Whenever I pass by a Subway, I can’t help but ponder the long, tumultuous road down which this beleaguered sandwich chain has stumbled. Given how it’s been a national punchline for years now, the fact that it’s still among America’s top ten fast food restaurants seems to defy all logic. In 2022, the term “cancel culture” is used as a cudgel anytime a celebrity is publicly condemned for their transgressions, but the continued existence of Subway makes me question whether anybody is ever truly canceled.
Subway has weathered a damn near decade of the worst press imaginable, and yet it’s currently operating 20,000 locations across the country. It makes me wonder: What would it actually take to bring down Subway?
Recent Subway controversies
Let’s start with a recap of Subway’s recent history. None one of these headlines, which all ran in major news outlets, have proven to be the proverbial dagger to Subway’s still beating, wet ham of a heart:
- Subway: No more “yoga mat chemical” in our bread
- At Subway, Customers Really Aren’t Eating as “Fresh” As They Think
- Subway Chicken Only About 50% Meat, According to Canadian Study
- Subway’s Tuna is Not Tuna, But a Mix of Various “Concoctions”
Despite all of those headlines, Subway not only continues to hang around, but the chain might actually be rebounding, reporting record sales over the past 18 months. According to Subway, this can be attributed to the Subway Series menu, part of the “Eat Fresh Refresh” rebrand, but I think there’s a larger truth at work: No matter what happens, no matter what bad press Subway endures, it’s hard to get consumers to change their habits. And no part of Subway’s track record exhibits this better than one Jared Fogle, longtime Subway mascot.
Yes, I just called Jared a mascot and not a spokesperson. That’s because referring to him as a person sends chills down my spine, as it reminds me of just how deeply unsettling human beings are. Plus, Jared technically did put on a costume every day—of a guy who isn’t a pedophile—and those pants he was paid to brandish looked like they would fit the Philly Phanatic.
Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the incredibly manipulative marketing of a big pair of pants. To this day, when someone brings up Jared I think about those giant pants first, and then the other thing—that’s how impressive the ad campaign is. Of note: Jared gets out of prison in 2030. When I read that, my first thought was, “I wonder if he’ll go back to Subway?” You simply can’t put it past an American sandwich chain to rehire a convicted sex criminal.
While Subway’s sales and reputation took a hit after Jared’s crimes came to light, the restaurant continued to serve categorically awful food as if this weren’t also part of the problem. The underwhelming combination of bread, cheese, and Sure, It’s Protein!™ continues to sell daily.
Meanwhile, Subway’s ingredients have been on trial for 10 long years, only to be acquitted time and time again by the public. Subway’s ham and salami appear to be occasionally “turkey-based,” which doesn’t read healthy so much as foreboding. What does “turkey-based” even mean? Sure, we start with a turkey, and then from there shit gets pretty weird. Then there was Ireland’s hilarious Supreme Court ruling that Subway’s bread technically isn’t bread, and most recently, the issue of Subway’s tuna allegedly containing traces of chicken, beef, and pork. I mean, a little bit of beef in my tuna salad I can understand. And who hasn’t tasted some tuna and thought, boy, I wish society allowed me to add chicken here. But chicken, beef, and pork? That’s too many meats. Even for Arby’s.
But perhaps most famously, there was the yoga mat bread thing, which was such a fiasco that the words “yoga mat” are now associated more with Subway than with actual yoga. And although plenty of other chains used the chemical in their bread, it didn’t matter. Subway took the blow and kept marching on.
And somehow, against all logic, despite a pedophilia scandal, bread that maybe isn’t bread, tuna that maybe isn’t tuna, allegedly mysterious meats, and an army of negative press, there are still more than 20,000 Subway locations nationwide. Subway has been afforded more opportunities than the son of a famous Hollywood producer.
I want you to think about this: Everything bad that could happen to Subway already has. How could it even get worse? Try to imagine worse press. Subway could blast out a tweet tomorrow saying,
Heyo! Subway here! On behalf of all of us: Whoops! We just found out all of our provolone cheese is made from horses. We’re working to resolve the issue, and we’re hoping that by 2025 there will be no more horses in the provolone cheese.
And it wouldn’t matter. Even this article is just more Subway slander headed straight to the pile. Nothing will change, in part because people’s memories are shorter than a footlong sub.
Think of Subway as a public figure in hot water; pick your favorite martyr. When somebody gets taken down for a social violation, an inflammatory comment, a mortal sin, a damn felony, or a sexual crime, the public says their “career is over.” But is it ever really over? When you’ve established such an omnipresent base of loyal fans and habituated customers, does the money ever really go away?
Subway, in fact, is not just surviving—it’s thriving. If its third quarter sales results are any indication, we might see more of Subway in the coming decade, not less.
Personally, if I never heard the word “canceled” again I’d be just fine. Still, I know the next time a podcast host, comedian, actor, or musician gets called out for their transgressions and fans cry, “The woke mob took everything away from him!” I’ll just point at the nearest Subway and say, “I think he’ll be just fine.”