The food is bad and the atmosphere is rotten, and yet I still can't drag myself away.
For decades the symbol of America’s global reach and throwaway culture was the McDonald’s golden arches. Today, without a doubt, it’s the yellow and white arrows of the Subway logo. With nearly 35,000 locations in 98 countries, Subway is now the most popular fast-food restaurant in the world. At the end of this year, the chain hopes to have 100 stores in Brooklyn alone, and it’s in the midst of testing a new “upscale” concept restaurant called Subway Café, which, in addition to sandwiches measured in inches, will serve coffee.
In a word, Subway is omnipresent. I probably eat there about once a month. So I know first-hand that it is terrible, and it needs to be stopped.
Firstly, let’s dispel the myth that Subway is good for you. Is a Subway sandwich better for you than, say, a bucket of fried chicken? Yes, but so is a Snickers bar. That doesn’t mean the Snickers bar or the Subway sandwich is healthy. The best thing Subway has going for it is the widespread acceptance that cheeseburgers, the primary product of its closest competitors, are always bad for you. Hungry diners, in the mood for something cheap and quick, end up comparing a sandwich loaded with lettuce and cold cuts to a greasy cheeseburger. If you’re at all health-conscious, it seems like a no-brainer.
But how much whole wheat is in Subway’s healthy sounding 9-grain wheat bread? None at all, actually. The first ingredient is enriched wheat, and the fourth ingredient is high-fructose corn syrup. In fact, there’s corn syrup in a lot of the stuff at Subway: the 9-grain bread, the sourdough bread, the salami, the pepperoni, the oven-roasted chicken patties, the teriyaki sauce, the bologna, the marinara sauce, the roast beef, the steak, the honey mustard, and the red wine vinaigrette. Jared, Subway’s speed-walking mascot, somehow failed to mentioned this.
With so many of their ingredients laced with corn syrup, it’s no surprise that most Subway menu items rival the caloric content of those at America’s most infamous burger chains. Yeah, assuming you get your foot-long chicken sandwich with no cheese or oil or mayo on it, you can likely avoid a lunch that exceeds 800 calories. But who eats like that? In reality you’ll probably order your oven-roasted chicken breast sub with cheese and mayonnaise on it, meaning it has almost 950 calories and more than 40 grams of fat. Toss in chips and a drink and you’ve got another 400 calories and about nine more grams of fat.
And what of the sandwiches that don’t pretend to be healthy? Well, they’re just loaded with fat. A foot-long meatball sandwich from Subway has nearly 1,100 calories and 46 grams of fat. By contrast, a Big Mac, with its 600 calories and 33 grams of fat, looks downright wholesome.
Sure, a lot of places sell gross food. What makes eating at Subway almost unbearable is the fact that you feel like less of a person after doing so. The regimented ordering process by which you step forward and shuffle sideways is like Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi gag come to life. The next thing you know the “sandwich artist” is microwaving your protein of choice until it’s hot and rubbery enough to bounce. After that they sloppily throw together some sad looking vegetables and squirt some ranch dressing on everything, and then you’re done. Choosing what you want on your sandwich is supposed to make you feel unique. But I never feel like more of a pathetic cog in some giant wheel than when I eat at Subway.
And that’s the thing—I eat at Subway. Not often, but more than I eat at any other fast-food restaurant. It’s convenient, vegetarian friendly, and cheap. If you’re on a road trip or looking for a quick bite in a small, unfamiliar town, Subway is often one of the best options. That said, I still hate myself every time I open a Subway door and inhale the familiar scent of freshly baked corn-syrup bread. “Life has come to this again,” I think.
It pains me that I’ve ended up eating there instead of cooking real food for myself or visiting a local sandwich shop. It also pains me that Subway is the most popular restaurant in the world. Subway continues to be successful for the same reason many bad things—inefficient cars, factory farms, etc—persist: Sometimes you’re just too tired to care.