The Subway Falafel Sandwich and the Americanization of Ethnic Food

“Mediterranean food is delicious,” Zaibak says. It’s about time everyone knew it.

A few years ago, Khaled Zaibak began promoting fried chickpeas in his sleep. “I started to have some dreams about falafel,” says Zaibak, president of Chicago-based falafel wholesaler Zaibak Bros. “As a strong believer in faith, I felt as though it was a message from God.”

Zaibak set about spreading the word. He assembled a research and development team and pitched the traditional Middle Eastern sandwich to Subway. Soon, Zaibak had the blessing of the chain’s co-founder and CEO, Fred DeLuca, to start selling a falafel patty based on Zaibak’s Turkish grandmother’s recipe. Select Chicago-area Subways began offering footlong falafels in April of 2010. They’ve since expanded to restaurants throughout Illinois and Northwest Indiana.
Falafel’s foray into Subway stores is a logical step in the food’s journey into the American mainstream. After watching the rising popularity of hummus in grocery stores across the country, Zaibak says he saw an opportunity for another chickpea-based Middle-Eastern food to become an American staple. If the Subway falafel sandwich goes national, it could give the ethnic treat the most American treatment of all: fast food mass production.
“The history of American food is really a history of immigration, and the nostalgia that comes with a cuisine's decline is an indicator of an ethnic group's confidence in its American identity,” novelist Dana Horn wrote in a 2009 Wall Street Journal piece. “When a group first attains critical mass in America, its restaurants are mostly for its own members.” As generations settle in, the food, like the ethnic group itself, becomes subsumed into American culture: Think chow mein takeout, or drive-through Taco Bell. As later generations stabilize, they tend to cultivate an appreciation of ethnic difference alongside Americanness. “Shortly thereafter, food nostalgia sets in, and the quest for the ‘authentic’ begins,” Horn writes.
The history of the falafel in America, particularly in Chicago, makes it seem like it will conform to the trend. Much of the city’s falafel joints are concentrated in Middle Eastern immigrant neighborhoods, particularly the northwest side’s Albany Park, which saw an influx of Arabs and Assyrians from Iran and Iraq beginning in the 1970s. In recent years, several new lunch spots cropped up outside these traditional neighborhoods offering falafel of varying quality.
Unsurprisingly, reception of the Subway menu item wasn’t met with much fanfare in a city with so many quality falafel outlets. Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Johnson called out Subway for “failing to stay in their place.” But critics aren’t customers. Zaibak says the falafel sandwich has proven to be extremely popular, says Zaibak. Taking a cue from the McDonald’s McRib, Zaibak Bros. and Subway have attempted to drum up a cult following for the sandwich with social media profiles on Twitter and Facebook. “The Subway falafel sandwich is surprisingly not bad,” one diner recently tweeted.
While his company expected to sell just one case of falafels per Subway store per month, Zaibak says the average is closer to 4.5 cases per store per month. (He wouldn’t say exactly how many falafel pieces are in each case.) Of course, some quality has been sacrificed to bring the food down to American fast-food standards. Instead of fresh parsley, a dehydrated version of the herb is used. Falafels arrive flash-frozen from the Zaibak Bros. plant and are heated in Subway toaster ovens. The “cucumber sauce,” which Zaibak says is intentionally not referred to by its more ethnic name “tzatziki,” is a little watery. The patties offer a slightly mushy, orange-tinged version of the traditional falafel. These quirks are by design. “We take the whole ethnic feel out of it and create a relationship that is familiar to everybody,” Zaibak says of the Subway falafel.

Though falafel snobs may scoff at an “Eat Fresh” version of a dish that usually packs an aromatic crunch, owners of Middle Eastern restaurants say Subway’s falafel provides a major service to all Americans by expanding their palate. “It's almost kind of flattering that they want to be offering falafel,” said Shadi Ramli, co-owner of Chicago’s Sultan’s Market. Ramli says Subway’s sandwich is hardly competition, but it is a marketing campaign that could end up helping restaurants like his when Subway eaters and falafel newcomers want to try a more authentic version. “It gets the word ‘falafel’ out there,” he says.
A Subway corporate spokeswoman said the fate of the falafel is unknown at the chain, but Zaibak expects the product to expand well beyond Chicago to new markets like Boston, Northern California, New York, and Houston. All of those areas have sizable shares of either ethnic populations, health-conscious communities, or both. In other words, they’re places where falafel isn’t entirely foreign.
If the falafel goes national with Subway, it would reach places where the food and the cuisine is un-American by virtue of unfamiliarity. Zaibak views this as an educational opportunity as much as a financial one. He sees the spread of falafel as a way to spread Middle Eastern cuisine, and by extension Middle Eastern Americans, to wider American culture.
“For a while in this country, anything Middle Eastern and Mediterranean was not accepted. The falafel’s growing popularity shows we have become open-minded as Americans,” Zaibak says. Besides: “Mediterranean food is delicious.” It’s about time everyone knew it.

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.


Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet