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Dishing Out Just Desserts: The Biotic Baking Brigade

Kate Crane
Date Published: 
September 14, 2004
    The Biotic Baking Brigade, or BBB, has elicited cheers and laughter from thousands worldwide. This West Coast-based network of pastry lovers dishes out generous portions of mischievous justice in the form of pies — through the air, in the face.

In the spring of 1994, revered environmental activist Judi Bari hurled the pie that led to the BBB. At an environmental-law conference, Bari, in a wheelchair and too weak to throw a pie alone after her bombing incident, enlisted a volunteer, and together they pied high. The recipient was a gold-digging attorney who was profiteering from environmentalists whom he was supposed to be representing.

Three years after Bari’s inspirational flantics, things heated up. “The first in-earnest BBB pie action was Charles Hurwitz, CEO of Maxxam, the parent company of Pacific Lumber,” recalls Agent Apple. “Six months later, Noël Godin pied Bill Gates. Six months after that, we pied Milton Friedman, and then it spread from there. A week later, friends in London pied Renato Ruggiero, director of the WTO, and then the head of Monsanto, and then boom — it just took off. It became the Global Pastry Uprising.”

Ranging from politicians, geneticists and corporate executives to filmmakers, Christian fundamentalists, environmental offenders and homophobes, the targets have included big names and ones less familiar. There’s Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace turned timber lobbyist, pied twice. Infamous anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly. The co-president of the FTAA. Jean-Luc Godard. The CEO of Enron. Pie Any Means Necessary, the Biotic Baking Brigade Cookbook notes that “leftist authoritarians, sell-out leaders, fake environmentalists, the media, and snitches” have also gotten their “just desserts.”

PETA and ACT-UP began to incorporate pie into their tool boxes, and BBB affiliates sprung up in every European country, Australia, New Zealand, and in a few South American countries. Agent Apple credits organizations like Indymedia and Whispered Media with spreading the news (and glee) of entartations with speed and efficiency that wasn’t possible before the Internet.

Many comedians and politicos have historically made their point with pranks: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Lewis, the Marx brothers and Yippies. The founder of the Keystone Cops, Mack Sennett, remarked that a pie in the face “can reduce dignity to nothing in seconds.” It’s a picture that needs no caption.

Pie-rect Action

“The ‘global movement’ is often misrepresented in the corporate media. You can’t misrepresent a face full of cream,” says Agent Geek Sorbet, in an essay titled “Operation Dessert Storm.” Flannings opened up a new world of protest possibilities and presented a captivating alternative to standing in a pen surrounded by riot cops blocks away from the event or person being contested.

“The Reclaim the Streets model was really inspiring,” notes Agent Apple. “A spirit of carnivalesque rebellion led a gang of us in the Bay Area to decide not to have another boring demo…to attempt to circumvent all the boring, tried, and shallow forms that activism had taken and to try something new and fresh and fun and exciting.”

Though flan as direct action has not exactly fallen flat, it’s encountered some roadblocks. In November 1998, three pie-slingers hurled tofu cream, mixed-berry and pumpkin pies at San Francisco mayor Willie Brown to protest the unveiling of his program “San Francisco Cares,” which the flaneurs decried as an attempt to make the homeless population of SF disappear.

The pie slingers, who came to be known as the Cherry Pie 3, got six-month jail sentences. Brown had sustained a sprained ankle and a bump on the knee, and his handlers shrieked to the press that he barely escaped injuries far more grave. Perhaps they were thinking of Rahula Janowski, one of the three pie-slingers, who continues to grapple with what resulted in a lifelong injury when one of the mayor’s friends tackled her and broke her clavicle.

“After the six-month jail sentences, a lot of people felt like, yikes, I don’t know if we want to do that,” said Apple. “But needless to say, there have been half a dozen fairly major pie actions in the Bay Area since then, including right after the conviction. We pied the CEO of Chevron as a solidarity action with the Cherry Pie 3. I think the supervisors and the mayor just could not believe we were still going at it.”

Beyond the sobering effects of “Operation Free Willie,” Agent Apple places decreased pie-rect action in the context of the post-9/11 world of the Patriot Act and government-led attempts to cast activists and artists as terrorists. “Things are so over the top, that it’s an interesting climate in which to consider what’s an appropriate action to do. Now is a better time than ever to pie, to keep a sense of humor in light of the terrifying times we live in. But with the Bush gang and the tone they’ve set, with absolutely no sense of humor about anything, it’s a really difficult time to know what to do.”


Kate Crane is a writer based in Jersey City, NJ. She writes regularly for New York Press, where she is an editor.