It’s Valentine’s Day, which means hopes are high the night will be filled with steamy innuendo and romantic gestures. But with high hopes come high stakes, and we know what that means: One false move and you could just as easily end up with a face full of linguini and red wine. At least, that’s what happens on television!
But strangely enough, that’s keeping with Valentine’s Day’s already weirdly dark origins, which began with sacrificing goats and whipping women with the animal hides. We’ve been celebrating some form of that loving torture since the third century A.D., but get this: We’ve been throwing libations and rotten edibles at people we’re extremely upset with at least since 63 A.D.
Throughout the years, crowds have armed themselves with everything from turnips to tomatoes to eggs to pies to Slushies — all to express displeasure.
Throwing food or liquid is a unique phenomenon in human development. It’s okay (if frustrating or occasionally cute) when babies do it, because after all, they’re developing fine motor skills. Teenagers turn cafeterias into war zones when food fights erupt, but at least they have the excuse that they’re bored, the food sucks, and their brains haven’t totally developed.
But when adults throw food or booze, it’s a deliberate, embarrassing, mortifying, insane choice to regress by reaching back in your most infantile bag of tricks. It’s weirdly stunted because we certainly know better, and yet, sometimes nothing gets the job done better than hurling produce to signify our discontent. And it certainly feels pretty great to do it (so I’ve heard). Something about the combination of righteous indignation and condescension intersecting with non-harm.
Such gestures are wonderfully multipurpose, too. Pitching food or drink in the face can represent a wide range of things: political protest, romantic outburst, food-based cultural critique, fuck-shit-up argument-settler or just general irritation.
So in honor of how perfectly good things can oft turn comically, horribly bad when hot-headed grownups are afoot, here’s a brief history of some of our forebears’ food-and-drink-pelting highlights.
Roman emperor Vespasian was so miserly with the budget and so harsh in his punishments when he was proconsul to Africa that the people hurled turnips at him.
Middle Ages (Fifth to 15th Century)
Criminals were displayed in wooden stocks in town marketplaces, where passersby could hurl rotten eggs at them… as well as mud, dead rats or tomatoes.
Even though we typically associate the throwing of rotten tomatoes with Shakespeare’s time, reports indicate that this wouldn’t have been the case. Tomatoes weren’t introduced into the New World until closer to the 1750s, so they’d have chucked dried figs or oyster shells when a character upset them or a play tanked.
Historical documents suggest persecuted Methodists were pelted with rotten eggs, mud and stones on the Isle of Man.
Frederick Douglass was pelted with “evil-smelling” eggs while speaking at an abolitionist meeting in Richmond. In spite of the ghastly treatment, he still returned twice more to the city.
In his debut as an aspiring actor in Long Island, John Ritchie was pummeled with rotten tomatoes during an attempt at somersault, “throwing him off his balance and demoralizing him.” He carried on, next attempting some kind of trapeze move. He almost did, until a tomato “struck him square between the eyes.” After rotten eggs followed and an onslaught of more tomatoes, he fled the stage.
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest debuts its first stage run on Valentine’s Day at the St. James Theatre in London. According to the story, which may be false, as Wilde gave his opening remarks, someone tossed a smelly cabbage at his feet. True to his wit, he allegedly responded, “Thank you, my friend. Every time I smell it, I shall be reminded of you.”
High Times founder Thomas King Forcade somehow smuggled a cream pie into his briefcase during a testimony with the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, and managed to smash it into the face of commission chairman Otto Larsen. It led to an entire operation called Agents of Pie-Kill, a group of mischief makers who later scored hits on conservative commentator William F. Buckley and anti-feminist feminist Phyllis Schlafly.
Singer-turned-anti-gay-bummer Anita Bryant, while bragging during a TV interview about her “crusade against the homosexuals,” takes a sweet fruit pie right to the mug. “Well at least it’s a fruit pie,” she remarks. Her husband interjects, “Let’s pray for him right now, Anita.” She later burst into tears. CNN notes that her husband claimed he found the attackers outside and somehow managed to get a banana cream pie in their faces. Sure ya did, buddy.
Pre-presidential Nicolas Sarkozy, at the time only a suburban mayor in Paris, gets nailed by famous pie thrower Noel Godin as he saunters down the street with his entourage. Notably, he shakes it off and keeps walking.
Bill Gates gets pied in the face in Brussels when meeting with biz leaders. When he finds out the pranksters were only up to mischief and have no particular beef with him, he doesn’t press charges.
During Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2003 gubernatorial tour, he gets pelted with a raw egg as he moves through a hyped-up crowd. Watch as he seemingly doesn’t even realize it, then simply removes his coat to applause and keeps going.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych collapsed and was rushed to the hospital “clutching his chest” after the 6-foot-6, 240-pound man was hit by a single egg thrown by an activist just as he stepped off a bus. He was mocked relentlessly.
Since the launch of Real Housewives in 2006, drink-throwing, or “drink-slapping” as it’s often called, is a mainstay of the franchise. Even though it shows up in a film or two long before that, from 1914’s The Wages of Sin to 1981’s Mommie Dearest, as Broadly notes in a history of the drink slap, it’s mostly a movies and TV soaps thing anyway (exceptions noted here), but it wins cinematic points every time for being “melodramatic, aggressive and ridiculous.” Real accounts of such hysteria happen from time to time adjacent to these shows, often when the very stars of those shows go out clubbing (cough*staged*cough). Bravo even features a roundup of the Real Housewives’ best drink slaps, and numerous videos online compile the best across reality TV.
During a hearing on phone hacking, Rupert Murdoch takes a blue shaving-cream pie to the face. More hilariously, wife Wendi Deng manages to get in a retaliatory slap to the assailant’s face.
Eighth graders at a middle school in Garfield, Ohio, let loose in the cafeteria by chucking oranges at each other. Chaos ensues, resulting in bruises, cuts, head injuries and even broken bones. About eight kids are taken to the hospital.
French farmers break “hundreds of thousands” of eggs in the streets to protest low prices and lower profit margins, vowing to smash 100,000 a day until the European Union fixed the problem.
Shannon Everett, a 27-year-old woman, is arrested for throwing “some sort of juice” in crack-loving mayor Rob Ford’s face. Ford and another staffer chased her down to discover it was a slushie before handing her over.
After spotting 16-year-old Hunter Richard wearing a MAGA hat sitting at a Whataburger restaurant in San Antonio, Texas, 30-year-old Kino Jiminez asks him why he’s wearing it. When the teen says he supports the president, the man then grabs the hat off his head, takes the teen’s own giant soda and pitches it in his face. He’s later arrested not for assault, but theft, and fired from his job.
At brunch in Minneapolis, a woman throws a drink at Tomi Lahren as she exits a rooftop restaurant. It was allegedly only water, and Lahren didn’t melt.
Miranda Lambert reportedly dumps a salad on the lap of a woman whose party struck up an argument with Lambert, her mother and a family acquaintance while they dined at a Nashville steakhouse.
Whither the Drink Slap?
As satisfying as these examples are, and as tempting as it may be to chuck food and beverage toward thine enemy, there’s really no good reason to throw a drink or food in someone’s face (plus, it’s assault). Unless of course they do it to you first. But if you’re more of a high-road sort of person, at least be prepared. If you see a breadstick flying toward your head tonight, duck.