In the opening of this Wednesday’s episode of Hulu’s Mrs. America, a rousing speech to the Women’s National Republican Club ends on a sour note when Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) gets a surprise pie to the face. “You’re a traitor to your sex by waging war against women!” yells a covert protestor disguised as a waiter, before smashing a cream pie into Schlafly’s face.
This really happened, though the offending dessert was apple, not cream, to be exact. The prank even left Schlafly with a scratched eye, just as it does in Mrs. America. But Schlafly’s pie to the face as protest wasn’t an isolated incident. Aron Kay, a member of the radical 1960s group the Yippies and the man who threw the pie at Schlafly, became known as the “Pie Man” in the 1960s and ’70s. He garnered a reputation for throwing pies at politicians and celebrities he disagreed with, including California governor Jerry Brown, New York senator James L. Buckley, and even Andy Warhol.
“She was an anti-feminist; a woman against women!” Kay told Huck Magazine of pie-ing Schlafly. “I said to her: ‘that’s for the Equal Rights Amendment’ and I walked right out of there.”
By the time Kay threw a pie at Schlafly in 1980, the prankster technique was already becoming a trend among leftist activists. In 1970, while testifying at a presidential commission on obscenity, High Times magazine founder Thomas Forcade threw a cottage cheese pie at commission member Otto Larsen in a move recognized as the start of the pie protest movement. In the mid-70s, Duke University had a student group called “Pie Die,” selling pie attacks on students and professors for $10 minimum, depending on the risks. The book Pie Any Means Necessary: The Biotic Baking Brigade Cookbook interviews Jessica Harrison, who helped pie British conservative Mary Whitehouse in 1978 she while speaking in Brisbane, Australia. Initially intended to be a “menstrual blood pie,” a lack of volunteers resigned the group to using one made with shaving cream.
The 1970s also saw the birth of “Pie Kill Unlimited,” a group of a dozen or so “agents” who would, for a fee, pie your enemy of choice. According to a 1975 New York Magazine article, single “pieing”s cost $40, while seltzer bottle “barrages” cost $30, and squirt-gun attacks (notably with cold water, never warm) were $20. Most requested hits were for bosses, but there were charming outliers; Kay, who was briefly involved with the group, says he was hired at one point by two Catholic school girls to pie their nun principal. “In times of economic stagnation, this is a high-growth-potential industry,” Pie Kill Unlimited founder Rex Weiner told New York Magazine. “We’ll never run out of contracts because everyone has an enemies list.”
The pie protest movement was revitalized in the 1990s with the work of the Biotic Baking Brigade, who targeted San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and supervisor Gavin Newsom. They went the distance by making actual pies and not just whipped cream shells. Their reasoning? “If the operation doesn’t come off, we can eat the pie ourselves,” one brigade member known as “Agent Apple” told The San Francisco Chronicle. The Canadian group Entartistes threw pies at political figures, including Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 2000. “What we’re trying to say is, ‘You work for us. You can’t be too big for your britches or you’ll get a pie in the face,” a member known as “Pope-Tart” told the Montreal Gazette in 1999.
But the art of a political pie throw has waned in recent years. Incidents such as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Senator Fraser Anning getting egged by protestors in 2019 might indicate that eggs are the next frontier in food protests, which also has a rich history. Schlafly’s aggressor Kay himself retired from pie-throwing in the 1990s after he lobbed Randall Terry, an anti-abortion activist from Operation Rescue, but he still has ideas of who’d he’d like to pie today. “I still have a long list of people who I’d like to see get a pie,” Kay told Huck Magazine. “Everyone knows someone who needs a pie. Any of the ‘Trumpies’ could use a pie.” Hopefully somebody will give them one.