- Courtesy of Ben Sarle
- Bo Moore
The T-shirt artist was Bo Moore (then Muller-Moore), creator of the locally ubiquitous Eat More Kale design. The subject was his battle with fast-food giant Chick-fil-A, which opposed Moore's trademark application on the basis of the resemblance between "Eat More Kale" and its own longtime slogan "Eat mor chikin."
On Tuesday, November 16, at 6:30 p.m., the documentary will premiere at Main Street Landing Film House in Burlington. Originally called A Defiant Dude, it's now titled Vermont and the Bright Green Nothing. A Q&A with Moore and the film's writer-director, James Lantz, will follow the screening, which is presented by the Vermont International Film Foundation.
- Courtesy of Ben Sarle
- James Lantz
But what happened next? Why was the doc so long in the making? And why does the trailer open with audio of a conversation in which the star accuses the filmmaker of "not fucking listening"?
Seven Days has been covering the story of Moore's viral design since its misty origins in the aughts. For readers who don't recall all of the twists and turns — and those who wonder what this whole kale business even is — I've assembled the following timeline of the Eat More Kale affair.
Hold tight: This is a deep dive into the strange tale of how leafy green vegetables met virality. It's a success story that could probably only happen in the digital era — and in a state where "bright green" values are a way of life.
- Courtesy of James Lantz
- Bo Moore in a still from Vermont and the Bright Green Nothing.
Moore asks Camilletti for permission to make wider use of her catchy slogan. According to the story, "She gave him her blessing, requesting only that, should Moore become successful in his Eat More Kale venture, he give her a free shirt at the end of the year."
The slogan pops up on more shirts, and then on free, widely distributed stickers that serve as advertising for Moore's biz.
2006: Moore's stickers are now so common in central Vermont that a prankster named Patrick Mullikin creates "Eat More Meat" stickers as a parody. Moore describes himself as "flattered" by the knock-offs. A Seven Days story — the first about Moore — notes archly that Moore himself is not a vegetarian.
According to a 2011 Seven Days story, this is around when Moore receives his first cease-and-desist order from Atlanta-based Chick fil-A. Describing "Eat More Kale" as too similar to "Eat mor chikin," the company requests "that I shut down my website and send them my inventory," Moore will say later.
Via a lawyer, he refuses.
2008: None other than prankster Mullikin writes a Seven Days profile of Moore, whose stickers are now described as "viral." Moore is making a living from T-shirt sales, according to the story, though he's still his only employee. His design has inspired copycats, to whom Moore has sent cease-and-desist orders.
- Courtesy of James Lantz
- Still from Vermont and the Bright Green Nothing.
2011: Moore applies for a federal trademark for "Eat More Kale." About a month later, he hears from Chick-fil-A's lawyers again, demanding that he withdraw the application. Moore describes the action to Seven Days as "legitimate David-versus-Goliath corporate bullying." He says he's not even making a living from the slogan.
A petition to support Moore's cause proves so popular that, weeks later, he's having trouble filling orders for his T-shirts that pour in from around the country. Lawyer Dan Richardson of Montpelier represents him pro bono.
The Associated Press, the New York Times and eventually the Economist pick up the story.
- Courtesy of James Lantz
- Gov. Peter Shumlin in a still from Vermont and the Bright Green Nothing.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin gets in on the action, announcing the creation of "Team Kale" and telling reporters, "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." He describes Chick-fil-A's action as interfering with "our agricultural renaissance."
Undeterred, Chick-fil-A releases a statement declaring that "when protecting our trademark, the law does not allow us to differentiate between a large company or a small enterprise."
February 2012: Moore teams up with Lantz to run a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary on the Eat More Kale affair.
Playwright and filmmaker Lantz is an early adopter of arts crowdfunding. In 2011, he ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring his LGBTQ-themed play The Bus to Topeka, Kan., home of the Westboro Baptist Church.
According to Moore, the pair hopes to finish the documentary in fall 2012 so they can submit it to the Sundance Film Festival.
Moore seems to be enjoying his new fame. He tells Seven Days reporter Megan James that “I’m an only child and I’m an Aries and I’m not particularly bashful. In some way or another, I’ve been building toward this.”
March 2012: With pledges of nearly $90,000, the film's Kickstarter campaign has far exceeded its $75,000 goal.
But there's also bad news for Moore. An attorney with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issues a preliminary ruling against his trademark application, citing a "likelihood of confusion" with "Eat mor chikin."
Lawyer Richardson describes the case to Seven Days' Corin Hirsch as "a galvanizing issue," noting the similarity of Moore's business to "a lot of small businesses out there."
2013: A knock-off of the Eat More Kale T-shirts appears in an ad spot for Healthy Choice yogurt. Moore is not amused, lamenting that "legally there’s nothing I can do because it falls under parody." He says he's attempting to get a ripoff of his design removed from eBay.
