Just like it’s silly to assume “beef” is ever just beef, or “bread” is comprised entirely of bread, the Canadian broadcaster CBC discovered that if you order an Oven Roasted Chicken sandwich at Subway, you’ll get a white-meat, poultrylike protein complete with grill marks that contains about 50 percent chicken. CBC’s investigation involved shipping pieces of chicken from big chains like Subway, Wendy’s, Tim Hortons, and A&W to a lab for DNA testing — and customers won’t be thrilled with the findings, even for the products the lab rated “very close” to chicken. McDonald’s grilled-chicken sandwich got a grade of 85 percent chicken DNA, while A&W’s version made it to 89 percent of the thing it purports to be.
Subway, though, set the bar low. Its breast meat in Canada was 54 percent chicken, and the strips were a somewhat frightening 43 percent. The results were “such an outlier” that the lab CBC used at Trent University did five additional retests. It turns out the not-chicken portion was mostly soy, with a smattering of other legal fillers. Subway does dispute the results — a rep argues their recipe “calls for one percent or less of soy protein,” although rather than questioning the lab, she vowed to take the matter up “with our supplier.” Regardless, it’s the umpteen-millionth time fast-food places have been caught being, at minimum, sneaky with what they put in their food. Just to name a few, who can forget the scandals over Subway’s yoga-mat bread, pink slime, Taco Bell’s “seasoned beef,” and that 18-year-old McDonald’s hamburger.
All the chemicals crammed into these products, from azodicarbonamide to cellulose, are government-approved for human consumption, so their scandalous unearthing serves more as a public embarrassment than evidence of something nefarious. But it still hurts sales. The success of healthier, fresher, and all-organic rivals — like Sweetgreen, Freshii, and Chipotle (its own food-safety scandal notwithstanding) — have industry leaders rethinking the so-called value proposition.
The past couple of years have seen an industrywide exodus from artificial ingredients, and facing another quarter of weak sales, McDonald’s this week redoubled its commitment to sustainable beef. Hopefully, bad press from the endless stream of investigations like the CBC’s will finally convince chains that “restructured” products, like ground-up chicken mixed with industrial ingredients and cast in a mold, aren’t worth the pennies on the dollar that they save.