Nothing says camaraderie and togetherness and family more than a perfectly prepared, delicious meal. Nothing, perhaps, except skipping the cooking part and taking all that food to the streets to smear it into the hair and eyes and faces of those you love most. Or, better yet, hurling it into the air for the shear thrill of it. This universally human concept can be seen in various forms all over the world, from Spain’s famously epic tomato fight La Tomatina to “Clean Monday” in Greece, which really isn’t clean at all.
The messier the better. These festivals celebrate food at its most primal and in its simplest state: as squashed ammunition and as a weapon. But these are weapons of love. Messy food is the food of the common man. Messy food can assuage acrimony between neighbors, as is the case with Spain’s wine battle, Batalla del Vino. It can celebrate the pride a people have in their culture, despite how lowbrow and repugnant others may find it, like West Virginia’s Roadkill Cook-off. And it can even celebrate a people’s faith, like Thailand’s Water Fight.
These festivals teach us that food isn’t just about propriety and fastidious attention to detail, but more about exuberance and joyous, unrestrained celebration. The next time you go to Thanksgiving dinner at your uptight in-laws, don’t be afraid to have a little fun at an otherwise lifeless event. Fling a cranberry at the kids' table, make your grandpappy’s favorite bear stew recipe, or bring along the nastiest fruitcake you can find. It is all supposed to be fun, after all. So, why waste time going through the motions?
Because when it comes down to it, you say tomato and I say… put on your goggles, let’s do this!