The Modern Kale Debacle: Bo’s Fight

The man behind the t-shirts that started a war with fast food giant Chick-Fil-A

Bo Muller-Moore is attempting to trademark “Eat More Kale,” a slogan that he has been printing one-at-a-time on t-shirts for over a decade. Chick-Fil-A, a fast-food company that sells over 800 chicken sandwiches a minute, has sent Bo a cease and desist letter and is also attempting to block Bo’s application for a trademark, claiming he is harming their Eat Mor Chikin campaign.
Steven Roux is an organic farmer/writer who works by day for acclaimed Microgreens grower Good Water Farms.

Steven: You’ve described yourself as a “Neolithic stencil artist.” Since I first ordered a shirt from you and received a signed photo along with it, I’ve thought of you as a chill dude living in Vermont who designed an Eat More Kale t-shirt that evolved from a comical decree to eat more nutritious super foods into a mantra for conscious living.  The signed photo of you, Bo, genuinely beaming with a hand written thank-you, was great personal touch that resonated with me—I was living in Brooklyn at the time and everywhere I wore the shirt, complete strangers complimented or made funny remarks to me, in which I would retort with a question: “Have you heard of these shirts before? And the debacle the designer is having with Chick-Fil-A?” For every time this happened, for every time I explained the Cease and Desist letter and Chick-Fil-A’s claim that your harming the intellectual property of their Eat Mor Chikin campaign, I not only made whomever stranger I was talking interested in your case, I made them visibly upset by the ordeal.

Bo: It’s a universal thing. I’m grinning because I’m lucky to hear stories like yours all the time. Last week it was my friend telling me how he was down in Miami where everyone was more beautiful than the next person, and he was walking along the boardwalk, getting more looks than he’s ever had, and he starts wondering—“Wow is it my hair? Is it my tan?” Then he realized—“Oh it’s my goddamn shirt!”

Steven: The Kickstarter campaign for Jim Lance’s film about your case,  “A Defiant Dude,” raised almost $15,000 more than its goal of $75,000 back in March. How has production been? Are we basically waiting for the outcome of the case?

Bo: Yes. Some might think he could have the film three quarters of the way finished, but the filmmaker—Jim, it’s his film—assures me that he needs to have an ending before he can craft the rest of the film. He does have over 300 hours worth of footage, he literally crossed the United States twice last summer with a film crew interviewing everyone from lawyers and intellectual property specialists to moms and pops, real people in various businesses being affected by corporate bullies. I haven’t seen too much of the footage, but it’s real American heartland stuff, you know, not left wing rebellious hippie stuff. The trademark office is supposed to come up with a ruling this month. They’ve had six months to respond to our final argument that we submitted on September 26th.

Bo hard at work screening in his Vermont shop.

Bo hard at work screening in his Vermont shop.

Steven: And you’ll receive the trademark?

Bo: I’m not fighting at this point to win a trademark. For the last two and a half years I’ve simply been fighting to get my application in the game, to be considered for a trademark. In this case, before I even make it to the public arena for debate, Chick-Fil-A sent a letter of protest saying, ‘Hey trademark office, this trademark is so egregious he doesn’t deserve the due process.’ They don’t want a public debate; they’re trying to stop me at the starting line.

Steven: And they’ve stopped others before.

Bo: They sent me a list of 40 businesses that they’ve shut down.

Steven: Eat more goat, eat more broccoli…

Bo: One was a race car team call Eat More Gas… When you get that cease and desist letter, it looks so official most people’s first thought is either to shut it down or go talk to a lawyer for $400 an hour. If it wasn’t for our local lawyer agreeing to do it for free and immediately soliciting the help of the University of New Hampshire’s law school, I wouldn’t have been able to do this for a minute.

Visiting the Good Water Farms Team (FOND Client and Day Job of the Writer, Steven Roux)

Visiting the Good Water Farms Team | From Left: Isaac Algarin (Good Water Farms Grower), Brendan Davison (Good Water Farms Founder), Nicole Delma (FOND Founder), Steven Roux (Writer and Good Water Farms Grower)

Steven: In the trailer for the film you acknowledge your awareness of Chick-Fil-A’s aggressive and victorious history with like-minded trademark seekers in the past, but you clearly remain undaunted toward their corporate advantage. Perhaps it’s because you have an enormous amount of support by Team Kale devotees from State Governors to Anderson Cooper that believe this is corporate bullying and that Chick-Fil-A should try eating more kale-slaw.

