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Just on the heels of a post on the potential for better convenience and grab and go foods to improve health outcomes for Americans, comes news via Marion Nestle that Subway is prioritizing moving more vegetables out the door. They are specifically targeting the campaign at kids.

This morning, Subway is announcing that as part of its commitment to Let’s Move!’s efforts to reverse childhood obesity, the chain will put $41 million into encouraging kids to “pile on the veggies.”

Subway says it will:

+ Run a fun campaign to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
+ Set nutrition standards for marketing to kids.
+ Strengthen its “already nutritious” children’s menu.
+ Put signs on doors that say “Playtime powered by veggies.”
+ Do a video collaboration with Disney’s Muppets to encourage piling on the veggies.
+ Provide kids’ meals with lowfat or nonfat milk or water as the default.

I could, but won’t, nitpick over the nutrition standards.  Let’s just say they are a start.

But I love it that Subway is focusing on foods—veggies, apples, and no sodas unless parents specifically order them.

And I think “pile on the veggies” is one terrific slogan.

This is especially heartening because:
A. Low vegetable consumption is the number one problem in the American diet. (or tied for number one with high sugar consumption)
B. In terms of marginal improvement to convenience foods, increasing whole grains and decreasing sugar are fairly easy. Increasing vegetables is much harder.

This is exactly what I was getting at in that previous post:

Convenience and fast foods are a less than ideal vehicle for increasing vegetable consumption. Frozen dinners aren’t so hard, but the central issue is grab and go foods. What I would love to see are whole grain, veggie packed ploughman’s pies; chickpea flour, veggie samosas; multigrain grilled vegetable burritos; and footlong grilled veggie sandwiches on hearty rolls. It’s not that hard to pile vegetables on a whole grain pizza and garnish it with a healthy dusting of chopped herbs and arugula.
Marginal improvements don't get a lot of love in the food movement. Tom Philpott stopped by to comment:
. . . But this—”Philpott’s agreement with the central premise was buried at the end and only briefly mentioned”—doesn’t quite get at my critique, which was that a kinder, gentler junk food industry is a necessary, but probably not sufficient, response to our dirt-related health problems. Maybe I’m wrong—maybe hyper-processed food can be tweaked in a way such that it keeps people healthy. I doubt it, because i don’t think we have figured out precisely how such a diversity of whole-food diets—ie, Mediterranean, traditional Japanese, Inuit, etc—keep people healthy. Precisely engineering effective nutrition into hyper-processed diet would seem to require knowledge we don’t have. So sure, stop packing so much sugar into drinks and remove known health ruiners like partially hydrogenated fat. But I’m not sure engineers for McDonalds or Kraft really know how to keep people healthy.
I agree with this but also think it has three problems. It ignores my reframing from junk food to convenience/grab and go food. It under emphasizes the important of a both/and approach. I agree that "a kinder, gentler junk food industry" is not sufficient. It doesn't need to be. There huge numbers of people who will only be only be reached through these kinds of small marginal changes. But in public health those can add up to significant effects. Some smaller group of people will see larger improvements in health by increasing the number of home cooked meals and shifting to proven traditional diets. That's important too. But don't underestimate how the resources required to nudge big changes among smaller groups of people versus small changes among big groups of people.

I've been an instructor for Share Our Strength's Cooking Matters program and for The North Hartford Community Kitchen. I've also been the executive chef at a retirement community, which I've talked about before. As an instructor I worked intensively for a few hours a week with a handful of people, hoping to help improve their eating habits. With Share Our Strength we worked with six students two hours a week for six weeks. With planning and transportation I invested three hours per student. With The North Portland Community Kitchen, I believe we did sixteen students for sixteen weeks, so the math worked out about the same, except that I think we helped more people make bigger changes over that longer period of time. In a few instances I know we helped a few individuals make some big changes.

At the retirment community, I simply made a decision to improve the eating habits of 200 people. I had to do a little selling of the program to the community and a little work to retrain my staff, but at the end of the day, I changed the eating habits of 200 people and I barely lifted a finger. They were suddenly eating mixed greens instead ice berg lettuce. They were eating fish twice a week instead of once. Potatoes twice a week instead of five times, replaced by wild rice, yams, and barley pilaf. All the flour in their baked goods was suddenly whole wheat. 10 grain hot cereal instead of Cream of Wheat. More fruit in their desserts, yogurt with live active cultures in the snack room. Small and not so small changes multiplied by 200.

Being an instructor was more rewarding, but I believe I achieved bigger results through those institutional changes. It's a question of scale and scope. As a cooking and nutrition instructor I was better positioned to address the scale of the issues that people faced. As an institutional chef, I could address the scope of the problem. In my little corner of the world I was making small, significant changes at the population level.

