‘If the people pie, the leaders will swallow’

Interviews Published April 26, 2000 in Published in The Ecologist, April 2000

When Agent Apple first appeared in the Ecologist’s editorial office, back in February, he could scarcely believe what he’d walked into.

British readers may remember a minor media furore around that time, when someone calling herself an ‘environmental activist and socialite’ publicly rammed a chocolate éclair into the face of the UK’s Agriculture Minister. The Ecologist spent an afternoon fielding phone calls from journalists after it was discovered that we had briefly employed her to help us organise an event. The editorial team ended that day not inconsiderably stressed, but Agent Apple was in his element. “It’s the Global Pastry Uprising!” he kept saying, with a glint in his eye. “I told you – if the people pie, the leaders will swallow!”

Agent Apple lives, sleeps and breathes pastry. He believes that pies could change the world, and in this belief he is not alone. For Apple (his real identity is a closely-guarded secret) is a founder member of the Biotic Baking Brigade (BBB), one of the most passionate, original and, frankly, bizarre bands of radical activists around. If you haven’t heard of them yet, it probably won’t be long. For the Global Pastry Uprising is snowballing at surprising speed.

The BBB describes itself as “an underground network of militant bakers who deliver just desserts to those in power.” Their philosophy is simple. They believe that the future of the planet is threatened by a worldview that puts profit, trade and share values above life itself. And instead of waiting for politicians, bureaucrats and self-styled ‘NGO leaders’ to tackle this problem, they have decided to take it on themselves – with pastry custard and cream. And so, they publicly throw pies – homebaked, vegan, organic pies, mind – into the faces of people they identify as powerful, unaccountable and responsible for crimes against the planet. They stand against “industrial society in all its forms; against neoliberalism and technocracy, and against corporate crooks and their allies in government.” They stand for “ecology, bioregionalism, human-scale economies – and proper gastronomics.”

Apple is one of their most active voices, and he is a perfect frontman. Affable, intelligent and very, well, sensible-looking, you could pass him in the street and never imagine you’d come into contact with a member of an underground movement that is fast becoming legendary – probably the least violent and most entertaining revolutionary faction in history. Only the passionate light in his eyes when he talks about the ‘New World Order’ betrays his true calling.

“We live in a terrifying time,” he says. “We’re on the verge of ecological collapse, social structures are disintegrating, fascism – and I don’t use that term lightly – is on the rise, dissent is being criminalised.” Meanwhile, he says, the “traditional Left,” which should be in the vanguard of opposition, “has become a boring, bureaucratic, unproductive movement. We want to draw attention to these problems in a way that makes people sit up and listen.”

This all sounds fair enough. But the obvious question arises: why pies? How is chucking flans around supposed to change anything?

“Actually, we have found that the pie is a tremendous vehicle to communicate about issues that otherwise wouldn’t get an airing in the mainstream media,” says Apple, enthusiastically. “It’s a chink in their armour. For example, one of the BBB’s first actions was the pieing of Milton Friedman [the free market economics guru who inspired the 1980s generation of right-wing politicians, including Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan], in October 1998. He was at a conference discussing how to privatise American education – how to take this minimal concession to ordinary working people, state education, and hand it over to corporations like Pepsi and Channel One. There was a huge picket outside – hundreds of people with placards, shouting slogans – and the media didn’t even cover it. But we got in, delivered one well-placed coconut crème pie, and we were all over the media, talking about the impact of his neo-liberalism on the world.”

Friedman was one of the BBB’s first hits. Another was Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, who was flanned in late 1997. Monsanto boss Robert Shapiro was next, pied in a conference hall after delivering one of his notorious speeches about feeding the world with genetically-modified crops. The London-based PIE (People Insurgent Everywhere) pied the then head of the World Trade Organisation, Renato Ruggiero. Just a week later. “Only 4% of people in the UK had even heard of the WTO before Ruggiero was pied,” says Apple now. “That incident put a name and face to a destructive organisation that had been largely secret.” From then on, it was no-holds-barred.

The rapidly-expanding list of pie victims includes Keith Campbell, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep; Charles Hurwitz, boss of Pacific Lumber, which is clearcutting forests in the Headwaters area of California where the BBB are based; Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock, responsible for allowing GM foods into the country; film star Sylvester Stallone, pied at the opening of one of his ‘Planet Hollywood’ restaurants in Montreal; Kenneth Derr, head of Chevron oil, accused of colluding with Nigeria’s military regime; and several US mayors, including the Mayor of San Francisco, ‘Slick’ Willie Brown, who had the three BBB members who flanned him (the ‘Cherry Pie Three’) arrested and ultimately imprisoned for six months.

