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Subway’s New Protein Bowls Are Basically Piles of Cold Cuts

Feast your eyes on cornucopias of salami, turkey, and pepperoni — no bread (or joy) in sight!

Three bowls on white background contain protein bowls from Subway restaurant chain. Two contain chicken, and one bowl contains steak.
In addition to cold cuts, Subway protein bowls offer steak and chicken.

At this point, pretty much every fast-casual restaurant has a protein bowl on its menu and now Subway is getting in on the action. While protein bowls are often geared towards the health-conscious or those looking to pack a convenient meal into an easy-to-consume format, the sandwich chain is taking a different, decidedly ’90s Atkins diet approach, offering bowls that are essentially deconstructed sandwiches without the bread. Imagine the deli tray from the last school event you attended (whatever the year), add iceberg lettuce, and voila, you have a Subway protein bowl.

Seeing photos of the newly launched, cursed bowls — which the chain assures customers are here to stay — one can’t help but spiral as the questions pile up: Why use a mound of salami and pepperoni sitting atop unseasoned cucumbers and shredded lettuce as a stylized menu photo? Aren’t these protein bowls just a more aggressive version of a Subway salad, something that already exists, albeit served on a plate? Why did I just spend 15 minute looking at pictures of this meatball tray?

A spokesperson for the chain, speaking with Nation’s Restaurant News, explained that “guests are able to build any Footlong into a protein bowl with the same portion of protein, vegetables, cheese and sauce, just without the bread.” This might be a relief for folks who were turned off of Subway when the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the chain’s bread is too high in sugar to be considered… bread. The bowls, which arrive alongside a new celebrity partnership with pro football player Marshawn Lynch, are also likely to appeal to those following keto or paleo diets, which remain massively popular in the United States despite doctors and diet experts warning of potential health risks.

Maybe it’s the lack of rice or other grain that leaves so much to be desired from these bowls. Or maybe it’s the fact that the chain is trying to sell me the very same struggle meals I make for myself when I haven’t gone grocery shopping in two weeks and can’t rationalize ordering takeout for a 17th night. A bowl of mashed up canned tuna and some lettuce? Sure! Turkey cold cuts and some olives from the back of the fridge? Smother it in thousand island dressing! Why! Not! But you can’t convince me that paying for Subway’s deconstructed spicy Italian sandwich is worth it, no matter what the cost. If I’ve made the trip to Subway, and for some reason decide not to get aforementioned meatball tray, then I’ll be taking my pile of cold cuts on extremely sweet bread, thanks!

Though some on Twitter seemed excited to try this new offering, others — like me — were not convinced. “[B]abe is everything okay? you’ve barely touched your subway italian bmt protein bowl®” tweeted one user, posting a photo of the Italian B.M.T.®, whose copyrighted initials stand for, uh, “Big. Meaty. Tasty.”

Another user tweeted at Subway that when they tried to order a protein bowl, the employee behind the counter said he didn’t actually know how to make one. Perhaps it’s better that way.

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