Photo: Ellen KFor all of you poor souls who can’t tell kale and chicken apart (lord knows it can be difficult), your troubles may soon be over. Chik-fil-A, the country’s second-largest chain chicken restaurant (after KFC), is pressuring Vermont-based small-business owner Bo Muller-Moore to drop the phrase “Eat More Kale,” which he’s been screen-printing by hand on T-shirts and selling online and at local farmers markets since 2000. Chik-fil-A claims the words — a statement in support of local agriculture and sustainable food — are too similar to its trademarked “Eat Mor Chikin” ad slogan, and could cause confusion for its customers and “dilute” its English-challenged brand.
The irony of this artificially inflated conflict is almost too rich to be true. In an ideal world, Chick-fil-A’s worries would be legitimate, since Muller-Moore’s goal is to promote healthy eating and support for small farmers — basically, the opposite of going to Chick-fil-A. In fact, the chain’s regular customers are probably way more kale-deprived than your average Vermont locavore, and thus constitute the target audience for a kale publicity campaign.
Despite the myriad negative health effects connected to a diet high in fried chicken, brain damage has not (so far) proven to be one of them, so it’s doubtful that any of these shirts have successfully confused Chick-fil-A devotees to the point of kale worship.
Imagine how much healthier we’d be if it were that easy! If all you had to say was “I’m lovin’ arugula,” or “tomato-pickin’ good,” to convince fast-food addicts to trade a Double Down for a double serving of heirloom produce. We can dream. Of course, we’d also have a whole new set of problems: It’s been noted that if all Americans suddenly started eating the recommended five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, it would quickly become clear that our current farming system doesn’t grow enough.
Though it may be hard to believe that anyone ever told anyone to eat more anything before Chick-fil-A said it, Muller-Moore recently applied for a federal trademark for “Eat More Kale” to prevent others from copying the phrase and design — something he said has happened before. Still, it’s a little frightening to ponder what an extensive network of spies (er, market researchers?) Chik-fil-A must employ to have even gotten wind of all this. Though the shirts’ cult appeal appears to have spread across the world, it’s 121 miles to the nearest Chick-fil-A from Muller-Moore’s home studio in Montpelier, Vt. It’s not like he’s parading his brash copyright infringement through their drive-thru.
And, apparently, this isn’t the first time they’ve targeted him: The letter the company sent Muller-Moore Oct. 4, ordering him to stop using the phrase and turn over his website to Chick-fil-A, was similar to a previous one he received from them in 2006. A pro bono lawyer traded letters with the company on Muller-Moore’s behalf and, when the correspondence stopped without resolution, he kept making the shirts.
As was the case with various city governments who have had the gall to fine and arrest urban farmers in recent years (only to backpedal in response to waves of popular outrage), Chick-fil-A may have underestimated the power of the internet. A Change.org petition launched by Muller-Moore’s friend Jeff Weinstein already has almost 10,000 signatures, and the story is starting to make the mainstream media rounds. Who knows? Maybe Chick-fil-A’s paranoid reaction will end up backfiring and causing the demand for Muller-Moore’s shirts — and, subsequently, the leafy green they promote — to skyrocket. Like I said, we can dream.