Scale and scope. Consider. In 2010, Subway had 23,850 locations doing $452,000 per location for a total of $10 billion in sales. Meanwhile, in 2013 there were 8,144 farmer's markets in the US with total sales estimated at $1 billion. Subway alone has triple the locations doing ten times the sales as farmer's markets. And don't forget that those 23,850 locations are open all year, seven days a week, day and night. Those 8,144 farmer's markets are only open a few hours a week, a few months a year. Not only will an increase in Subway's fruit and vegetable sales impact more people, it will impact those people who are less likely to actively make the changes on their own. The changes that get the food movement's motor running like more farmer's markets are more likely to reach the most motivated people. I know that comparing farmer's markets to Subway is unfair and I'm all for seeing more farmer's markets in low income neighborhoods. But let's face it, when Michelle Obama moved to pressing Big Food for incremental changes, she was just using Willie Sutton's logic. When it bears fruit (yes, pun) it's hard to argue with that logic.


Let’s Move!’s latest move: Subway will “Pile on the Veggies”

Marion Nestle | Food Politics | 23 January 2014

American's in Cars, Eating Badly
Marc Brazeau | REALFOOD.ORG | 16 January 2014

Feedback Loops, Institutional Reform and the Pitfalls of a Second Best World
Marc Brazeau | REALFOOD.ORG | 22 October 2013

The QSR Top 50

Sam Ochs | QSR Magazine | August 2011

Farmer's Markets

The Agricultural Resource Marketing Center

Mon Jan 27, 2014 at  1:46 PM PT: headline fixed

Originally posted to REALFOOD.ORG on Sun Jan 26, 2014 at 06:28 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Healthy fast food would make a huge difference (8+ / 0-)

    If it was actually healthy, fast and about as inexpensive.

    Seriously, the only reason I eat at fast food restaurants is that if I'm short on time and hungry I'll have food in my face in time to not be late somewhere that will hold me for 5-6 hours.   The fact that it costs less than nearly any other way of getting food other than making it from scratch would also be very important if I was living back in my minimum-wage days.

    Grab-and-go healthy food is sometimes available although most often it can't be consumed in your car without making a big mess or requires extra processing (like time in a microwave).  It is also invariably cold if it doesn't need a microwave.

    If there was an alternative to grilled and deep fried that could produce hot, healthy food quickly, it would be awesome.

    If anything though, the trend is the other way.  Everything in the past 15 years or so has focused on cost and huge portion sizes instead of food quality while retaining speed and convenience.

    I'd like to see that change.  I'm just not too hopeful.

    •  I find the lack of ease of good (7+ / 0-)

      nutritious food to be the reason most people eat junk while working their butts off. Healthy eating takes planning and preparing. But I've been working on some quick and easy recipes because if I get tired of the business I'm doing now, I'd love to do a "fast health food drive through". I know, insane idea!

      It is every person's obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what they takes out of it. - Albert Einstein (edited for modern times to include everyone by me!)

      by LeftieIndie on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 03:41:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well if any of those recipies involve ingredients (0+ / 0-)

        that do not require refrigeration and can be quickly and easily be done in a 8x3x2 oven* that gets up to 300 degrees (no temperature control) in less than 2 hours be sure and PM me the recipies.  Right now I am mainly using things like hot pockets, fish sticks, and corn dogs which while cheaper than fast food probably aren't much healthier.

        *It is one of those 12 volt car ovens that use 8x3x2 inch pans.  I got it so that I wouldn't have to eat out on my often bi-monthly relatively long road trips.

        You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

        by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 12:47:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Tilapia with chopped spuds, baked and (0+ / 0-)

          then wrapped in a corn tortilla, baked with the spuds for the last few mnutes. Add sprouts and shit.

          That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

          by enhydra lutris on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 04:32:10 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  It's already been tried... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Alexandra Lynch

      years ago Delite's tried to get a low-fat hamburger chain going in Atlanta.


      it failed because people want fatty burgers and foods in general. studies indicate their bodies/brains crave this kind of food.

      I think McD's has made some progress with their wraps and salads.

      El Pollo Loco has a great lime-infused grilled chicken which is much healthier than fried chicken.

      "It is essential that there should be organization of Labor. Capital organizes & therefore Labor must organize" Theodore Roosevelt

      by Superpole on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 03:55:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's still being tried, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Kevskos, Alexandra Lynch

        and you can find lists of chains with "healthy" (all things being relative) food that are quite successful.

        And a recent study

        concluded that healthier options on the menu are good for business.

        •  The McDonalds salads (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Crider, Alexandra Lynch, Superpole

          are intended to allow family members who are opposed to McDonalds as a choice go along because there is "something they can eat" there.   They aren't seriously intended to be an alternative to the main fare.

          In CA they've required fast food chains to post calories of their food right on the menu.  Which makes it easier to choose, say, a 350 calorie Mc Muffin, skip the "meal" which doubles the calories with fried potatoes and no nutritional content and at least know you're tripling your calories if your quarter pounder "meal" includes a large fries and a sugared soda.

          It'll be interesting to see if that has any effect on choices for most people.  It has affected my own when I'm in a hurry and just trying to get some food in me.  (as I don't want fries with that....)

          The potatoes are where a lot of the profits are made in fast food.  They cost a few cents per meal, and jack the prices by a buck or two.  In the 80s when I had friends that worked at Mc Donalds, the word was that the burgers and shakes were just break-even, the margin on the soda was healthy and that fries were where the real money was.   There's a reason every fast food franchise in the world adds some cheap potatos (in chip form if it lakcs a deep frier) and drinks for a few bucks more than the sandwich.  

      •  Low fat != healthy by itself (0+ / 0-)

        it's more that high fat is really unhealthy and gets a lot of calories in a small package.  You do need some fat in the meal though, or  you risk a carb/blood sugar rollercoaster.  It's actually fairly hard to do even when making your own food and still get enough protein unless the meal has something in it like beans that provides a package of protein+fiber+carbs to combine with a normal meat.

        Healthy means balanced macronutrients, vitamins, some fiber and, you know, not everything freaking deep fried, packed with corn (and other similar allergen) highly processed additives.   A burrito with grilled meat and something like black beans (rather than refried) with some vitamin sources in or around it (eg, fresh tomato salsa) isn't too bad.

        Grilled is better, but if the end result is just meat on a slice of bread, it's not going to work that well.  (a turkey breast sandwich on bread with no condiments causes different problems than a bacon burger - extremely low fat with fairly high carb tends to make you hungry quicker than calories would indicate.  The bacon burger doesn't leave you hungry, it just packs 1000 calories into you in a very small package with 50-60% fat..the problems that causes manifest over years, not hours)

  •  Get rid of the unnecessary apostrophe (5+ / 0-)

    in the headline and maybe I'll read this.

    Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

    by milkbone on Sun Jan 26, 2014 at 10:54:00 PM PST

    •  I hate to be the MLA police, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      but please do that, or say America's in cars...
      The diary is excellent and raises a good point. The hectic Londoners have a pretty good handle on this. Marks and Spencer Simply Food and Waitrose have ranges of pre-made very good little salads in handy sealed containers that fit into a book bag or backpack. Most groceries have a takeaway section at the front of the store. Pret a Manger makes a good range of healthy sandwiches. Ethnic takeaways like bento boxes and samosas are also popular.

      "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

      by northsylvania on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 12:29:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The MLA format is depreciated and (0+ / 0-)

        obsolete, the APA format is the standard that should be used now.

        You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

        by Throw The Bums Out on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 12:46:15 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Things are better foodwise (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        We are not where I would love us to be, but I do see progress.  I know that Pret a Manger is now in Washington DC and is very good, fairly healthy quick food.  I also am finding that the few times I eat fast food, it tastes funny.  

        I have a suspicion that the issue is a chain of bad incentives from agriculture subsidies to plate sizes and school lunch standards that effectively privilege shake the box cooking.  This problem took years to develop and there is no magic wand solution.  

        I'm a 4 Freedoms Democrat.

        by DavidMS on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 03:49:18 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Hmmm... (0+ / 0-)

      You set a very high standard.

      Being the single intellectual in a village of 1,100 souls ain't much fun, especially when 1,099 of those don't think you're all that smart.--Lucy Marsden

      by Miniaussiefan on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 04:28:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Americans in cars" (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluehammer, gzodik, Matilda

      Hate to be an unpaid pedant, but it does rather stand out.

      (And this has nothing to do with the Modern Languages Association, folks. It's the Saxon genitive.)

      Everyone's innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 04:30:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Fixed. (0+ / 0-)

      Thanks for the heads up.

      As I get older, inserting unnecessary apostrophes has become an annoying tic which spellcheck doesn't catch.

  •  the farmers markets here are just a weekend (0+ / 0-)

    street fare. No farmers there, no farm goods being sold.

    When does hydrogenated fat disappear? I'd heard it was going but I still see it in processed foods my wife buys. Subway always did have the meatless sub that was pretty good. I'd think I should skip the bun but overall better than a McDouble with fries.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 05:56:29 AM PST

    •  As far as I know, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock

      the FDA proposed ban on trans fats is not yet finalized, although it's already been removed from most foods.
      But for now, you still have to read the labels.

       The farmers markets around here are good- and very pricey. But we also have a family-run, no-frills supermarket that buys from local farmers and sells seasonal fresh produce for much less- I've seen the farmers market people delivering the stuff they didn't sell at the market directly to the store at the end of market days. I love buying three tomatoes for the same price someone paid for one tomato just a few hours earlier.

  •  I think if people would stop eating in cars (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That would be an improvement.  I have not eaten in my relatively new car (18 months) and while I would not say that is a huge part of me losing 30 pounds in the last 14 months, it plays a part.  I have been far less likely to stop at a fast food place.

    Of course my main idea is to keep the new car cleaner.  And eating less in general, cutting out most beer from my diet, and exercising regularly probably play a bigger role in my weight control.  But not stopping off at McDonalds as frequently can't hurt.

    As for eating loads more vegetables - our meat-centric culture is in the way of that taking off really fast, but as gramsofan1 said upthread, it does seem that many younger kids have a better grip on nutrition these days.  I sometimes think my son and his girlfried are a little extreme, but they are keen on eating well.

  •  Just took a road trip, it's been a while since (0+ / 0-)

    I've been through the drive-through lanes, or even to many of the major fast-food joints. Luckily, I stopped only for coffee, choosing to buy my food at a supermarket beforehand.
      The one thing that really stood out to me was the trash receptacles ahead of all the drive-throughs... I had never thought about it before, but the "convenience" aspect requires an off-loading phase of the previous visit's trash to clear the "eating space" in our vehicles.
      It may have been the sleep-deprivation that made this seem like a mighty insight, but it is an actual part of the designed drive-through experience that the vendors offer consumers the opportunity to "clear the table" before grabbing the next large beverage and cup-holder-friendly sleeve of fried ...stuff, right there before they order.

  •  I think I'd bite if movie theaters offered bags (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marc brazeau, Square Knot
    It ignores my reframing from junk food to convenience/grab and go food. It under emphasizes the important of a both/and approach. I agree that "a kinder, gentler junk food industry" is not sufficient. It doesn't need to be. There huge numbers of people who will only be only be reached through these kinds of small marginal changes.
    of baby carrots as an alternative to popcorn.  I just want something to do w/ my hands and crunch!

    "Push the button, Max!" Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate, The Great Race

    by bartcopfan on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 12:32:42 PM PST

  •  There's also a question of what it means (0+ / 0-)

    for stuff to be "healthy."  We can all agree that stuff like fries and chicken nuggets probably don't make the list.  

    But Mr. Beagle, for example, is a beanpole who gets hungry every 15 minutes if he doesn't eat meat—the veggie burritos and samosas you suggest aren't going to be a healthy option for him.  If you take a look at popular diets/lifestyles today, you see radically different ideas of what "healthy" means: locavore, paleo, vegan, gluten-free, calorie restriction, low-fat, etc.  

  •  Kudos to Subway (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marc brazeau

    and absolutely agree re the both/and approach.  

    Eating more veggies isn't easy to achieve.  I know the nutritional value of each food, I'm a good cook, and I can afford beautiful organic produce ... and it's STILL hard to meet those goals, mainly because of time.  

    So every little bit counts ... and giant chains ain't so little.

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 02:29:49 PM PST

  •  Subway has some of the most useless bread (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marc brazeau

    on the continent. They could do a lot by just offering some real, hearty whole grain rolls. They must have a stsh of dirt cheap veggies they intend to push.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 04:29:30 PM PST

  •  Just make sure that you dip that nice healthy (0+ / 0-)

    sandwich in Ranch dressing.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 04:34:33 PM PST

  •  plate sizes (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marc brazeau

    the average diameter has gone from nine inches to twelve inches.  because area is two dimensions, this means an almost 80% increase...

    we judge portion sizes based on plates

    use smaller plates

    by chloris creator on Mon Jan 27, 2014 at 05:20:43 PM PST

  •  I'm a particular fan of Subway's vege patties (0+ / 0-)

    The soy based product is very tasty in a toasted Subway sandwich.

  •  Subway gives me a headache (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau, Sylv

    I don't know what is in the food there, I just
    eat an avocado and vegie sandwich, but I
    notice that I always get a headache after eating
    there.. so I am not going there any more.
    I think they use some preservatives on the vegies
    that gives me a headache.  

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