When you’re tucking into a delicious foot-long baguette that’s dripping with mayonnaise, vinaigrette and other mouth-watering flavors, the last thing you’d think you’re munching on is the same chemical found in shoe souls and yoga mats. Vani Hari, a food blogger for Food Babe say such a chemical is being used in Subway’s and other fast food chains’ sandwiches as a “bleaching agent”.
Hari launched a petition that garnered nearly 80,000 signatures related to the shoe soul/bread material. Thanks to the blogger’s efforts, the truth has been revealed about what really goes into Subway’s legendary sandwiches.
The chemical that’s raised a few eyebrows is known as azodicarbonamide. The substance is used to strengthen and condition the dough in nine of Subway’s grain wheat products, as the company’s ingredient list verifies.
It’s not just Subway that’s guilty of using the shoe soul-making chemical. According to CNN, Arby’s and Starbucks have also used azodicarbonamide. The additive is also present in the buns used for McDonald’s McRib sandwich.
In its defence, McDonald’s quipped the azodicarbonamide it uses “shouldn’t be confused” with the type used to make yoga mats. Vani Hari said despite other companies using the ingredient, he decided to target Subway because of the healthy image it tries to project. “This is not eating fresh!” Hari’s petition read.
The Dangers of the Chemical
Apart from the not so desirable prospect of chewing through the same substance that is put on the soles of our shoes and in mats for yoga, is there any potential harm in eating azodicarbonamide?
First and foremost it is important to note that azodicarbonamide is banned in Europe and Australia. In 1999, the World Health Association (WHO) issued a report related to the unfavorable health effects of azodicarbonamide. The study revealed that after repeated exposure the chemical can affect breathing and skin sensitivity.
“The level of risk is uncertain,” stated WHO. “Hence, exposure levels should be reduced as much as possible.”
By contrast, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the use of azodicarbonamide but only under certain conditions. According to the FDA, acodicarbonamide can only be safely used at levels up to 45 parts per million as either a dough conditioner or as an ageing and bleaching ingredient.
A spokesperson for the American Bakers Association defended the use of azodicarbonamide in bread.
“Past FDA sampling results have indicated appropriate low-level use in products. As a dough conditioner it has a volume/texture effect on the finished loaf. It is a functional ingredient that improves the quality of bread and any substitutes are likely not to work well as azodicarbonamide,” said the American Bakers Association representative.
Despite being FDA-approved, Subway insists it is in the process of removing the ingredient as part of its bread improvement efforts.
“The complete conversion to have this product out of the bread will be done soon,” Subway told the The Associated Press.
The Subway spokesperson also insisted that the removal of azodicarbonamide was under way before Vani Hari’s petition was launched.
Just What’s in Our Food
This controversial story is important for two reasons. Not only does it bring to light just how little we know about the ingredients that go into food bought in fast food chains but it also highlights the power of the blogger.
As we saw with influential bloggers playing a pivotal role in toppling repressive governments in the Arab Uprisings of 2012, bloggers are repeatedly using the power of the written word to expose corrupt practices within some of the world’s most powerful organizations.
In a recent post on FoodBabe.com, Vani Hari talked about Subway’s ‘insistence’ that it was making alterations regarding its use of the shoe rubber chemical before his petition was launched:
“We know this is just a corporate spin on how big companies operate.”
“They don’t want us to know how much power we have over their decisions… There’s been dead silence on their end. Every single reporter I talked to yesterday and today (over 30) has tried to get the same answer from Subway headquarters and they aren’t responding.”
Whether Subway was or wasn’t in the process of removing the substance before Vani Hari’s expose remains to be seen. Nonetheless, thanka to the efforts of one blogger, a company that prides itself on being healthy and selling only the freshest ingredients has been exposed for serving food that contains shoe rubber. Without the blogger’s revelations, public outrage wouldn’t have materialized, such as this comment posted on Eco Watch:
“GET RID OF IT! I can’t believe these people defend using CHEMICALS because they make something prettier or fluffier but know full well that we shouldn’t be eating them! SHAME ON THEM! And what’s with the double standard? If Subway already doesn’t use the chemical in Europe or Australia then for God’s sake why are they using it here?”
If Subway would have had its own way, no doubt the yoga mat-making chemical would have been removed and its non-suspecting consumers would have remained none the wiser. Instead the company’s reputation has been tarnished – such is the power of blogging.