The shirt is nothing short of iconic. Odds are good someone you know has one. “Eat More Kale” it says, in big glorious block letters. You’re almost guaranteed to see at least one of these shirts at festivals, farmers markets, rock concerts, yoga classes, marathons and anywhere else groups of people come together for a good time.
Unfortunately, corporate trademark bullying threatens to shut down the little Vermont business that makes these shirts, all because a fast food chain thinks you can’t tell the difference between kale and chicken. You’re pretty sure you can, though, aren’t you?
Confused? Read on, friend.
The Story of “Eat More Kale”
Bo Muller-Moore hand prints these shirts, one at a time, in his home-based studio in Vermont. He’s been doing it for over 13 years now. Two friends asked him all those years ago to make them a shirt that said “Eat More Kale.” After he did, everyone who saw one wanted their own.
Bo began selling his “Eat More Kale” shirts at farmers markets and music festivals. People snapped them up. They’re cute, with a nice local agriculture sort of vibe. In 2011, however, Bo’s business almost came to a crashing halt.
Why? He filed an application to trademark the phrase “Eat More Kale,” to keep copycat t-shirt printers from stealing his burgeoning business. Soon thereafter, fast food leviathan Chick-fil-A threatened to sue him.
Unfortunately, the trademark application apparently put Bo on Chick-fil-A’s radar. As you’ll remember, “Eat Mor Chikin” is Chick-fil-A’s well known slogan, which is typically accompanied by images of nervous cows desperately hoping to persuade you to eat chickens, not them. Depressing way to sell fast food, isn’t it? You feel bad for the cows, you feel bad for the chickens.
Be that as it may, Chick-fil-A thought “Eat More Kale” infringed on their trademarked slogan, “Eat Mor Chikin.” In 2006, they demanded Bo stop making the shirts, send his inventory of shirts and stickers to them to be destroyed, and turn his website over to them. Chick-fil-A eventually stopped those threats, but the 2011 trademark application renewed the dispute with a vengeance.
Do You Know the Difference Between Kale and Chicken?
No one in their right mind would confuse kale with chicken, would they? Well, Chick-fil-A doesn’t agree. Apparently, Chick-fil-A believes its customer base doesn’t understand the difference between a green, leafy vegetable and a breaded lump of poultry on a bun.
Am I being too harsh? No, not even a little. The company’s stated reason for trying to smack down Bo’s business is because his “Eat More Kale” slogan is “likely to cause confusion of the public and dilutes the distinctiveness of Chick-fil-A’s intellectual property and diminishes its value.”
Isn’t that a bit of an exaggeration, Chick-fil-A? Some legal experts think so.
“We need to protect our public domain from corporations just taking chunks of it and claiming it as their own,” said Barton Beebe, professor of law at New York University Law School. “I think people will begin to call for this — and ‘Eat More Kale’ is an example — where this guy is saying ‘Enough is enough.’”
“Eat More Kale” is not the first company pursued by Chick-fil-A for trademark infringement over the words “eat more (insert noun here).” In the cease and desist letter the company sent to Bo in late 2011, Chick-fil-A listed 30 other companies it bulldozed into stopping their use of the words “eat more…”
While the others seem to have capitulated to the brute strength of corporate power, Bo Muller-Moore chose to fight back.
“Bo’s is a very different statement,” his attorney, Daniel Richardson, told the Associated Press. “It’s more of a philosophical statement about local agriculture and community-supported farmers markets. At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone will step forward and say they bought an ‘Eat More Kale‘ shirt thinking it was a Chick-fil-A product.”
What‘s with Chick-fil-A Anyway?
Chik-fil-A was founded as a faith-based business by S. Truett Cathy in 1967. As dyed-in-the-wool Southern Baptists, the Cathy family’s religious leanings are inextricably woven into the fabric of the company, most notably in their vocal opposition to same-sex marriage.
Truett Cathy announced on Nov. 7 that he is retiring as chairman and CEO of Chick-fil-A. His son, Dan Cathy, will assume both positions. Yes, this is the Dan Cathy who, on the day the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, tweeted (then deleted) this gem: “Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies.”
Reasonableness seems not to be part of the corporate culture at Chick-fil-A. They don’t like you if you’re gay and they don’t like you if you “eat more” of anything but their chicken sandwiches.
Support for “Team Kale“ Comes From All Over
Soon after Chick-fil-A’s cease and desist letter arrived in late 2011, Vermont governor Peter Shumlin showed himself to be an ardent supporter of “Eat More Kale.” He stepped up publicly to support Bo in December 2011, sending his message loud and clear.
“Don’t mess with Vermont. Don’t mess with kale. Chick-fil-A, get out of the way, because we’re going to win this one,” Gov. Shumlin said at a press conference. Watch the governor’s statement announcing the creation of “Team Kale,” a fundraising effort to help pay Bo Muller-Moore’s legal defense costs here:
The flat out goofiness of Chick-fil-A’s position hasn’t been lost on those who are paying attention. Anderson Cooper profiled this legal battle in 2011 on CNN’s The Ridiculist. His bottom line: “Keep fighting the good fight, t-shirt guy!” The story has been covered by The New York Times, NPR, Forbes and assorted other major media. The reports cast Bo Muller-Moore as an earnest “little guy” battling an unfeeling corporate giant for his very livelihood.
In the near term, Chick-fil-A’s aggressive and unreasonable position has been good for business at “Eat More Kale.” Never before had Bo Muller-Moore received so many t-shirt orders as he did once it became clear that Chick-fil-A was going to fight him.
Everyone loves an underdog, especially a likeable underdog. As this story gained momentum in the press and on social media in 2012 and 2013, many perplexed people bought a shirt as a way to express support for Bo and outrage at Chick-fil-A. I’ve got one myself.
The story of “Eat More Kale” will soon make its way to a motion picture screen near you. Filming is underway for a documentary about Bo Muller-Moore’s struggle to keep “Eat More Kale” alive. Called A Defiant Dude, the documentary will wrap production as soon as this story has an ending — no matter which ending it turns out to be.
See a little bit about Bo and the making of A Defiant Dude in this YouTube Video:
The Latest Legal Machinations
Unfortunately, things haven’t been going Bo’s way recently. In April 2013, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gave him what he calls a “preliminary no” to his application to trademark his business name. He’d been hoping for a definitive answer but didn’t get it.
Bo had six months to appeal. He did so in September. If he loses, he will likely face a lawsuit from Chick-fil-A if he keeps making “Eat More Kale” shirts. Bo, however, remains undaunted.
“I think every single time I print another ‘Eat More Kale’ shirt and send it to another corner of the U.S. for someone to wear, that’s an act of defiance,” he said recently. “Chick-fil-A said don’t do it, and I said &#$@ you!”
Good luck to you, Bo. May “Eat More Kale” shirts continue to spread their friendly message of health and fun across the globe. The vast majority of us are confident we know the difference between kale and chicken. It’s not rocket science.
Care2 readers, if you‘d like to tell Chick-fil-A‘s corporate leadership to drop its opposition to Bo Muller-Moore‘s trademark application, sign this petition. Care2 will ensure it is delivered to Chick-fil-A chairman and CEO, Dan Cathy.
Photo credit: All images courtesy of Ben Sarles / benslens.com