More controversially, the BBB have also flanned Carl Pope, head of the US conservation group the Sierra Club, for doing a deal with Pacific Lumber which saw them accused of ‘selling out’ the forests. “It may seem controversial,” says Agent Apple, “but Pope represents one of the most dangerous threats to the environment – these kind-of backdoor salesmen, calling themselves environmentalists, who are doing deals with corporations and selling out our work from within.”

Mostly, though, it is corporate executives who are pied. “It’s our firm belief,” says Apple, firmly, “that right now politicians and governments are mostly vehicles through which corporations can achieve their ends. These executives make decisions that affect billions of people, yet who’s ever heard of them? We have to drag them into the light.”

The BBB is inspired by a well-whipped mix of anarchy and silent comedy. Two figures in particular motivated Apple to start baking. One is Noel Godin, the Belgian anarchist head of the International Patisserie Brigade, who has been pieing famous figures since the 1970s. He has three criteria by which he selects his victims: they should be powerful, self-important and lacking in humour. Apple’s other guiding light is ‘American Pieman’ Aron Kay, who once pied Andy Warhol.

But the roots of pieing, he says, go back further than this. “Pieing can be traced back to court jesters,” says Apple. “Part of their role was to humiliate royalty or powerful people. There’s always been something tremendously powerful about getting people to laugh. It’s a way of engaging them in something they might otherwise have ignored.”

Apple and the BBB talk about pieing in almost Messianic terms. They see it as a natural development of resistance. “Pieing doesn’t replace other forms of action,” says Apple, “but it is a new creative tool in a toolbox of resistance to corporate crime.” It is catching on so fast, he says (there have been at least 60 verifiable pieing incidents around the world over the last two years, and a global flurry of interest from South Africa to Chile to Australia to Burma) because opponents of the current system are disillusioned with traditional channels of dissent.

“People are sick to death of writing letters, voting, complaining and just being ignored,” he says. “But I think they’re also sick to death of boring old lefty politics – boring demos, boring speakers. A lot of the left is bankrupt. If you’re a traditional quote-unquote ‘leftist’ your only option is to join a party, some kind of regime, where people think for you, take action for you, tell you what to do – that’s a tremendously disempowering experience. We’re kind of post-leftist. We want to provoke thought, and get people doing things for themselves again.”

This is important to the BBB. They describe themselves as “pie-throwing anarchists” and their movement is a model of self-reliance. “What corporations and governments have done,” says Apple, “is broken our legs, then given us a crutch to walk on. But instead of appealing to our corporate masters to do things better, we want to create our own world and manage our own affairs.” They want, say the BBB simply, and probably slightly mischievously, to create ‘Ecotopia’ here on Earth.

“We believe in DIY, says Apple. “A lot of us are farmers, organic gardeners – we have a lot of practical skills. And, of course, we bake all our own pies. As long as there are quality baked goods, there is hope in this world.”

Apple himself gets his kicks from secreting pies into the corridors of power. “For me, to put on a suit, shave, go to one of these big conferences and deliver my message in an in-your-face fashion – that’s an incredibly powerful thing. That’s what really cranks my chain.” But it requires planning. “It’s best to hid the pie in a briefcase to get it in – but it needs to be a solid pie, so it’s firm enough to hold vertical. Another method is to dress up as a waiter or waitress. That way you can carry your pie to your victim openly, and no-one will think anything of it.”

Apple’s commitment to his cause seems boundless. He has, he says, been pied five times himself, and enjoyed it. He’s prepared to do a lot in the name of the Global Pastry Uprising – even to dress up in a chef’s outfit slightly too small for him and undergo a long photo shoot with a melting pie in the Ecologist’s office. But he doesn’t want people to think that any special skills or qualifications are required. On the contrary, he says, “anyone can pie.”

“When people write to me and say ‘I want to join the BBB,’ I say – go for it, but do it your own way. Sure, read up on what we’ve done, but think for yourself. Cut your hair, look sharp, put on a suit and you can go anywhere.”

The photos finally in the can, he pulls off the scarf he uses to hide his identity from the wider world – a scarf, he says proudly, that he got from Chiapas, home of the Zapatista rebellion which is also one of the BBB’s inspirations. Does he have a message for Ecologist readers and potential pie-rect activists? Of course he does. Agent Apple is never short of a soundbite. “My message to readers would be simple,” he says. “To adapt the slogan of a notorious multinational – just do it! Remember – it’s better to pie on your feet than to live on your knees!”

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