Date 2015: Wednesday 26th August 2015
Words by Michael J. Rosen
"Tomatoes Must Be Crushed Before Throwing."
The sport of La Tomatina obeys many laws of science:
There's physics: Spherical projectiles move through space with a predictable diminishing velocity as they encounter resistance, inertia, and correlation bounce. Chaos theory also comes into play.
Elements of biology are there, too: Organisms of the species Homo sapiens exhibit survival-of-the-fittest skills in a complex micro-ecosystem.
The central theme of La Tomatina is botanical, centered around Lycopersicon lycopersicum, a herbaceous, usually sprawling plant in the Solanaceae family (common name, tomato).
There's meteorology: How to forecast a gross front moving in, with good chance of ketchup showers.
But contrary to all this evidence, La Tomatina, an annual, city-wide, tomato riot, remains an inexact science. One would think that after 63 - or is it 64? - years, the residents of Buņol, Valencia, Spain, would have their facts straight. Some say La Tomatina uses 150,000 tomatoes. Other claim the number is over 1 million. Various sources declare that the weight of the flying fruit totals 90,000 pounds, 224,000 pounds, or maybe 280,000 pounds (that's 140 tons).
Historians, let alone tomato hurlers, don't even know how this insanity began, although the holiday was banned at one point "for having no religious significance." Some say the tradition began when diners got out of hand at a local restaurant. Others think tomatoes were used to appease a youngster who had turned violent after trying to join a parade of Gigantes y Cabezudos (giant figures with big heads) and unintentionally knocked one over. Another version tells the story of locals using the fruit to attack an unpopular city councilman at a town festival.
There is consensus on one thing: The world's largest food fight results in a bowl of salsa the size of a town square with 20,000 - or is it 50,000? - humans dipping in like tortilla chips.
Held on the last Wednesday in August as part of a festival to honor Buņol's patron saint, the battle begins when a courageous participant ascends a 20-foot greased wooden pole to retrieve a coveted ham. (Once again, asking "Why?" only yields further mystery and groans from those who keep kosher.) The blasts of water cannons then signal the official start of the fight, during which participants must squish the tomatoes for safety precautions. Goggles are also highly recommended, in addition to a standard uniform of a t-shirt and shorts destined for the garbage.
After an hour, during which time everything turns shades of pink and red, cannons are fired again to signal the end of the war. Fire trucks then hose down the town and flush the pulp away.Marvelously, the tomatoes (their pH ranges from 3.9 to 4.9, with citric acid being the most abundant component) actually acid-washes the streets clean.
Even science couldn't engineer an ending that perfect.
La Tomatina on the Map
Buņol is about 30km from Valencia.