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September 27, 2011 > Close encounters of the tomato kind

Close encounters of the tomato kind

By Julie Grabowski
Photos By Jonathan Ingraham

Marinara sauce, bruschetta, Caprese salad, ketchup, BLTs, salsa, soup - the tomato (actually a fruit in the scientific world) is a delicious and vital vegetable in the culinary world. But what can a tomato be used for outside the kitchen? Why, throwing, of course! Prepare to get your vitamin C in a thrilling new way when "Tomato Battle" comes to the Alameda County Fairgrounds.

The brainchild of friends Clint Nelsen and Max Kraner, Tomato Battle is based on Spain's La Tomatina, the original food fight held the last Wednesday of August in Bunol. La Tomatina draws over 20,000 eager-to-fling-a-tomato people from around the world; Tomato Battle is bringing that unforgettable experience closer to home, roving from city to city and adding an American twist of beer and bands to the pulpy fun.

Co-founder Kraner says, "We just wanted to have an event that would bring together thousands of people to have fun. No competition, no winners, no losers, just everyone having a blast."

Tomato Battle is organized in Seattle by a crew of five who prepare the events remotely then arrive at the chosen sites to organize before battle day. Finding the necessary combination of expired tomatoes and the right location is one of their biggest challenges according to Marketing Director Jules Jones. They scout tomato harvests, connecting with local food banks to make sure that the event benefits the area.

Tomatoes are gathered from sources such as food banks, farmers, and grocery stores and hauled by semi-truck to the battle zone. Those worried about waste can rest easy; after ending their declining lives in a blaze of slushy glory, tomato remains are composted.

The first Tomato Battle was staged in June at Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Denver, where over 2,000 people came by to pelt friends and strangers with bad tomatoes. Pleasanton will be battle number three, Seattle having played home host September 24. Tomatoes will fly again in Southern California October 22, followed by Georgia and Dallas, Texas, in November. Jones says they're trying to organize ten battles in the first year, hoping to grow the event to 50 as well as move into other countries. "We want to make it an annual event at each location we go to."

Organizers are expecting 3,000 to 5,000 people to turn out for the Pleasanton battle. They are partnering with the Alameda County Food Bank who will receive a portion of the proceeds to provide food for the hungry. There will also be donation cans onsite for the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter.

While the battle is the main attraction, the event also offers musical entertainment throughout the day. An online contest determined who would rock Tomato Battle, drawing 30 to 40 candidates. The public was allowed to weigh in on YouTube posted videos, which organizers took into account during the winnowing process. From 11 semi-finalists, six bands were chosen for the lineup, including Giggle Party, Finding Jupiter, Eyes Like Mine, Our Vinyl Vows, Sugar Water Purple, and Brooks Was Here.

A costume contest has also made its way into the mix. Past events have seen Roman soldiers, clowns, and a bride and her bridesmaids in the madness, so pull out your best look - there will be prizes!

"It typically takes one hour to turn two semis full of tomatoes into ketchup," says Jones, and participants should be prepared. Recommended battle gear includes eye protection - goggles or sunglasses - shoes with a good tread, and clothes you are ready to kiss goodbye. Participants will be hosed down by Tomato Battle crew members, but bring along a change of clothes for a more comfortable ride home.

Registration will be open until the day before the event, but Jones urges signing up early, as organizers base the number of tomatoes on the number of people expected to attend. About 30 pounds of tomatoes are allotted per person.

"It's totally gross, it's totally fun; you'll never forget it. We had people coming up to us and telling us it was the best day of their lives," says Jones, which is exactly what they're after. "We want those people coming back next year with bells on."

To purchase tickets visit Ticket price includes one beer; other drinks and food is not included.

Tomato Battle
Saturday, October 1
Alameda County Fairgrounds
4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton
Tickets: $59.99

Event schedule

Noon: Registration and Beer Garden Opens
1:30 p.m.: Live Entertainment
3 p.m.: Costume contest
3:15 p.m.: Live Entertainment
4:30 p.m.: Tomato Battle Begins
7 p.m.: Live Entertainment

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