Monday, November 28, 2011

Would Jesus Really Eat Mor Chikin?

I read an article this morning about a silkscreener in Vermont who's being harassed by Chick-fil-A about tee shirts he started making that say "eat more kale." The guy's neighbor is a kale farmer, and the slogan was meant as an expression of the benefits of local agriculture. It caught on and is now apparently a common sight on tee shirts and bumper stickers in central Vermont. Chick-fil-A owns the trademark "eat mor chikin" and asserted in a cease and desist letter that the kale slogan would confuse customers.

The slogan "eat mor chikin" is misspelled because it is written by cows. Chick-fil-A's main ad campaign has pictures of cute cartoon cows holding signs encouraging people to each chicken instead of beef. If you think about it a little, it's sort of a sick concept. One species of animal effectively lobbying children to spare them from genocide. Instead of slaughtering and factory-processing caged, hormone fed, covered-in-their-own-feces bovines, the cartoon cows are begging to be spared at the expense of caged, hormone fed, genetically-modified-to-the-point-of-hardly-remaining-actual-animal birds. Nonetheless, factory food is a very competitive industry, and its titans cannot risk diminishing market share as a result of kale propaganda.

From an intellectual property standpoint, Chick-fil-A has a pretty weak case. Its argument turns on whether the "eat more kale" slogan confuses consumers. A lot of people have never heard of kale. Most people could probably not make a positive ID of kale in a lineup of other leafy greens. It's hard to imagine a single person buying an "eat more kale" shirt from a hippy in Vermont, all the time thinking they were supporting Chick-fil-A. Whatever top-tier law firm that has the honor of serving as Chick-fil-A's corporate counsel probably knows perfectly well that it would lose this case if it ever went to court. But in most corporate behemoth vs. Vermont farmer cases, a threatening letter is enough to scare off the alleged infringer. In this case, the kale guy got some pro bono legal help from the University of New Hampshire law school. So he'll probably be OK. Some bright-eyed student will make a name for himself standing up for kale in the face of oppression by genocidal cartoon cows.

But beyond the legal issue, what about all the larger underlying principles that are in play here? When I hear about idiot corporate moves like this, I usually jump right into the company's SEC filings to learn about what principles of morality, decency and plain old common sense are being violated. In this case, however, it turns out that that despite being the second largest chicken restaurant chain in the country (after KFC) with annual revenues of more than $3.5 billion, Chick-fil-A is still a privately held company. It's owned by the Cathy family of Atlanta. The Chick-fil-A website has a link to the Cathy family website. And the Cathy family website has a whole section about the family's values and faith, which, in turn has a link to the New Hope Baptist Church. As a private company, Chick-fil-A does not have any reporting obligations to the SEC. But its owners report to a higher power. Jesus.

So when evaluating the morality of silencing hippy kale farmers in Vermont in the name of hawking fast food chicken, it seems fair to check out the institution Chick-fil-A's owners point to as being their moral compass, and see what they have to say. Here are some of the principals the New Hope Baptist Church explains in the "What We Believe" section of its website:

"Primarily, businesses are driven by profit. Some people are driven by the desire to accumulate wealth while others may be driven by image, success, or acceptance. Jesus had a clear mission. Jesus came to 'seek and to save that which was lost' (Luke 19:10 )." "Jesus lived a sinless life. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead and will return to earth to gather His children and judge the world." "The sole basis of our belief is the Bible, which is uniquely God-inspired, without error, and the final authority on all matters on which it bears. Since God's Word is the only completely reliable and truthful authority, we accept the Bible as our manual for living. Our first question when faced with a decision is 'What does the Bible say?' The Bible is the basis for all we believe." "But you, the King's priests, God's own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God." 1 Peter 2:9 (TEV)

In a nutshell: when evaluating the merits of salad versus factory-produced fast food, conglomerates versus individuals, and threatening baseless litigation on the theory that deep pockets will win out over some dude in Vermont before an issue ever makes it in front of a judge, we should see what the Bible has to say, and we should follow Jesus' example. I know very little about what the Bible says, so I'm just working off of my own perceptions and stuff I've overheard on the street. If I could spend ten minutes interviewing Jesus about his take on kale produced on a small farm in Vermont, I imagine he would bring up things like: it's a vegetable; it's healthy; it sustains people without killing animals; family farms are nice; it doesn't require deforestation. Stuff like that. Kale was around during the time when Jesus was alive, but deep fried fast food was not. So I'd have to explain how that whole system works. And while it could be that Jesus would see some virtues in the network of factory food, mass distribution and advertising that underpins any fast food conglomerate, I have to think that he would have some issues too. Genetic manipulation and torture of animals; destruction of the environment; brainwashing kids through cartoon advertisements; loading people up with enough chemicals and fat to make them obese, diabetic, and, ultimately dead before their time. I think Jesus would be concerned.

"Eat more" anything is a plain English term that is probably not legitimately subject to trademark protections in the first place. Most companies don't purport to report to any higher power than its shareholders and government regulators. But Chick-fil-A does. Its owners say that Jesus and the Bible are the go-to manual to consult for moral guidance. Trying to silence a kale farmer in the name of selling shit food to kids seems hard to reconcile with the teachings of the Bible. Jesus would probably choose a salad. Chick-fil-A and its religious owners should leave the Vermont silkscreener and his kale farming friend alone.


Leslie K. said...

I would like to point out that, according to Chick-fil-A's website, they do not have even one location in the entire State of Vermont. There is only 1 location in neighboring New York State, and that is located on the campus of NYU in Manhattan; and there are 3 locations in total in New Hampshire and Massachusetts - all around the Boston, MA area. So it's not like the good people of the great state of Vermont are otherwise inundated with Chick-fil-A commercials for which confusion of their slogan could arise. I think Jesus would tell them to turn the other cheek. :)

Joe said...

Jesus, as everyone knows, was all about fish, fish and more fish. There were no chikuns in that miracle at the Sermon on the Mount. Therefore, Jesus prefers Red Lobster.

Judy T said...

Brilliantly stated Dan. I think Jesus and his Birkenstock-wearing brethren would go so far as to eat the kale crunchy raw like a true radical. Chik-fil-A can go anoint themselves with even more oil than they already are.

Anonymous said...

Isn't there a story in the New Testament where Jesus says,
"Before the neon Chik Fil A sign buzzes three times
one of you shall betray me."

no? hhhhmmm. where did I hear this?

dfields said...

Brilliant dissection of the hypocrisy of modern day devotees in contrast to the character of their gods. I have New Hope! wait... they're not infringing copyright on George Lucas' Star Wars episode 4 are they? this could be good.

dfields said...

Brilliant dissection of the hypocrisy of modern day devotees in contrast to the character of their gods. I have New Hope! wait... they're not infringing copyright on George Lucas' Star Wars episode 4 are they? this could be good.