There are many customs associated with America's Independence Day celebrations: fireworks, parades, family barbecues. But this year, the authorities in a Southern California beach town are trying to clamp down on one long-standing Fourth of July tradition: the annual Ocean Beach Marshmallow War.
It began in the mid-1980s, when two families hosting rival beach parties engaged in an impromptu food fight following the evening's fireworks display, flinging the spongy, sweet and apparently harmless projectiles back and forth on the sand.
Three decades later, however, the raucous and unregulated event draws thousands of eager marshmallow tossers to this small, hippie-friendly community near San Diego. By the morning of 5 July, the streets of Ocean Beach are coated in sticky white goo, and now the Ocean Beach Town Council is saying: “No S'more”.
A child and an elderly person were injured during last year's Marshmallow War, which caused thousands of dollars of damage and left more than 2,000 pounds of rubbish behind on the beach and nearby sidewalks. Denni Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach Main Street Association, told The Independent, “[The Marshmallow War] was really fun until it hit social media a few years ago. Now there's just too much mess to clean up. Last year we were astonished at the damage. It's like chewing gum, only worse. You can't get it off. It's still visible a year later.”
Ms Knox is one of many residents and business owners calling for an end to marshmallow-based hostilities. After the July 2013 food fight, local news website the OB Rag suggested the town's “funky-hippy vibe” had “taken a turn toward anarchy.” Last September, the council passed a resolution demanding an end to the event, though it has no legal authority to prevent it.
Instead, police are being asked to enforce littering and vandalism laws during the Independence Day celebrations, and local shops urged not to sell the sugary treats. Last year, some revellers reportedly came armed with marshmallows that were frozen, flaming or loaded with heavier objects such as batteries. On Friday evening, the council intends to dispatch a volunteer force of peacekeepers to the war zone to appeal to participants to lay down their marshmallows.
At a press conference at the town's veteran's memorial on Tuesday, council president Gretchen Newsom reiterated the council's anti-war slogan, “Mallow Out”, telling reporters the Marshmallow War has “gotten completely out of control. It has desecrated our memorial… It's time for our community to clean itself up.”