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An Open Letter to Subway

June 4, 2013

To whom it may concern,

I would first and foremost like to thank you for the wonderful creation that is the Chopped Chicken Salad.  This is a marvel of paleo food creation in what is nearly a desert of refined-carb free offerings.  It is so rare that dropping the bun on anything in life actually makes for a better tasting food item, but you have done it.  Part of that might be the fact that you need a chemist to make your bread rather than a baker, but this is the case of any fast food bread like substances:

Enriched wheat flour (wheat flour, barley malt, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, yeast, sugar, contains 2% or less of the following: soybean oil, wheat gluten, salt, dough conditioners (DATEM, sodium stearoyl lactylate, ascorbic acid, potassium iodate, azodicarbonamide), yeast nutrients (calcium carbonate, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate),
wheat protein isolate, yeast extract, vitamin D2, natural flavor, enzymes. Contains: Wheat

I have been aware that you offered a salad of sorts for quite awhile, but I had no faith in this creation.  It may have been your marketing or the fact that I just imagined cold cuts, laying flaccidly out on a bed of shredded lettuce, but whatever the case, I have never desired a salad at your establishment.  Of course that all changed when you added chopped to the name and tossed up all the ingredients in a huge new bowl!

I first tried the chopped chicken salad about 3 months ago, right after I had decided to truly go paleo (you can find out more about a paleo diet here if you are curious).  You see,   I finally decided that being in good shape was nice, and not being fat had its advantages, but I really wanted to shoot for cut.  I mean ripped!!  I knew the only way to do this was to eliminate all starches and refined carbs from my diet.  So, one night as I was starving and the kids were jumping around on trampolines at a trampoline center, I headed out into the urban landscape to find something paleo I could eat.  After a lot of searching, I had given up and was honestly just going to get a cookie at Subway when I saw your salad on the menu.  I figured that if I didn’t like it, I could always have that cookie, so there was nothing to lose.  Trust me when I say my expectations were low, and not because you don’t make good food.  You do.  I have enjoyed your Italian BMT on wheat for years, just I had low hopes for your salads.

I ordered it with roast chicken.  Of course, I use the term ‘roast chicken’ loosely, very loosely.  Roast chicken loaf appears to be some sort of pressed chicken pieces, formed into a chicken breast like shape with grill marks painted on for ‘authenticity’ (even though it is roast chicken, not grilled chicken… explain that one).  I have generally been turning a blind eye to the chicken potion of the salad, happy for the protein, but thanks to this letter I had to look up the ingredients, and they made me shudder:

