Subway: Junk Food, Junk Economy

13 July 2004 |

by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

The American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendations are revered as pure fact by doctors and patients alike. But as is the case in most sects of the U.S. government, a public institution’s policies can also be heavily swayed by corporate dollars. As an example, AHA only endorses Bayer aspirin, and in return, Bayer “donates” $500,000 to AHA every year. Since 2002, Subway has also been riding the AHA bandwagon.. In exchange for $10 million in “donations” over the course of 5 years to AHA, Subway can proudly plaster the AHA’s “fighting heart disease and strokes” logo on its advertising materials. Although the majority of the food sold at Subway outlets includes junk food, processed red meats and cheeses, chips, soda, and cookies, thanks to creative advertising and the AHA, the majority of Americans mistakenly equate Subway with a healthy fast food outlet. Subway now has more stores in the U.S. than McDonalds (an average of over 300 in every state) with 21,528 restaurants in 75 countries.

What’s the largest fast junk food chain in the country?


It’s not McDonald’s.

It’s Subway.

Subway overtook McDonald’s last year in the United States and now has 15,874 locations in the U.S. compared to 11,533 for McDonald’s.

Worldwide, Subway has 21,528 restaurants in 75 countries.

McDonald’s has more than 30,000 restaurants in 119 countries.

Subway founder Fred DeLuca says he wants 30,000 outlets worldwide by 2010.

Of course, Subway would not want you to think that it is not a fast junk food chain.

In fact, the privately held firm has overtaken McDonald’s by riding a wave of publicity featuring Jared Fogle, who says he lost 245 pounds on the following diet — coffee for breakfast, Subway sandwich for lunch, and Subway sandwich for dinner.

Soon, the word was out — you could lose weight eating Subway sandwiches.

And tomorrow, on the National Mall, Subway founder and CEO DeLuca will join with Fogle, the American Heart Association, members of Congress (including the corporate liberal Rose DeLauro, D-Connecticut, whose district contains Subway’s corporate headquarters), and various “nutritional experts” to “galvanize support for fighting childhood obesity.”

We went and visited our local Subway and found that in fact, there was health and diet information displayed, including a nutritional and dietary guide with the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval.

But as at most fast junk food outlets, Coke machines, the rows of bags of chips, and the rubbery chicken and unappetizing beef were screaming — unhealthy, stay away.

You could order a salad, or a vegetarian sandwich. The chain markets seven subs with six grams of fat or less.

But for the most part, the staple of this franchise is processed meats and cheeses, soft drinks and chips.

Subway sandwiches include such classics as Steak and Cheese, Subway Melt (a first class blend of turkey breast, ham, crispy bacon, and melted cheese) Italian BMT (pepperoni, genoa salami, and ham) and the Cold Cut Trio (turkey based ham, salami, and bologna) — not your typical heart healthy sandwiches.

Should members of Congress and the American Heart Association be promoting this multinational junk food company?

Of course they shouldn’t.

The American Heart Association has sullied its reputation by getting in bed with whatever corporation comes around with its checkbook open.

According to a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Heart Association has taken big corporate cash from a long list of drug companies, junk food companies, and even from the National Livestock and Meat Board, which gave $189,000 to sponsor a HeartRide cycling series “to help ensure that people don’t think that AHA recommends abstaining from meat.”

In return for endorsing only Bayer aspirin, AHA gets $500,000 a year from Bayer. Nice deal, if you can cut it.

And how much money has Subway kicked in?

According to the AHA, Subway has given $4 million to the American Heart Association (AHA) since 2002, and will gave an additional $6 million through 2007. That’s a total of $10 million.

In exchange, Subway gets to put the AHA “fighting heart disease and stroke” logo on its materials throughout its chain of stores, according to an AHA spokesperson.

In a written statement, the AHA said it will only accept sponsorships from “those restaurants that have a public/market positioning associated with healthy foods or have heart-healthy and non-fried food alternatives
on the menu.”

“Subway actively promotes low-saturated fat meal options and exercise in their advertising messages,” the AHA said in the statement. “Their messaging reinforces that a well-balanced diet and exercise are important tools in maintaining a healthy weight.”

We agree with Commercial Alert’s Gary Ruskin that it’s “not the proper role of the federal government or public health groups to hawk Subway or any other form of fast or junk food.”

“This is part of the broader story of the corruption of the American public health movement,” Ruskin said. “AHA ought to drop its support for Subway. They have been converted into an auxiliary marketeer for Subway. They are apparently for sale.”

“The fast food companies are running in a panic over the obesity epidemic,” Ruskin said. “They are striving to do something to make it seem that they are not responsible for it or part of it. This is just one more way that companies like Subway try to hide their tracks and boost their public relation images.”

The government and independent public health organizations should be helping the American people fight off the hyperbreeding of fast food outlets cannibalizing the country — not promoting it.

In addition to promoting his beloved Subway and making millions a year doing so, DeLuca wants to bring an Indian gambling casino to Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Call it the junk food/junk economy connection.

According to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, DeLuca invested $10 million in the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation’s successful effort to gain federal recognition so they could build a casino in Connecticut. Blumenthal is challenging that recognition.

And the House Government Reform Committee is in the middle of an investigation of how the Schaghticoke Tribe and the Eastern Pequots gained such recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Earlier this year, the Hartford Courant reported that a rival band of Indians charged that the federal recognition of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation “was hijacked by outside investors and high-priced lobbyists intent on winning a lucrative gambling franchise for their own benefit.”

Whether or not the investors and lobbyists hijacked the process we’ll leave to federal investigators.

But what is clear is that Subway and DeLuca have hijacked the American Heart Association, Congresswoman DeLauro, and various federal agencies to promote their own brand of fast junk food.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press;

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