Dan Murphy: No-Meat Week? Weak!

Yet another ‘Let’s Go Meatless’ campaign is underway, this one in The Netherlands. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

Yet another ‘Let’s Go Meatless’ campaign is underway, this one in The Netherlands, as Subway stores there connect with a no-cost, no downside campaign to promote vegetarian choices.

The sandwich chain Subway has announced that its stores in Holland will participate in an event called “National Week Without Meat,” better known locally as “Nationale Week Zonder Vlees.”

For one week in March, more than 200 Subway restaurants in The Netherlands will “encourage customers to choose plant-based foods in their sandwiches,” according to news reports.

Uh, isn’t the whole point of going to Subway the chance to pick and choose among lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, peppers, onions, olives and whatever other plant-based foods you can direct that “sandwich artist” in the bright yellow shirt to pile on top of your sub?

According to the campaign’s website, however, the real purpose of National Week Without Meat is to showcase the positive impact on the environment of eating less meat.

That’s because the initiative was launched by one Isabel Boerdam, an activist who lists herself as a “food expert and influencer.” Her blog is titled “De Hippe Vegetariër,” which doesn’t need any translation from Dutch to English.

As would be expected, Boerdam’s website claims that an adult who eliminates meat for just one week would “save” 34.3 gallons of water and the equivalent of 47 miles of driving.

That’s all speculative, of course, but to put it into perspective, the (alleged) weekly savings on water would amount to cutting down on a daily shower by about 90 seconds.

Unless you’re taking cold showers, that’s not all that lengthy of a time span.

And remember — as Ms. Boerdam and her ilk never do — that all those so-called savings are calculated on the basis of simply eliminating meat, not by accounting for the eco-related and energy costs of replacing all those animal food calories with plant-based proteins, none of which are minimally processed.

Veggies by any other name

Supposedly, National Week Without Meat is part of some mega-trend toward what vegans are calling a “plant-forward” diet, since the term “vegetarian” connects a little too closely with that clump of bland, overcooked vegetables so many of us as kids were forced to finish “before you even touch your dessert!”

As the website LiveKinidly.co.uk tried to spin it, “Subway’s involvement in the National Week Without Meat is not surprising, given the company’s increasing interest in vegan and vegetarian food.”

It seems to me that joining in on a meatless week is a no-brainer for a foodservice operator that since its inception never bothered to cater to veggies. Maybe a meatless promotion — which doesn’t cost the chain a single guilder — lures in a few non-meat-eating types and ticks up same-store sales.

Plus, its free advertising for some new introductions.

For instance: Subway in The Netherlands is now offering the Vegan Supreme, a seasoned chickpea patty made with quinoa, and in Australia, a new sandwich with vegan falafel— which, by the way, is deep-fried chickpeas garnished with a lot of spices.

“We know Australian palates and preferences have changed over time, and we’re excited to … end up with a great balance between the classic Subway favorites, and on-trend, innovative flavors,” Kate Brody, Subway’s director of marketing, said in a statement larded with classic PR-speak.

“On-trend flavors?” Please.

I thought hotshot chains like Subway we’re supposed to be the innovators setting the trends, not the ones analyzing retail and restaurant purchasing data to eventually catch up to what consumers have already proven they prefer.

Apparently not.

I will give Subway credit for adding to its meager veggie menu, however, because here in the USA all they currently offer Vegan Nation is the Veggie Delite, which consists of the aforementioned lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, peppers, onions and olives stuffed into a slab of bread.

In other words, exactly like their other sandwiches, only with the meat, poultry and cheese removed.

Like ordering a cheeseburger with all the fixins, only hold the burger and skjp the cheese.

It’s frustrating to read all the coverage that stunts like Ms. Boerdam’s Week Without Meat receive, while nobody in the media bothers to do even the most rudimentary of fact-checking, instead simply accepting the claims of significant water and energy savings if somehow, some way, everyone just stopped eating meat altogether.

I will acknowledge one likely outcome if such a campaign were to succeed, however. If all meat, poultry and dairy products were banned from Subway, the chain could go ahead and close up shop for good.

Because there just aren’t that many people eager to pay $8 bucks for a slab of fried chickpeas, no matter how many on-trend toppings are piled on top.

The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.

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