Saturday, July 20, 2019
Sepis, Subway, and Jimmy John's
I loathe chain sandwich shops. Or because there are mainly two I come across it might be easier to say that I loathe Subway and Jimmy John's. Some of that comes from a history of them being the provided food at the annual staff day at my job, which even now, thinking of it, and despite having missed said day for five years running, fills me with an alarming, unreasoning rage. I mean, do I think the management that provides this food should be summarily ridiculed and dismissed for malfeasance? Do I think my co-workers are compliant sheep with horrible taste for putting up with it? Do I think it is emblematic of everything wrong in the World and our culture?
Unfortunately, yes. And sometimes, embarrassingly, I actually express these feelings.
It's a little out of proportion.
I mean, I can see that to be true even as I consider these shops to be poisonous blots on our landscape and literal crimes against humanity!
Oops, I did it again.
So, fine, I don't like that the county and library system I work for is cheap, lazy, and hostile to its workers as expressed by the use of these establishments. I don't like the shoddy, manipulative, stultifying quality of their food, their labor exploitation, and their sickening abuse of animals in the interest of unseemly profit. And I don't like the ugly way one can walk the streets of Paris and come upon one of these pustules mysteriously operating, in public, with seeming impunity. Oh how the French have fallen! But it does all kind of beg the question: Why them? Why, so particularly do I hate them? There are almost endless hideous chains out there peddling their ruinous brand. In the food world alone why don't I experience this level of hate for Taco Bell, Starbucks, Domino's, Wendy's, or Caribou Coffee (well, I kind of do for Caribou Coffee)?
I didn't have an answer. Until a couple days ago, when I thought of Sepi's.
Sepi's was the almost mythical sub sandwich place of my childhood. Located in Westwood, in L.A., it was far enough away from where we lived to be a small, occasional treat in the litany of our fast food eating. Since it is probably 40 years since I had a Sepi's sub everything about them has a rosy haze around it; their plenitude, delightful wrapping, perfectly pitched baguette, rich and vinegary saturation, thick layers of tasty meats and lettuce and slightly cured onion. I do not believe it is actually as good as I remember, and the fact that it has remained irreproducible only confirms that understanding.
But even if there is no matching a mythical sandwich, it nevertheless remains true that an actually good sub sandwich, let alone the dream one, is not something I can find in the modern landscape of American cities. Does it not exist? No, somewhere probably there are a few around, even if I haven't come across them. But they are not readily available. There is excellent Mexican food around and about, I am a five minute walk from fantastic coffee and they are not the only purveyor in town even if they are still the best. Independent, interesting pizza is plentiful enough. Clever, conscious and delicious hamburgers are positively ubiquitous these days. But subs? These chains of Subway and Jimmy John's appear to have fully broken the spirit of the consumer base. They have shattered the standard so badly that the genre of sub sandwich is no longer a viable part of the every day food landscape.
Yes I dislike Burger King and Papa Murphy's and will say annoyingly hostile things about them to co-workers who just want something cheap to eat, but their damage, though insidious, is still limited. It is still qualified. It has only sucked half the oxygen out of the equation. The duopoly sub shop hegemony is more complete, and so more horrible for it. It has, effectively, murdered the sub shop.
Although, I mean, I guess I could still make a pretty good one at home.