Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Jess McHugh
August 31, 2016

The streets ankle-deep with red goop, the town of Buñol in Valencia, Spain, has been transformed into what could very well be the set of a horror film for its annual La Tomatina, or tomato-throwing festival.

Celebrated on the last Wednesday in August each year, this tomato food fight has been held since the end of World War II, and its international popularity has only grown in the past 70 years.

Thousands of people attended the massive food fight this year, throwing nearly 333,700 pounds of tomatoes.

Bunol has a population of about 9,000 people, and given the popularity of the event, authorities have instituted a ticket policy to limit the participants to 20,000 people.

Little is known about the origins of the tradition. One fable says the fight began after residents were angered by a town council member, others say it was a practical joke or part of a carnival, according to one La Tomatina tourism website.

BIEL ALINO/AFP/Getty Images

BIEL ALINO/AFP/Getty Images

The long tradition of La Tomatina is not without controversy, however. An invasive moth has devastated tomato crops throughout the world, particularly in Nigeria where the food is an important part of people’s daily diet. The Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in one part of the nation where 80 percent of the tomato crop had been destroyed.

Nigerian newspapers have criticized the Spanish tradition, saying it is a dangerous waste of precious food. Organizers of the festival defended their practice by pointing out that the tomatoes for La Tomatina are grown specifically for the festival and would not be safe for human consumption.

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