomateros (tomato-throwers!) come from as far away as Australia, Japan, Great Britain, and the US. There’s a limit of 20,000 participants, aged 18 and up, so there’s lots of juicy competition for a coveted ticket to the event.

Since La Tomatina is not exactly our scene, let’s hear all about it from Tommy, our Tomatina tourist!

Tomato Tossing Timeline
10:00 a.m.:

Hello, folks! I’m Tommy, and I’ve traveled all the way from London, England, to participate in La Tomatina. Before heading out to the main square, I need to change into my La Tomatina wardrobe: my oldest clothes (I wouldn’t want good clothes getting ruined!), ancient sneakers (any open shoes means your feet will be pretty sore after 20,000 people have stepped on your toes…), and a pair of goggles, because tomato juice and my eyes don’t agree with each other.

10:58 a.m.:

The main square of the town is jam-packed with people, and six trucks just roared up, parking at the edge of the surging crowd. They’re filled with red, overripe tomatoes especially grown for this event — tomatoes high on juice, but low on flavor. There’s 150,000 kg (over 330,000 pounds) just waiting to be tossed. Everyone waits breathlessly for the booming sound of the water cannon. As soon as it goes off, the tomatoes will begin to fly!

11:00 a.m.:

BOOOOM! Did you hear that water cannon? The ground shakes and the crowd erupts.

11:20 a.m.:

Townspeople on the trucks are throwing tomatoes into the mob, and the air is filled with flying red objects. Tomatoes are tumbling, rolling, bouncing, splatting open — on the cobblestones, in hair, on shirts, and squishing noisily underfoot. Whoa! One tomato just got me in the face! Good thing I’m wearing goggles…

11:50 a.m.:

La Tomatina’s hour is almost up, and I’m having a hard time standing up! The streets, the people — everything is swimming in a red river of tomato juice. There’s pulp in my hair, seeds sliding down my shirt, my skin looks like I’ve got a terrible sunburn, and everyone in the crowd looks exactly like me. We’ve only got a few minutes before the insanity ends.

12:00 p.m.:

BOOOOM! The cannons again. La Tomatina is officially over and now it’s time for the cleanup. Can you believe it? The entire event, with participants flying in from all over the world, lasts only one hour!

12:10 p.m.:

Fire trucks pull up with a screech, and firefighters with hoses start cleaning the streets and buildings. The town shines after its tomato-juice bath, and another participant tells me that the acid in the tomatoes actually makes everything cleaner. Who knew that tomatoes were just as good as soap? (Does my mother know this?)

12:20 p.m.:

I see a whole group of tomatoey people heading for the nearby river to clean off, but just as I’m about to follow them, someone taps me on the shoulder. It’s a man speaking in Spanish and pointing to a hose he’s holding in his hand. It looks like he’s offering to hose me down! Well, why not? I nod, and he turns a blast of cold water on my ruined clothes.


12:25 p.m.:

La Tomatina is over, and I’m no longer red. The biggest food fight in the world has definitely been an experience…

While La Tomatina is incredibly popular, it’s also woefully wasteful. It’s definitely not a Jewish tourist attraction, because we’re much more careful about baal tashchis. So whether you say to-may-toe or to-mah-toe, let’s save those red morsels for salad, to top our pizza, and as the best dip for fries!


Re(a)dy for the Rules?

Headed for La Tomatina? You’ll need to know the rules, but since you are a frum yid – there is only one rule to remember:  You may not participate because it’s bizayon ochlin! But for those who are not Jewish, these are the rules because even when you’re swimming in tomato pulp and seeds, you still need (some) guidelines:

One: Respect Others

La Tomatina is a lively event! Make sure not to throw tomatoes at any non-participants, and try not to trample fellow tomato-tossers as you rush to claim your tomatoes!

Two: No Foreign Objects

La Tomatina is all about tomatoes, and nothing else. Water balloons, rocks, or other items can cause injuries or damage (apparently this has been an issue…).

Three: Terrific Tossing

Before tossing those tomatoes, squish or crush them so it’s more about staining the town red, and less about bonking someone’s head. Tomato-laden trucks will pass by every so often — remember to keep your distance!

Four: Follow Officials

Throughout the crowds, you’ll spot event staff and security personnel who ensure that everything runs smoothly and that the food frenzy doesn’t get out of hand. Instructions? Emergency procedures? Safety? They take care of it all. Just listen.

Five: Have Fun!

Most importantly — have an amazing time! Toss tomatoes, take the hits, and enjoy the wet, messy, red, chaotic experience.


(Originally featured in Treeo, Issue 1013)

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