Subway? I'd rather have a Big Mac

Updated on 13 April 2011 | 0 Comments

Don't assume that Subway is automatically better than McDonald's.

McDonald’s rules the fast food high street, right? Not any more: the sandwich chain Subway has clambered up the golden arches and stolen McDonald’s’ crown. 

Subway bigger than McDonald’s

Globally, Subway now has about 34,000 franchises in 96 countries, while McDonald’s is trailing behind with around 32,000 stores across 117 countries. 

I remember well the first branch opening near me in the early noughties. It was on my route from home to university lectures, and my friend ate one every single day, because he “wanted to get at least one decent, healthy meal”. 

Subway trades on health food

This provision of decent, healthy food is what has won Subway millions of devoted fans, its incredible rate of expansion and, now, the accolade of having more outlets than McDonald’s. 

The Subway diet

In North America, an ad campaign traded on Subway’s healthy image by following a man who lost 200lbs by munching on the so-called “Subway diet” – proof, the campaign alleges, that Subway is good for you. 

What tosh. I’m not disputing this bloke lost the weight. But Subway resembles healthy food as closely as chickens resemble fish – they’re both edible, but species-wise are light years apart. 

So distasteful do I find the Subway concept of taking a brilliant foodstuff – the sandwich – and bastardizing it into a an indigestible wodge of processed pulp, that I would reach for a Big Mac rather than eat a Subway – something I haven’t done for years. 

Assembly line

After the food, there’s the depressing Subway modus operandi, where factory-line servers count out the exact number of cheese slices, pappy ham or bits of olive to lay in the bread – bread which might as well be a pack of paper towels browned in the oven. 

It makes a mockery of anyone who makes a living out of assembling fresh ingredients into quality fast food, which does exist by the way. Take Leon – no processed cheese slices or canned tuna swimming in fake mayo there. 

The key, again, to Subway’s success lies in these “bits of olive”. There are items of fresh salad that you can add to your sandwich if you wish. But tell me, who is going to pimp their Meatball Marinara with some crisp iceberg? 

That’s not to say there aren’t healthier options in Subway. The 6’’ Subway club has 298 calories and 4.1g of fat. The Beef sandwich has 271 calories and 3.2g of fat. Neither are bad choices for a lunch on the hop. 

Speedy expansion

But it’s the global con the store has masterminded that really annoys me. Subway fans now think they can circumvent preparing their own meals and get healthy food with a Subway.

It’s been done at lightning speed, too. The first shop opened in 1986 in Canada. In the mid-90’s I was on a family holiday in rural Massachusetts, when we stopped at a roadside café hoping for something quick to eat. We couldn’t see any actual food, but there was one board above the till with the word “Subs” written at the top and a series of what seemed to be sandwich fillings listed below. 

Subs are quite new to UK

Yes, reader, we figured it out. At the time a sub roll was not part of the British English lexicon. A few years later, M&S began selling white sub rolls and now, thanks to Subway, few of us don’t know the kind of bread it refers to. 

Of course, I did venture back into Subway to research this piece. And before doing so, I realised that there were three routes home I could choose with a Subway on each, but only one McDonald’s, near to my house. 

Unwelcoming restaurants

Sadly the Subway I chose smelt greasy, was lit with electrifyingly bright lights and was empty – though I have seen the lunchtime rush here. It belonged in what “subway” has always meant in the UK – underground passages for pedestrians to cross beneath busy roads, in which you sometimes spy the odd burger outlet or hotdog cart. 

McDonald’s, on the other hand, has made a real effort to make its restaurants clean, spacious and more welcoming, with its Arne Jacobsen-inspired chairs, toned down signage and muted colours. 

Confusing menu

The Subway menu flummoxed me. Was there something vegetarian? Yes, I could have an X or a Y. And what is the difference between the two? I didn’t understand the answer, even asking twice. So I went for the X, which turned out to be two triangles of melted cheese with my choice of salads. I went for the honey mustard dressing, which was a grey mayonnaise with bright orange specks in it. 

McDonald’s has improved the quality of its food too. I’m not giving the golden arches a get out of jail free card here - no chance - but the facts are it uses free range eggs and its bottled milk is organic. That’s meant that substantially more British farmers can count on a market for free range eggs and organic milk. McDonalds is also trying to find someone who can supply enough organic milk for the shakes and McFlurrys. 

Eat proper food – even if it’s junk food

If I am going to eat fast food, I don’t want to be palmed off with a tasteless, “healthier” version of whatever I’m lusting after. When it comes to burgers, or any fast food, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be doing your heart and your gut a favour by going for the healthy choice. Get a real burger or kebab and satisfy the fast food craving properly. 

Also worth your attention: 

Eating red meat is linked to cancer

Rachel green’s lamb kebabs 

How Henry Dimbleby changed the face of fast food 


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