CHICKEN BREAST (pdf of all ingredients of foods at Subway can be found here)
Chicken breast with rib meat, water, seasoning (corn syrup solids, vinegar powder [maltodextrin, modified corn starch and tapioca starch, dried vinegar], brown sugar, salt,dextrose, garlic powder, onion powder, chicken type flavor [hydrolyzed corn gluten, autolyzed yeast extract, thiamine hydrochloride, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate]), sodium phosphates
Before I ask, Subway upper management person,  do I even want to know chicken type flavor is?  Some things can never be unknown, and if this is one of those, just give me the look and the wink and say, don’t worry yourself about it and I will get the hint.  So, from now on, I will probably be getting my chopped chicken salad chickenless (that is to say even more chickenless than ordering it with that patty above that some may be reticent to call chicken at all).  I will just walk across the street and get a rotisserie chicken from the Fresh Street Market and add that instead.
In any case, the reason I am writing you this letter is not the chicken issue above.  You see, the first time I got my salad, the woman microwaved the chicken and then carefully cut it up.  She asked me for the vegetables I would like in my salad, not including the lettuce.  She placed the vegetables carefully in the bottom of a big plastic bowl, spreading them out on the sides as well.  She carefully kneaded the vegetables with your rounded double blade device (She obviously intended to chop them, but your chopping devices are remarkably dull).  The device is somewhat more useful than say, a sponge in cutting vegetables, but it does seem that if handled by a skilled worker, it will do the trick, eventually.  When she was convinced that the vegetables were sufficiently chopped, she added the chicken, dressing and the lettuce and chopped the whole concoction together for a little while longer before transferring it to the plastic serving bowl.
I must say that this seemed to be the perfect way to prepare the salad, and I have not once had the salad prepared this way since!  In fact, I have eaten this salad numerous times (yes, I am now worried about how much thiamine hydrochloride I have consumed, along with the disodium inosinate – if you get a chance can you pop down the hall and ask Lanette Kovachi, your corporate nutritionalist, if there are any symptoms of toxicity that I should be looking out for), and each and every time I have ordered it, it has been prepared differently.  Every single person has their own way of making this salad.  From adding in the lettuce before doing any chopping, to adding the chicken whole, to cutting the chicken a little and then dropping it in, to how much they chop the vegetables, to how much dressing they add, whether they ask you if you want cheese or salt and pepper or not.  Really, I am not even close in catching the variations.  I am surprised at the number of combinations, although mathematically, I do understand exactly how many combinations there are, just that I wouldn’t think that making a salad would be so open to interpretation that each and every person would try out a new combination.
And this is the crux of my open letter to you.  I have meant to write this at least 24 times in the last 2 months, each time I get a salad in fact (please do ask Lanette if there is anything to worry about by the way, I am wondering about a twitch I may have developed, could it be caused by disodium gunaylate toxicity?).  Today was too much though.  Today I hit a new low and went from just imagining writing a letter in my head  to the actually writing a letter.  As I watched the worker making my salad, I knew I had a bad one right away.
Sometimes the workers at Subway have a tentative, not entirely sure what they are doing look when they are doing their job.  I think this is because of the tremendous turnaround that entry level jobs have.  No problem, everyone has to learn at some point, and I guess not enough salads are ordered to get everyone trained up before they move on.  This worker definitely had that look.  She microwaved the chicken and put in the vegetables I ordered(onions, green peppers, cucumbers and green peppers) and asked me if that was all I wanted.  I said yes.  It is important that you don’t say you want lettuce at this point, because many of the workers find that insulting, as of course you want lettuce in your salad, just that they don’t chop it because it is already shredded (and I doubt that dull metal chopping device could actually cut lettuce) so either you don’t know the protocol or you are getting ahead of the game and either of these actions will earn you a rebuke.  Of course, if that was more of a rule than a guidelines, it would save all of the awkward times when you have to point out that no, you want lettuce too, after they have moved on without lettuce, and you suggest you would like some, and they say, ‘I already asked you what vegetables you wanted, and lettuce is a vegetable’, which of course you knew, but now you are the idiot and you are slowing down the food line even worse, because lets be honest, the chopped chicken salad is a subway line killer!    So, when I told her the vegetables were all I wanted, she looked at me funny and started putting in a lot more of the vegetables and I was very sure we were going to have that lettuce conversation, so to cut her short, I said, ‘and of course the lettuce’.
Now, I have no idea what she was going to say because this smarmy guy standing behind the cash register chimed in with the, ‘of course we are going to add lettuce in a minute, but it is clearly already shredded so why would we add it now when we have to chop the vegetables’.  I figured I would use this opportunity to ask the young man about standardization of the salad process, since he clearly knew so much.  Within a few seconds of the words leaving my mouth I regretted even asking.  He assured me that it was a tremendously standard process with diagrams and instructions in the room behind him, gesturing like J.T. Walsh to the empty room, supposedly full of computers, in the movie ‘The Grifters’.  Apparently they roll the cutting device 6 times for tomatoes or something like that… I actually could not help but tune out as soon as this boy opened his mouth so I am not sure of what he said next.  He also pointed out something about a fill line on the bowl for the lettuce to be topped up to.