Bo: I was kind of in the perfect storm; I think I’m the perfect character to fight back. I grew up on the south, the way the Chick-Fil-A family did… I don’t know them personally but I’m from the same cut of fabric as them. On the face of this, everyone sees a chubby hippie from Vermont fighting God-fearing southern folks but in reality we know the same language, we wrestled at the same schools, water skied in the same lakes… I’m not that different from them, we grew up within miles of each other.

Steven: The first t-shirt you ever designed was your classic “Cheese” print you made on a silk screen you received from your wife as a gift….

Bo: Yup, it was Valentines Day, 1999.

Steven: How did you first become interested in printing shirts?

Bo: I was working at a high school in Montpelier, I had just moved to Vermont and was working in the Learning Services Department, the Special Education Department, and this was when Gap and Old Navy were huge, and all the kids had shirts with brands across the front, and the individual in me started to go crazy…. it was also the time we started to learn about sweat shops and conscientious shopping. That and I used to doodle in my notebook during meetings and my wife saw them and said that’d be cool tattoos or shirts.

The screen that started it all. Shop Eatmorekale.com for these and other styles, stickers and to donate to Bo's legal fund.

The screen that started it all. Shop Eatmorekale.com for these and other styles, stickers and to donate to Bo’s legal fund.

Steven: Along with working on the film, you’ve just launched a new website with sweet new merch like aprons, beanies, even Eat More Kale yoga mats. Also new to Eatmorekale.com is a wholesale section, where you can order larger quantities of shirts or hoodies for entire families of veg-heads or even to sell at a local farmers markets. There’s also a “Design of the Week” now, will these designs be exclusively by you, Bo, or will other local artists be involved?

Bo: My family will make them, the one that’s up this week my 8-year-old daughter made, and the one I’m posting next week my wife made. In the past ten years I’ve cut 450 stencils and people used to really respond to them at my booth, but when I made the site it wasn’t practical to have so many in addition to the popular EMK shirt. So I whittled it down to some best sellers, but it dawned on me to have a design of the week for some deeper cuts. Variation is fun.

Steven: You’ve also described yourself as a folk artist. Have these last two and a half years of legal distress tarnished the lyrics from Willie Dixon’s’ ‘Back Door Man’ for you? The song later covered by The Doors…  In both songs the lyrics: “I eat more chicken, Than any man ever seen” are bellowed.

Bo: I hasn’t ruined the song, but you know what is has kind of ruined? I used to like a good fried chicken sandwich, at a nice southern diner. Maybe a local chicken breast fried up would be okay… But the EMK guy doesn’t eat chicken sandwiches anymore.

Steven: Has your struggle been worth it so far? Would make that first Eat More Kale shirt all over again if you had the chance?

Bo: A typical thing I hear from people—and it really hits the spot—is, and I’m paraphrasing: “It must feel all encompassing sometimes, and we’re here to remind you that this is a fight that’s really worth fighting.” So on the days when I wish I’d never heard of Eat More Kale, and that doesn’t happen very often, but just when you start thinking that, that’s when you get an 80-year-old in a nursing home in Kentucky sending you a check for your legal fund…. I’d for sure make that first shirt over again.  When we were at Bush gardens last week, I had 5-10 people approach me while I was wearing the shirt, and most knew of the shirt but didn’t recognize me as the maker, but 2-3 people knew who I was and my 8 year old was thrilled. To be a rock star in the eyes of your daughter is worth it right there… I’ll be a real zero to her in a few years when she’s a teenager, but that night I tucked her in she was still talking about the people who knew me.

 

A special thanks to both Bo and Steven who put a substantial amount of time and heart into bringing us inside this perplexing story. Your hard work is appreciated.   –Nicole Delma, FOND Founder
 
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