A brief history of throwing food and drink on people as protest

Last weekend, anti-trans campaigner Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, better known as Posie Parker, arrived to speak at a rally in Auckland, which was surrounded by supporters of trans rights. During this rally and counter-protest, Keen-Minshull was doused in tomato juice, while other reports claim eggs were also thrown at her.

Many people made connections with other incidents where controversial (often racist or homophobic) figures were hit with food in public. This included when American anti-gay campaigner Anita Bryant was hit in the face with a cream pie on television in 1977, Australian far right politician Fraser Anning was egged in 2019 and the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage was “milkshaked” while campaigning in the UK during the 2019 European Union Parliament elections.

The juice tipped over Keen-Minshull is part of a long legacy of politicians and controversial public figures being hit with food stuffs during protests against them.

A delicious symbol of protest

As Ekaterina Gladkova has written, food has long been a potent symbol for protest. Writing about food riots in the 18th century, social historian E.P. Thompson suggested that food formed part of the “moral economy” and food prices were central to lower class protest in England.

Food is also used in protest as a symbol of moral rejection, with eggs, tomatoes and other soft and sticky food stuffs thrown at public figures. Often soaking or staining the figure in question, the purpose of throwing food is not to hurt them, but to humiliate them. To make disagreeable figures into those of ridicule and to demonstrate people’s moral objection to their presence in public.

Anita Bryant, an outspoken opponent of gay rights, ran a campaign to repeal a local ordinance in Florida in 1977 that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. (Wikimedia, CC BY)

Throughout the 20th century, many different groups flung food at people in protest, particularly at politicians. In 1910, the British suffragette Ethel Moorhead threw an egg at Winston Churchill when he was home secretary. This was in response to the treatment of suffragettes in prison, including the force-feeding of hunger strikers.

In 1960, then-US Vice President Richard Nixon was pelted with eggs and tomatoes while campaigning in Chicago. In Britain during the 1970s and 1980s, visits by right-wing politicians on university campuses saw several incidents of food stuffs hurled. Sir Keith Joseph, one of Margaret Thatcher’s earliest supporters, had flour bombs and eggs thrown at him at Essex University in 1977. Home Office minister David Waddington was covered in beer in December 1985 when he visited Manchester University. The following year, Enoch Powell was hit with a ham sandwich during a speech at Bristol University.

A nice egg in this trying time

Australian politicians have also fallen victim to eggings over the decades. One of the most infamous eggings was of Prime Minister Billy Hughes in 1917 in Queensland. Hughes, campaigning to introduce conscription during the first world war, responded by calling for the launch of the Commonwealth Police Force (the predecessor to the Australian Federal Police).

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, then-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was egged on several occasions. In 1979, activists protesting against unemployment threw eggs at Fraser, reportedly shouting, “Feed the rich!” In 1981, students protesting against fees launched tomatoes and eggs at him when he arrived at Macquarie University.

Throwing food stuffs has been a particular means of protesting the far right over the years, too. In Britain during the 1930s, anti-fascists threw various foods at Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists at different meetings. At the legendary Battle of Cable Street in London in 1936, there are various accounts of eggs, flour and rotten food being chucked at fascists and the police.

After the war, Mosley still attracted protests involving food. When speaking at the Cambridge Union in 1958, he was hit in the face with a custard pie. Speaking to the same union two years later, Mosley was slapped with a jelly across the face. The Cambridge student newspaper, Varsity, reported the protester shouted, “have a jelly my friend”, as he thrust the green jelly towards the fascist leader.

The milkshake: the anti-fascist cultural symbol

In more recent times, the British National Party’s Nick Griffin was egged as he tried to hold a press conference in 2009. In France, the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, once a close ally of Griffin, has been egged several times on the campaign trail, including in 2017 and 2022. In 2019, former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, UKIP candidate (and YouTuber) Carl Benjamin and Nigel Farage all become casualties of milkshaking, with the milkshake briefly becoming an anti-fascist cultural symbol

Australia’s far right has also been of the receiving end of food being thrown by anti-fascists. When National Action attempted a public action in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick in 1994, protesters heaved eggs, tomatoes and horse manure at them. It was reported that their leader, Michael Brander, was hit in the mouth with an egg, leading to Channel Nine to replay footage under the caption “hole in one”.

And, of course, former far right Senator Fraser Anning had an egg cracked over the back of his head by a teenage boy in 2019.

Humiliation, not violence

Some in the past have complained that eggings and milkshakings are a form of political violence. However, defenders of those who have thrown food at public figures have argued that these are non-violent forms of protest.

As numerous incidents demonstrate, the flinging of food is designed the humiliate, not injure. Compared with the prospect of violence from the far right, immersing political opponents in sticky and smelly food is relatively minor. The tossing of food at politicians and other controversial figures is symbolic of a moral objection to their politics and presence in public spaces.

After the egging of Nick Griffin, Gerry Gable, the long-time editor of the UK anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, wrote that while seeing foodstuffs being dumped over Griffin’s head “certainly brought a smile to many people’s face,” it was “going to take more than a few well-aimed eggs and worthy placards to finish the BNP for good”.

This is certainly the case, but the throwing of food is an act of protest that demonstrates disgust at the target. In the age of social media, where protest actions can be shared by millions, lobbing an egg, tomato or milkshake can be a feat of defiance against politicians, bigots and other objectionable characters.

Evan Smith, Lecturer in History, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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