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Welcome to Subway Where the Bread Is Cake, a Foot Is 11 Inches, and the Tuna Isn’t Tuna (Allegedly)

Eat fresh what exactly??

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Subway sandwich being made Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

Earlier today, the Washington Post reported that Subway’s tuna sandwiches are actually made of a delicious sounding melange called “concoctions.” According to a lawsuit filed by Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the filling is “made from anything but tuna,” and is instead “a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by defendants to imitate the appearance of tuna.” Multiple lab samples of the filling allegedly found no trace of tuna, nor fish at all, though they don’t say what was found in its place. Dhanowa and Amin are suing Subway for fraud.

Subway, of course, denies the allegations, saying they use wild-caught tuna in their sandwiches. On a nutrition guide on its website, Subway lists the ingredients of its tuna salad as “flaked tuna in brine (tuna, water, salt)” and mayonnaise. A spokesperson told the Post, “Tuna is one of our most popular sandwiches. Our restaurants receive pure tuna, mix it with mayonnaise and serve on a freshly made sandwich to our guests.” However, a 2019 report showed that about 20 percent of fish is mislabeled, with fraud or misidentification happening at multiple points in the supply chain.

This is just the latest instance of Subway ingredients allegedly not being what they seem. Last year, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that Subway’s bread could not legally be considered bread, due to its sugar content. In December, a class action lawsuit filed in Quebec alleged Subway misrepresented its chicken, which a 2017 report found to be only 53.6 percent chicken (the chicken strips were apparently only 42.8 percent chicken). And of course, let’s not forget the great “Footlong Is Actually 11 Inches” lawsuit of 2015. This all raises the question: If the bread isn’t bread, the tuna isn’t tuna, the chicken isn’t chicken, and the footlong isn’t a foot long, then what the hell did I just eat?

Subway is hardly the only fast food chain to come under questioning for what they’re putting in their food or how they’re preparing it, either by lawsuit or by viral TikTok. And cold-cuts have always been cut with water, broth, and corn syrup. But there is something slightly egregious about Subway’s motto, “Eat Fresh,” applying to sort-of chicken, maybe-bread, and sodium-laden turkey slices. Yes, there are the vegetables, which Subway touts as coming from many family farms across the country. But otherwise what, exactly, is fresh about any of it?

In 2019, Eater’s Hillary Dixler Canavan wrote about the trend of upscale restaurants serving birds with their heads and beaks and claws still attached. “The dead birds...make a radical claim about their authenticity,” she wrote. “You can’t point to a specific chicken that’s sandwiched inside your Popeyes bun, and it’s hard to articulate what Impossible Burgers are even made of or how they can ‘bleed.’ But you sure as hell know what you’re eating when the feathers and claws are right there telling you.” Crowing (sorry) over the provenance and purity of one’s food can be bougie and precious, as the hand-wringing over nebulous “chemicals” in packaged food often has little to do with nutrition. But trusting that what you’re eating is actually what you’ve been told you’re eating is unfortunately becoming a luxury experience.

But who needs clarity when you have “concoctions”?