Pondering the Future of OB’s Marshmallow Wars by Looking at Italy’s Battle of the Oranges and Spain’s Battle of the Tomatoes

by on July 23, 2013 · 8 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, Organizing, World News

tomato fight Spain 01

The tomato fight in Bunol, Spain, 2006. wikipedia

As the residents of Ocean Beach ponder the future and fate of its infamous Marshmallow Wars, looking for some parallel cultural events in other countries and cities is a useful task. If the village of OB ends up keeping a tradition that most agree has become out of control, then why not take a brief review at two other similar – yet different – events around the world.

In Northern Italy there is the Battle of the Oranges and in Spain, there is La Tomatina, the Battle of the Tomatoes.

Below is a summation of what’s available on these two spirited traditions from wikipedia. Both events sound like a lot of fun for locals and visitors alike, and over the years, both have been forced to have controls, rules, and restrictions.

The Battle of the Oranges

Italy - Ivrea mapIn the northern Italian city of Ivrea, the Battle of the Oranges is a festival which includes a tradition of thousands of townspeople throwing oranges at each other. But the throwing of oranges is between organized groups, where people are divided into nine “combat teams”.

The largest food fight in Italy, the celebration is based on a locally famous Battle of the Oranges and involves considerable violence. It’s held during the traditional Catholic carnival days in February: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and ends on the night of “Fat Tuesday” with a solemn funeral.

Orange battle Italy IvreaThe origins of the celebration are somewhat murky but they harken back to Medieval days. The most popular theory is that it commemorates the rising up of the townspeople against the city’s tyrant.  This account holds that the tyrant attempted to exercise the droit de seigneur and rape a young miller’s daughter on the eve of her wedding. But the young woman resisted and cut off the duke’s head. In solidarity with her, the town rose up and stormed the tyrant’s palace and burned it down.

So, each February the locals honor their liberation from the tyrant with the Battle of the Oranges. Spectators are allowed and some even join in the combat. Teams of orange handlers on foot – representing “the revolutionaries” with ancient weapons and stones – throw oranges against their opponents riding in carts and representing the tyrant’s ranks, the duke’s guard. And each year, a young girl is chosen to play the part of the defiant young woman, who set off the rebellion.

Oranges Battle Italy 01

The Asso di Picche, founded in 1947 and wearing a black Ace of Spades on red, is the oldest of the nine pedestrian teams of orange throwers that partake in the Battle of the Oranges. Here they battle against one of the approximately forty orange-throwers in carts. wikipedia

History has it that at first beans were thrown, then apples.  During the 19th century, however, oranges were introduced to represent the chopped off duke’s head.  Yet, why oranges is still not clear, as oranges do not grow in the region – the foothills of the Italy’s Alps – and have to be brought in from Sicily.  Nine years ago, it was estimated that 580,000 pounds of oranges were imported for the festival.

Wikipedia states:

During the 19th-century French occupation of Italy the Carnival of Ivrea was modified to add representatives of the French army. Another adaptation of the story has the oranges used to symbolize the removed testicles of the tyrant.

The oldest rituals of Ivrea Carnival include a large bonfire and are similar to ancient celebrations linked to the end of winters and the rise of the new.

“Outsiders” and spectators are allowed in and can be involved in several ways. Those with kids can chose the safest route by hiding behind large nets that are hung and draped around the buildings.

The more “adventurous” spectators can hang out in the middle of  the “battlefield” during the entire hour of combat. These brave (or foolhardy) souls are requested to buy and wear a particular red hat, which signifies that they are part of the revolutionaries and are not supposed to be targeted with direct hits. Yet, as OBceans know, there’s been many a wayward marshmallow, and in this town of Italy, there are plenty of wayward oranges heading into the middle of the battlefield.

As long as they are wearing their red cap, spectators are not supposed to throw any oranges – but in the craziness of the battle, spectators do end of getting involved in the throwing.

Spain - Bunol -mapThe Battle of the Tomatoes

Not far from the Mediterranean Sea and the Spanish coast is the town of Buñol in Valencia, where participants throw tomatoes in a large food fight – just for fun – on the last Wednesday of August, during a week-long festival, called La Tomatina.

tomato fight Spain 02

Bunol, Spain – wikipedia

At about 11 am on the first day of the Tomatina, the start signal for the tomato fight is given by either a loud shot or a water shot into the air by hoses. And the chaos begins.  Trucks loaded with tomatoes arrive and throw them in the town’s plaza, the Plaza del Pueblo.  Before they can be thrown, all tomatoes must  be crushed. This is one of the rules to protect people from injuries. Even so, participants are advised to use goggles and gloves.

Thousands of participants join in on the festivities – thousands, in fact up to as many as 50,000 some years. So many, that the town of Bunol just this June 2013 made a decision to LIMIT the fight to 20,000 people – reserving 5,000  slots for locals and 15,000 for “outsiders” and foreigners. Participants are required to pay 10€ per person [editor: do not know what the dollar equivalency is] and bookings must be made online.

After exactly one hour, a second shot is heard. This signals the end of the fight.  When the tomato mist clears, the entire town square is red and there’s a river of red tomato juice flowing freely through the town. Fire trucks are brought in and they hose the streets down. Also participants get involved in the clean-up, and use hoses provided by locals to get all the tomato paste off their bodies and clothes.

Of interest, it is said that after the cleaning the “village cobblestone streets are pristine due to the acidity of the tomato disinfecting and thoroughly cleaning the surfaces.” The estimated number of tomatoes used is about 150,000 pounds, plus the ones used are less expensive, of inferior taste and grown specially for the festival.

