If the People Pie,
The Leaders Will Swallow
An interview with Special Agent Apple of the Biotic
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
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
Speaking Pie to Power
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."
Flan-archy in the UK
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."
Do or Pie
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
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!"