She threw in the chicken and then chopped a bit more, added the lettuce and the dressing, Italian in my case, mixed it up and threw it in the plastic serving bowl.  I don’t think I have a huge problem with the way she prepared it in general, but when I got back to my office, this salad was a lot more of what I imagined your original salads being than it was a chopped chicken salad.  The loaf slices of chicken were only cut once, maybe twice.  They were HUGE.  None of the cucumbers even sliced under the pressure of the cutting device and her weak wrists, ditto to the green peppers, which were actually too big for a sandwich even.  The salad was a mess.  Had I had this the first time, I never would have had it twice.  I ended up chopping up the vegetables and chicken again and tossing it a bit more.  I know this sounds picky, but I love a good tossed salad.  I have some huge bowls in my house (big enough that I have to choose to either hand wash them or fill up half the dishwasher)  that I use for a relatively small salad because a well tossed salad is really and truly an incredible creation (you can imagine me in restaurants when they bring me a modern, deconstructed Caesar salad).
I am not sure how you can standardize this salad any more than you have, but judging from the fact that ordering a sandwich from you guys is akin to getting soup from the soup nazi (Bread type first, size next, meats and cheeses followed by toasted or not, vegetables and then dressings and salt and pepper), I am sure you can figure this out.  There is one even more troubling issue though, and that is the dressing.  When I have ordered a BMT sandwich in the past I have asked for ‘a bit’ of ranch.  I know the ranch is not good for me, and I figure if I say, ‘a bit’ of ranch and I end up getting a bunch, well, I did the best I could.  The amount of dressing I get is a crapshoot.  From drowning in ranch dressing to having just enough to wet the sandwich and everything in between.  I could care less for the most part on a sandwich, as there is so much going on there, but a salad, well that is a different story.  You have no standardized amounts on your dressings.  They are just pour bottles.  I have never had the same amount of dressing twice.  I have asked on occasion for just a bit more, when I think there isn’t enough, but there is no ‘a bit’ more at Subway, and I end up getting a salad drowning in dressing.  In fact, whenever you ask for more of anything in this world, I really don’t think this is unique to Subway, people assume you really like it, and add tons.  In any case, I want to be able to dial in the amount of dressing I want, and if there is no standard, how can I do this?  It isn’t like your staff are expert chefs and they know how much to add, because no one ever adds the same amount.  I really don’t want to complain about your staff either, as you have incredible workers.  Probably much better than you deserve or that you pay for.  In past there have been workers who have stayed for over a year, who actually got to know my name and within 2 or 3 visits knew exactly what sandwich I was going to order and how I was going to have it prepared.  Some of the best workers I have known have been behind a counter at Subway!
In closing and to recap, I love your salad.  It is a great offering.  If you could make the final step from what sets you apart in the fast food world, which is using real vegetables and move on to actually using real meat, that would be awesome (seriously, how hard would it be to add a chicken rotisserie?).  Regardless, please standardize your salad so I have some idea of what I will be eating.  This last salad was terrible.  My first salad was heaven.  The making of the salad, with the dull cutter and the bowl seems a little like a stopgap measure.  It takes awhile for the worker to make the salad, and if they are busy, it appears that a little bit of their soul dies inside when you order it.  Could you make a machine that mixes and chops all of these items?  Finally, if you could follow up with Lanette and get back to me that would be great.  I have noticed a numbness in my toes as of late and I am not sure if this is anything I should be worried about.
Mark Vaughan
3 Comments leave one →
  1. RN Nutrition permalink
    August 10, 2013 5:22 pm

    Worst review of a product line I have ever read. Nothing you have purported here even resembles truth. Here, let me try…

    We have not landed on the moon… it has been widely debunked that we have.

    Just type in “moon landing hoax” and see all the experts who have shown us that it is all a scam.

    That’s all you did.

    Here’s a great review of how great the GPS sports line is.

    his credentials are here…

    • YouAreNotAFitPerson permalink*
      August 10, 2013 11:21 pm

      I think you posted this in the wrong spot… I don’t think you were reviewing my Open Letter To Subway, were you Mark?

  2. Ashleigh permalink
    March 31, 2014 6:01 pm

    You nailed it. Love the Subway chopped salad; have actually arrived at a point where I feel guilty ordering it. Why? You can see the distress on their face as they go looking for the bowl and the bizarre chopper/crushing tool…then you roll the dice on a salad made a multitiude of different ways…an awesome salad by they have to standardize and God forbid if your order two of them back to back, the line would be out the door before they were done.
    All in, an awesome idea poorly executed…they have to find a faster way of preparing it that works for the staff too…

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