A few months later, the USPTO makes a preliminary decision against Moore, giving him six months to respond.
In a Seven Days Q&A, longtime Burlington intellectual property attorney Peter B. Kunin weighs in on the case, calling it "an example of trademark bullying." He opines that "From my perspective, Chick-fil-A — they’ve got no claim at all."
Meanwhile, Lantz has been gathering footage for his documentary all over the country. In November, he sends campaign backers a 30-minute compilation. Besides footage of Moore, it includes snippets of the stories of other businesspeople and artists who got in legal trouble for their use of a trademarked word or phrase.
December 2014: The USPTO finally approves Moore's trademark application.
Moore tells the Washington Post he's "thrilled that reason prevailed and Chick-fil-A has to eat some crow." In a statement, Gov. Shumlin describes the victory as "a win for our state." Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) issues his own statement saying that Moore's case helped inspire his attempts to revise trademark legislation in favor of the little guy.
In an interview with Seven Days, Moore acknowledges that his battle with Chick-fil-A helped drum up business, and that the victory comes with a downside. "There's definitely a very raw awareness that when this subsides, I will be yesterday’s news and there won't be much to kick it back up," he says. "That's a little regrettable."
Meanwhile, in an email to this reporter, Lantz projects a 2016 release for the documentary.
February 2016: Lantz has been faithfully updating backers of the Eat More Kale doc. In his 59th newsletter, he characterizes Moore in an unexpected way. Rather than being David in a battle versus Goliath, Lantz suggests, perhaps the T-shirt maker is more of a Tom Sawyer — "a lovable yet shrewd small-business owner who got a lot of us to help him paint his fence."
Debate erupts over Lantz's framing of the story. In a story for this paper, I do my best to sum up the bone of contention between the filmmaker and his subject. While Lantz seems to have discovered that what he really wants to make is a documentary about the all-too-common practice of trademark bullying, Moore is fast becoming a fierce defender of his own hard-won trademark.
In an emailed statement, Lantz tells me that "the USPTO and Bo both benefitted from a legal process that dragged on for years."
Meanwhile, Moore refutes the suggestion that "me making lots and lots of money ... somehow makes me a less admirable character in this story." He has a different take: "I was handed a box of lemons, and I chose to create lemonade. Every businessperson recognizes that you play the hand you're dealt."
Without disowning the documentary, Moore acknowledges to me "that this is a film that one man is going to craft. And the story that he creates may not be the exact story that I feel that I've lived, and lived with my community."
2018: The story of the Eat More Kale movie is getting more and more complicated.
In the spring, Lantz publishes a long piece on Medium (since deleted) about his filmmaking saga and how the crowdfunded money was used. In another update for campaign backers, he cites "mounting evidence that a surprising amount of Bo's public appeal for support was misleading."
In August, Lantz announces to backers the defeat of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that he filed in an attempt to "access documents the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was keeping secret and withholding from our film."
His objective, he says, was to learn why Moore's case took a full four years to move through the agency. He suggests that the then United States Commissioner of Trademarks "was personally involved in the Eat More Kale case ... It's reasonable that the public should know why."
January 2020: In another public update (some updates are reserved for campaign backers), Lantz explains that he has been in cancer treatment and recovery, temporarily stalling the film's progress.
May 2020: On Facebook, Moore announces that "EatMoreKale.com is shutting down after 15 ish [sic] years. ... I'm losing my affordable and custom built studio to my ex-wife. It's OK. I had a 'good run.'" He issues a "last call" for T-shirt orders.
November 2020: Again on Facebook, Moore announces that he is "back in business," though he'll no longer hand-print his T-shirts. "I'm going to keep creating designs and do my part in 'marketing,'" he writes.
December 2020: Lantz writes to backers: "I’m asking that you please wait a few months more [for the film]," citing the fact that "Legally speaking, I have to be very careful." He notes that "Contractually ... Bo is a producer of the film, and though he has no editorial or business control, he is allowed to view the finished film prior to its first public showing."
April 2021: Lantz announces that his film will premiere on the 10th anniversary of Moore's first Facebook post about Chick-fil-A's cease-and-desist letter.
You can see the film's black-and-white trailer here. It opens with Lantz asking Moore a question about the duration of his trademark case, to which the latter responds in part with "You're not fucking listening, Jim."
A voiceover describes Vermont and the Bright Green Nothing as "the documentary tale about a partially true, sometimes misleading shaggy-dog story from Vermont that was seen by millions and moved over a hundred thousand people to do something to support [Moore]."
Now even more people will see Lantz's take on the story — and perhaps Moore's take on that take. Lantz confirmed by email Tuesday morning that Moore has accepted his invitation to participate in the post-screening Q&A.
Free tickets to the screening can be reserved here. They are reportedly going fast.