"Beet the system." "Overgrow the government." "Squash the state." "Berry the President."
For those who like their anarchy served up with a side of veggies, local DIY artists Ben Levitt, who prefers the moniker "breakfast," Jess Cullity and friends have been doling out stickers printed with such slogans for more than a decade. The catchy vegetable puns are accompanied by his striking black-and-white graphics.
It began, breakfast recalls, in 2000 when he and Cullity — both West Woodbury residents — developed the concept for "Beet the System." The pair printed the image on stickers with their own funds and passed them around for free. Like the viral Eat More Kale shirts, developed the same year by Montpelier-based artist Bo Muller-Moore, the concept really took off.
"People just kept asking for more vegetable puns," breakfast recalls.
And since he and Cullity are strongly opposed to copyright laws, they made it easy for people to access their images. Anyone can download the masters online, then tweak, reprint and redistribute them. The artists don't mind — in fact, they get a kick out of it.
"I love the whole DIY movement," says breakfast. "I'm not into the art world, such as it is, but I do love to do artwork."
He thinks of the stickers not as works of art belonging to him or Cullity but as a collaborative effort by a wider DIY arts community that stretches far beyond Vermont. The "overgrow the government" image, breakfast says by way of example, is particularly popular in Europe, where groups and individuals frequently tweak it for their own purposes.
The stickers had a particular resurgence during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 and 2012, breakfast notes. And he and his friends have stumbled across the images (or modified versions of them) all around the world, from Brazil to Indonesia.
"I have no idea how they got there, and that's my favorite part of it — not knowing," says breakfast. "It evolves on its own and grows on its own."
More than 13 years and approximately a dozen veggie-anarchist designs later, breakfast and Cullity recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance more sticker printing, so they can continue to ship them out to anyone else who asks for free. So far, they've raised just under half of their $2,500 goal. The idea, according to the Kickstarter page, is to "satisfy current demand for the next 10 years."
While the duo doesn't anticipate the stickers' popularity declining, breakfast admits the possibilities for anti-establishment vegetable puns may have been exhausted — and he may be tired of illustrating them.
"I don't want to do any more vegetables for a while," he admits with a laugh. "I'll want to make something new."