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Every August at the infamous La Tomatina festival some 40,000 people descend on the small town of Bunol, Valencia (with a population of around 9,000), to pelt each other with over-ripe tomatoes in the biggest official food fight around.
The one-hour battle turns the streets of Bunol into rivers of tomato puree as some 150,000 tomatoes (that’s 40 metric tonnes) are squelched.
Trucks loaded with the fruit are brought in by the town especially for this event. To festival-goers it’s just messy, harmless fun, but others criticise the celebration for its massive amount of food waste.
Nigerians, meanwhile, are especially unhappy about the idea of La Tomatina, as last year the country’s tomato crops were all but destroyed by a species of moth called ‘tuta absoluta’, causing the price of the normally staple food to skyrocket to completely unaffordable prices. Seeing photos of La Tomatina last year was reportedly agonising for people in the tomato-starved country.
But people in Valencia say the tomatoes used for La Tomatina are no good for anything else. Not only are they about to start rotting, but these particular tomatoes – bought extremely cheaply from the Extremadura region of Spain – are of such low quality that they were pretty much inedible to start with.
Bunol’s mayor, Rafa Pérez Gil, says food shortages like that in Nigeria would happen whether La Tomatina existed or not. ‘If you look at the garbage bins in Spain, there is more waste thrown away every day than tomatoes used at La Tomatina,’ he told the BBC.
Despite people seeing red over La Tomatina elsewhere, few Valencians seem to have a problem with it. It looks like festival-goers here will be splattering tomatoes for a long time yet.