The streets of Reno, Nevada, resembled the final scenes of a Quentin Tarantino bloodfest this weekend by the time the local fire department arrived to hose down the squishy red residue of 50,000 pounds of squashed tomatoes left clinging to the sidewalks and shopfronts of the Biggest Little City in the World. More than 5,000 people wound up their pitching arms on Saturday to hurl tomatoes at one another and at city officials in what is being called the largest food fight in North America, La Tomatina.
The original Tomatina began in Buñol, Spain, near Valencia, at the end of World War II, and is now an annual event in that Iberian town, attracting more than 40,000 participants. While the Reno fruit fray has a long way to go before it achieves the stature of the original, it has the saving grace of being a charitable stunt: its profits go to the American Cancer Society.
The tomato-throwers paid $10 apiece to take part, many of them shelling out an extra $50 to hurl the pulpy produce at the mayors of Reno and nearby Sparks. In the Spanish event, women are urged to wear white dresses and men are obliged to go shirtless. No such dress code was in evidence last weekend in Reno’s City Plaza, where the nontraditionalist battlers showed up in Fruit of the Loom briefs, university-branded T-shirts, bathing suits, painted faces, wetsuits, and caped hero costumes.
The Club Cal Neva, organizer of the juicy donnybrook, has already announced plans to repeat the slimy skirmish again in August 2010, but next time they will truck in 100,000 pounds of rotten reds, twice as many as this year.
Obligatory no-animals-were-harmed codicil: Only overripe, non-edible Roma tomatoes were used in La Tomatina.
Mark Orwoll is the international editor at Travel + Leisure.