In many parts of the world, crops can become a dominant part of a people’s culture. For those areas economically dependent on agriculture, the labors of planting, cultivating, and harvesting are an integral component of daily life. Therefore, when months of work finally result in a successful crop, it is often met with a period of relaxation and celebration. Ironically, however, the celebration of a harvest in Binissalem, Spain often leads to the destruction of a considerable portion of the fruit that it yields.
Binissalem, located on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, is home to a large number of vineyards and wineries. Each year, the September grape harvest brings a week of traditional festivities in which residents and visitors throw the (literal) fruits of Binissalem’s labor at one another. While the daily grape fights may sound like madness for a town of winemakers, harvesters are careful to only offer up what is not suitable for production. Furthermore, removing unhealthy fruit from the vineyards prevents it from jeopardizing the rest of the crop. The least-desirable grapes from each vineyard are brought to fields beyond city limits, where crowds can gather and fight with the fruit until it is reduced to juice and skins.
La Festa des Vermar, commonly known as the Grape Throwing Festival, also includes grape stomping demonstrations and competitions in honor of traditional manufacturing methods. This lively time of year is also, of course, celebrated with large amounts of local wine yielded from the more favorable grapes of previous years’ crops.
Fruit is also the highlight of an annual festival in Ivrea, Italy, where townspeople are divided into nine teams to fight one another with oranges. Because of Italy’s Catholic heritage, The Battle of the Oranges coincides with the beginning of the Lenten season. Ending just before Lent begins (on what is traditionally known as Fat Tuesday), Carnevale di Ivrea contributes to the excess that typically precedes this austere period of the Church calendar. Its origins, however, are far from religious in nature.
The Battle is a unique commemoration of a revolt said to have taken place in the 1200s. When a young bride, the miller’s daughter (la mugnaia), was forced to spend a night with the Duke (according to ancient traditions), she refused to comply and instead decapitated the Duke. Inspired by la mugnaia, the townspeople rose up against the palace guards and liberated themselves.
During the Battle of the Oranges, fruit is thrown between armored participants in carts, meant to represent the Duke’s guards in his palace, and a larger mass of townspeople playing the role of revolutionaries. The festival can become considerably violent, but is nevertheless a cherished tradition throughout all of Ivrea.
Perhaps the most famous of large-scale food fights is La Tomatina, celebrated in Buñol, Spain. Legend holds that, while watching a parade, spectators tried to disperse a group of nearby animals by throwing tomatoes at them. When a stray shot hit one of the attendees, a tomato fight spontaneously erupted and a tradition was born. As in Mallorca, only the least valuable fruit is used for fighting. Buñol differs from Ivrea, however, as it now requires that all projectiles be crushed before throwing (an effort to prevent serious injury in a more lighthearted event).
Prior to the fight, a ham is placed atop a grease-covered pole. The signal to begin is not given until someone can climb the pole (palo jabón) and remove the ham. Trucks then bring roughly 150,000 tomatoes to the town square, where participants eagerly throw them at one another for an hour. Around midday, the fighting is finally stopped and gives way to other festivities while firetrucks are used to clean the town square. The popularity of La Tomatina has led to its imitation in other countries, including the United States.