World Travel

La Tomatina: the world's biggest food fight

Amy Lucas
La Tomatina

We always knew our parents were fibbing when they told us it was bad to play with our food. Last week's Tomatina festival proved them wrong, once and for all.

It looked like a war zone; streaks of bloody red everywhere, chunks of fruit flesh splattered against the quaint sandstone of the surrounding buildings. People ran screaming as tennis ball-sized red bombs exploded against and around them, coating everybody with pulpy wounds — it was actually a bit terrifying.

If you made it past the retreating tomato dumpster trucks into the main streets — without suffocating in the 1m gap on either side of the giant off-loaders — not only was there the biggest food fight in the world to contend with, but the largest collection of ripped flying shirts and pair-less shoes to dodge.

Astoundingly, I managed to keep my rubber sandals the entire time, most likely due to the fact that for much of the time my feet never touched the ground as I hovered along, wedged between the masses. Most of my companions weren't as fortunate, however there was no shortage of footwear to choose from at the end of the four-hour fiasco.

My companions could even afford to be picky, trying and discarding their new rose-tinted accessories for size and style on the walk back to the train station. One girl I was with even came across her previously lost left shoe, being sported by another female reveller. A trade was made and she left reunited with both her original sandals.

Painting the town red

La Tomatina is an annual festival which occurs on the last Wednesday of August in the small town of Buñol, Spain. Every year since about 1944, tens of thousands of people have boarded trains at nearby Valencia on Spain's eastern coast, and made the hour-long journey to the picturesque settlement to — literally — paint the town red.

The festival lasts a week but it's the wild fruit-throwing that really draws the crowd. The actions that precede the event don't make a great deal of sense. In fact, the whole point of the occasion is a bit of mystery, some attributing it to a bunch of upset locals throwing fruit at council members during a town celebration.

The official madness can't begin until someone is drunk — or loco — enough to attempt to climb a greased pole and retrieve a leg of ham that's speared on top of it. Water cannons are then fired over the frenzied crowd before more than 100 tonnes of tomatoes are dumped for the battle.

This sounds like a massive waste of food, but the tomatoes are the ill pick of the crop and are inedible. This makes the experience even worse for someone like me, who can't stand the taste of tomatoes even when they're at their best.

La Tomatina is held in honour of the town's patron saint, St Louis Bertrand, and the Mother of God of the Defenceless, the Virgin Mary. Which seems unsuitable really, since everyone is armed in this battle.

Submerged in tomato sauce

And it doesn't stop once the tomatoes have lost their shape, with everyone flinging handfuls of acidic slush through the air, down your top, or into your face — my sadistic companions' preferred mode of combat. In some areas, the fruit is so deep that if you were to lie down you'd be completely submerged in an authentic, trampled tomato sauce.

Tradition is for women to wear all white and for men to wear no shirts — with so much skin around, it's no wonder the males seem to feel the need to rip the tops off all the females surrounding them.

Street vendors outside Buñol station sell goggles and protective glasses, as well as large plastic cups of sangria to encourage the festivities. After one hour, the official fight ends, signalled once again by water cannons, however the unofficial fight rages on until the police step in and break it up.

Is this the perfect opportunity for the anti-authoritarian in all of us to have a little fun? A young man near me decided to act against the local constabulary with a fistful of tomato, which resulted in a face full of brick wall and a taser gun to the back.

Locals help out with the giant task of cleaning up, standing out on their patios and hosing down participants, who aren't allowed back onto the trains until they are somewhat clean.

But before we headed home, we bought one last round of sangria, stood in the sun, and toasted to the fact that we made it through the battle unscathed exultant — even if we were beginning to smell like rotting fruit.

Check out our photo gallery from the festival by clicking here:

User comments
I doubt all of you killjoys live in a commune somewhere, don't use electricity and wear pants made out of hemp. Why can't you just let people have some harmless fun. I'm sure their are bigger fish to fry for you global crusaders... how about motorsport?
I went to La Tomatina last year, it was so much fun, but very rough, you get pushed around alot. If your a girl planning on going, go with a guy that can protect you or a big group! But definately worth doing once in your life (for me, only once!)
I am always ready for a bit of fun and laughter... BUT how many starving millions could have been fed with this wanton waste of food?? Why can't we think of the right thing to do accasionally? know this is tradition and I am of Italian Irish decent, 50 50, so I know about tradition, but this just seems so wrong to me when so many people are starving in this world. I wonder what Mary, Mother of God of the Defenceless, really thinks when she see her children wasting so much food. Wouldn't the starving be the most defenceless of all?
it so nice Spain, a MODERN city waste food(because they are not allowed to sell it because then it would affect prices"free trade" (while people in africa starve and die of hunger) and toture bulls by spearing them and then kill them AFTER they are weak from pain. i'm so proud
Why portray this festival as fun when it is nothing but mindless juvenile behaviour. There is no such thing as waste fruit. It can be processed or fed to animals or composted. And what about the pollution of the stormwater drains? The only waste is the minds of the participants. It is a pity they cannot be turned into compost. That is all they are fit for. This is another example of where Christian religious practice is a mockery of Christ's teachings.