In the middle of summer, there’s nothing more satiating than post-cicada nature, a good sandwich, and a little petty litigiousness. TunaGate 2021 started when a lawsuit out of California claimed that Subway tuna fish sandwiches do not actually contain tuna. It was scandalous, especially to loyal sandwich punch-card holders. Subway quickly denied allegations and even after labs backed them up, launched a vigorous anti-smear campaign to swim against the current flow of rumors. This includes a whole website the company dropped to fight against all this slander around their tuna.
As reported by The Washington Post in late January, self-described regular customers Karen Dhanowa (of course a Karen is behind this) and Nilima Amin claimed that Subway’s tuna is not actually tuna but “a mixture of various concoctions.” What those concoctions are, the lawsuit did not disclose. As of now, the lawsuit is still pending, but was amended in June to argue that the franchise chain isn’t selling, “100% sustainably caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna,” as they claimed on their website, but something else entirely. Subway, in numerous publications, has said that there’s no truth to the allegations and their tuna is indeed, tuna.
In June, the New York Times published a report on their own investigation: They tested around 60 inches worth of Subway tuna sandwiches, purchased from Subways across California, to find out if it was actually tuna. Although the mystery lab found that “no amplifiable tuna DNA was present in the sample,” the lab also admitted that since the tuna was cooked, “it’s so heavily processed that whatever we could pull out, we couldn’t make an identification.” These comments mirror Subway’s response: “According to scientific experts, this is not unusual when testing cooked tuna and it absolutely doesn’t mean the sample that was tested contained zero tuna.”
An Inside Edition investigation did something similar, using a Florida testing lab that specializes in DNA testing fish. They found that, yes, there’s tuna in the sammie. Supposedly, cooking something above 190° degrades its DNA, so in order for a true DNA test to be actually accurate, you would need to get the fish before it’s cooked, and it’s precooked before it even gets to your local Subway. So there you have it. It’s probably tuna that’s been processed to death.
People are still dubious and there’s misinformation everywhere, which is why, I suspect that Subway went a step further this week and created the rumor-busting site. That no-nonsense URL shows you these Tuna Truthers mean business — from the moment you enter their website, high definition submarine sandwiches greet you, as does some authoritative text assuring customers that their tuna is, in fact, tuna.
“Our tuna is and has always been high-quality, premium and 100% real,” Subway says, on the site. And, about last month’s amendment, Subway points out that plaintiffs “no longer claim that Subway tuna products contain no tuna” and now claim that the tuna is not “wild-caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna.” Still, if you’re in the “customer is always right” camp, you could join Dhanowa and Amin’s lawsuit if you purchased a “tuna” sub in the allotted time period in California. That is, if you think there is actually something to it. This begs the question: Why is this whole thing even a thing when there are much bigger fish to fry (heh) as we climb out of a pannie?
The reality is, people love dragging Subway and launching lawsuits over the ingredients they use and food they serve. This includes the amount of sugar in their bread disqualifying it as bread. All this scrutiny might stem from the first time Subway was sued: over the length of their foot-long sandwiches, which Subway attempted to settle for $525,000 — an agreement a judge promptly threw out, claiming that the lawyers were trying to score an easy payout from a rich business. If the judge was wrong about that, the attorneys were at the very least greedy ones — their fees for that suit were more than $500,000, so each plaintiff reportedly set to walked away with only $500.
Fast food in general has a long history dealing with lawsuits concerning what exactly they may or may not be serving their customers — for good reason. What the hell is in this stuff that sometimes doesn’t even decompose?
In 2012, a lawsuit was brought against ABC News for introducing the now ubiquitous phrase “pink slime” to the masses. The phrase was used to describe the company Beef Products, Incorporated’s “finely ground textured beef product” which, to be fair, doesn’t exactly look like beef. BPI claimed that ABC, in using the phrase “pink slime” more than 350 times in various outlets, caused irreparable harm to the company. After the phrase went viral, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell — who were also sued over this meat-like glop, in fact — no longer use it at all. Since then, BPI’s case was settled.
Even though the pandemic is still a major point of concern, there are signs that life is returning back to normal: Folks are outdoors, friends and loved ones are hugging, and headline-making lawsuits are being filed about once-popular lunchtime staples.
Before you go, allow me to reel you in to a theory I have about the great Tuna debacle of 2021: If a company discovered a non-fish substitute this convincing, wouldn’t they market their new tuna-free tuna as such, given tuna fishing’s environmental impact? Whichever way this tuna lawsuit goes, two things are certain: Either the plaintiff or the defendant is up to something fishy, and I want a tuna sandwich.