The most popular account of the origins of the tomato fight goes back to 1945, at the end of World War II when young townspeople – excluded from a local traditional parade – began a fight in the main square of the town. With a vegetable stand nearby, the brawlers grabbed tomatoes and threw them as weapons.  Thus – the origin of the use of tomatoes.  The police arrived, broke it up and made the fighters pay for the damages.

The very next year, however, on the exact same day of August, young people showed up and started the fight again – this time using tomatoes brought from home. Again, the police arrived and dispersed everyone. For the next several years, this scenario kept getting repeated until finally in 1950 the town allowed the tomato fight to proceed as a sanctioned event.

Yet the very next year, 1951, the town again stopped the festival. Many young people were jailed, but local residents became outraged and forced the authorities to release them. Re-established, the tomato fight grew in popularity and in the number of participants each year.  A few more years passed and again it was banned. Participants were threatened with serious charges.

In 1957, young people staged a mock funeral of the tomato, complete with musicians, singers, comedies, and a large coffin with a giant tomato inside. Faced with its popularity, the town made the festival “official” that year.  Rules and restrictions were applied, which have been modified over the years. In 1980, the town government took over the responsibility of holding the event.

Rules of the Tomato Festival

The city council follows a short list of instructions for the safety of the participants and the festival:

  •  The tomatoes have to be squashed before throwing to avoid injuries.
  • No other projectiles except tomatoes are allowed.
  • Participants have to give way to the truck and lorries.
  • The festival doesn’t allow ripping off of T-shirts.
  • After the second shot indicative of ending the tomato hurl, no tomatoes should be thrown.
tomato fight Reno

Reno, Nevada

Spin-Offs of Spain’s La Tomatina: Reno, Nevada

The tomato fight of Bunol, Spain has a number of spin-offs, where locals in different countries have picked up the tradition. One of those is in Reno, Nevada.

Billed as the largest food fight in North America, the event has been held in the City Plaza in downtown Reno and is now an annual attraction for the city.  More than 5,000 people participated in 2009 and it was so popular, that it has been made a yearly civic event.

And of course there is one planned for this August 29th.  The Reno Tomatina sponsors expect more participants this year and have plans to bring in 100,000 pounds of tomatoes for the event.

Participants pay a minimum of $10 with proceeds from the Reno festival going to the American Cancer Society.  And then shortly after 6pm, the main event – the tomato tossing – begins – and lasts for one hour.  The local organizers also set up sites where for donations to the cancer group people can throw tomatoes at local celebrities or politicians.

In order to participant, people must be at least 16 with consent of their parents or legal guardians. The first year, there was a special cherry tomato fight for children between the ages of five and ten.

Other activities include live music and street acts, face painting, games and other child-oriented fun. Vendors selling food and drink were also allowed to set up as part of the celebration.

 Whadda ya think?

These examples of other similar events in other lands can help OBceans gain perspective on our own Marshmallow Wars.

Obviously, there are key differences – with the first one being that oranges and tomatoes are good for you and okay for the environment. The tomatoes in Spain actually help clean the town square.

Marshmallows are not so well-endowed; they’re made up of sugar and gelatin. The sugar used in marshmallows goes through a refining process that uses animal by- product (bone char filter). Gelatin is made from by-products of the meat and leather industry, mainly pork skins, pork and cattle bones, or split cattle hides.

There is a certified organic marshmallow or marshmallow creme out there, but may not be ready for retail sales yet as its a fairly new vegetarian product. (I don’t know if People’s sells an alternative or not.)

At any rate, let the discussion of the fate and future of OB’s Marshmallow Wars continue.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Gilmore July 23, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Good article Frank, I believe that a good time can be had by all with a little common sense & some direction. There will be a meeting tomorrow (wed the 24th) at the Masonic center hosted by the Ocean Beach Town Council. The main topic will be the MM fight & the aftermath. I’m going to attend & listen. I encourage both young & old to attend.


Debra July 23, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Very interesting! Especially the part about tomato juice being a safe, natural way to clean up the sidewalk and plan on using it in the future.
On a side note, I was just researching local hotels (tripadvisor) for relatives to stay at next time they visit. I’ve already come across one review, written by someone from AZ, gushing about the ridiculous FUN observing/participating in the annual Ocean Beach “Marshmallow Fight” during their 4th of July stay at the OB Hotel, and how afterward “crews come out and clean it all up.”


jim grant July 24, 2013 at 6:47 am

those crews are us. and we dont drive a city truck or have on a workers orange vest. ignorant bunch on ingrates .


OB Mercy July 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Very surprised in your research that you didn’t know they did a tomato battle right here in San Diego every year. I believe it just happened on the 1st of July. I always get a Groupon about it.



Jamie July 25, 2013 at 12:22 am

Groupon mocked the plight of the Tibetan people in a Super Bowl ad….I have never been the same. #$#$ Groupon.


angeroo July 24, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Exactly what I was thinking Mercy! :) http://tomatobattle.com/sandiego/


angeroo July 24, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Actually this is even better! http://tomatobattle.com/faq/

NOTE these rules:

Things To Leave At Home
-All tomato acceleration devices are banned including but not limited to potato guns, water balloon launchers, dog tennis ball throwers, rackets, paddles, bats.
-Alcohol or other drugs
-Nice clothes
-Kids under 14
-Items you might throw
-Bad attitude

Seems pretty basic and common sense.


Frank Gormlie July 25, 2013 at 7:51 am

angeroo and mercy – thanks for the links – looks cool. The big dif here is that what we’re trying to do is a public affair, these are private.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: