Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 2004 / 2 Teves 5765

Lewis A. Fein

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Consumer Reports

Subway to Fattsville | Here's a shocker: Sugar, sodium and saturated fat - the trinity of coronary disease - are not healthy. Any restaurant that intimates otherwise, never mind any doctor who argues the contrary, does not deserve our respect. And, in an environment where companies covet prestige and legitimacy, it is the consumer who must never forsake his integrity for the cheap allure of another's false advertising. Which is to say, no place - and here I refer specifically to the Subway chain of restaurants - should, explicitly or implicitly, confuse the public about the nutritional benefits of its food. The chain's relationship with the American Heart Association (AHA), which allows its logo to be used liberally (in my opinion), misleads the public about the dangers of a bad diet. Simply stated, a plate of cookies or potato chips - followed by a tall glass of soda or an extra side of processed meat - has no positive nutritional value.

For purposes of full disclosure, I would also like the reader to know about my work as a public advocate, one who believes the actions of Subway and AHA are wrong. Not illegal or criminal, but morally obtuse. Why? Because AHA's reputation - which is an informal guidepost for physicians and patients alike - should never be a purchasable commodity. The person who battles heart disease, including the individual who bears a surgery scar against this great problem, needs reliable information, not ambiguous data that conflates the words healthy and fat. For public organizations like AHA are people's only bulwark against misinformation or uncertainty, a helpful source for the man or woman (my dearest friends especially) who demand objective data about the types of food that constitute a balanced diet.

And then there is AHA's responsibility as an independent promoter of scientific knowledge. This duty, which must always trump the quick temptations offered by powerful corporations (or the blandishments of Subway itself), is a solemn oath, a promise betrayed by AHA's own blindness. Indeed, AHA's association with Subway, a restaurant chain that sells the very kinds of food that patients with heart disease (or hypertension or diabetes) should avoid, is - regardless of the few exceptions that meet a nutritionist's specified guidelines - absolutely ridiculous. I would never expect a steakhouse to appeal to vegetarians, nor a salad bar to entice meat lovers; and I would equally presume a major health organization to be free of the same ironic nonsense that confers legitimacy upon a company that sells sugared water and salty snacks.

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As taxpayers, we should question AHA's actions and Subway's motivations. A truly free market would never permit one company to enjoy an unfair advantage against another, a false benefit that blurs the line between accuracy and insinuation. Subway sells fast food, not elegant meals or romantic ambiance; its newfound status as a beneficiary of AHA's praise - an accolade I protest, and an award all good citizens should question - furthers the worst brand of cynicism, the type of behavior that compels us to reexamine each word and every press release issued by Subway's marketing machine.

Truth is something no corporation should violate. The public deserves honesty, not media stunts or evasive language. AHA has a public mission to promote healthy living, a philosophy that does not necessarily comport with Subway's overall business goals (or at least with many of its menu selections). If I want cookies and chips, I will visit Subway; but if I desire knowledge and facts I will consult a medical journal, not a fast food empire. AHA must regain its independence from this mess, lest it collapse before a junkyard of fat and cholesterol.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Lewis A. Fein