star of earth, recurrent
its remarkable amplitude
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
of fiery color
and cool completeness.
-from Ode to Tomatoes, Pablo Neruda
Neruda understood the suggestive majesty of the tomato, that culinary conundrum – both a fruit and a vegetable!, omnipresent and visually intriguing, memorialized as much on Warhol’s soup can as much as in Andalusian gazpacho. For one weekend in August, the city of Nashville, Tennessee celebrates the tomato in food and art with the aptly named Tomato Art Fest. This year marks the Tomato Art Fest’s eighteenth year building the community of Nashville and beyond, and rallying the people around the tomato as a driving force for the good of humanity.
The artists who create for the Tomato Art Fest understand that as a fruit, the tomato is everything. Within the juicy cavities recessed inside the labyrinthine meatiness beneath its flesh hide the secrets of the universe. And it’s our duty to enjoy the lofty tomato, whether in the form of a painting or in a caprese salad. Each year, tens of thousands of people browse an eclectic mixture of art, crafts, and things they didn’t know they needed at the market booths, sating their appetites for all things tomato (and a few other items) with the food vendors.
This year, on August 13th and 14th, if you can make it to East Nashville, join in the fun. Entrance to the festival is free, with premium tier weekend ticket available for purchase. Walk the streets, checking out the art on display and the people in costume. It’s a seedy event, but it’s very family-friendly. Show up early for the Push, Pull, and Wear Parade. Then, stay late for the live music. Admire a range of media and skillsets in the art show, one of the biggest draws of the festival. Artists from all corners of the country fill a gallery with their work, each piece featuring the tomato, depicted in all its glory of fiery color and cool completeness, to borrow Pablo’s words.
If you’re really feeling the love of the blushing vegetable, don a tomato costume yourself and join in the effort to set the unofficial world record for the most people dressed as produce. On the second day, sample up to 15 different types of bloody mary at the Bloody Mary Garden Party. Fun for all ages can be had with the Beautiful Tomato Contest, a beauty pageant for tomatoes. Of course, the tomato you choose to sponsor will need a little help; it’s up to entrants to dress and prepare their tomatoes for the competition.
Prep for the Tomato Art Fest by coming up with a tomato-themed haiku for the Haiku Contest. Let Neruda’s Ode to Tomatoes inspire you to create the sort of pithy poetry only the majestic tomato deserves.
The event has an emphasis on the wacky, eccentric, and free-spirited, so put on a red shirt, let your hair down, and dye it green to emphasize your lycopersicum-like qualities. If your freak flag has a tomato on it, then fly it with pride.