The Cult of Jared

Robert Stribley

How does a
22-year-old kid become a superstar in America if he’s not in a goofy all-boy
band or a Hollywood summer blockbuster? Well, he loses weight. Lots of it. And
he does it eating at Subway.

Jared Fogle
rocketed to stardom after he dropped from 425 pounds to 190 on a strict diet of
Subway sandwiches. He lost 245 pounds in less than a year. Since then he’s
appeared on “Oprah,” the “Today” show, every dog-and-pony radio show around the
country, and in those Subway ads. Now, to ensure that we don’t reach
Jared-saturation point, Subway is running “Friends of Jared” ads, within which
we learn about others who’ve successfully lost weight while eating at Subway. In
these ads, we see Jared waving shyly at his friends like a benevolent pastor.
Most of these friends he met for the first time the day the commercials were

With his glasses,
sweet smile, and conservative attire, Jared Fogle couldn’t look like a nicer,
more all-American kid. His face is open; he seems friendly, sincere. Even his
posture is touchingly awkward. He’s the kind of guy who wins Mom’s approval on
her daughter’s first date. These unquestionably genuine traits, coupled with
Jared’s phenomenal weight loss, have helped Subway sell a lot of sandwiches.

If you research
his diet, you’ll find that Jared lost weight by reducing his calorie intake from
about 3,000 calories a day to about 1,000.  Those calories happened to be
delivered in sub sandwiches.  After he lost 100 pounds, Jared says he stopped
hiding in his dorm room and was determined to start walking everywhere he needed
to go.  Diminished calorie intake and exercise. Folks, it ain’t no miracle of
Subway that Jared lost weight. He reduced his calorie intake by two-thirds.
Subway didn’t succeed in helping Jared lose weight; it succeeded in making him a
celebrity. Even so, Subway’s website quotes Jared as saying, “Subway helped save
my life over and over. I can’t ever repay that.”

The Subway
website has a whole section devoted to Jared. We have Jared’s Stats, Friends of
Jared, Jared Press Releases, and Jared’s Dietary and Menu Information, but this
warning also appears prominently on every Jared page: “Individuals lost weight
by exercising and eating a balanced, reduced-calorie diet that included SUBWAY®
sandwiches with 6 grams of fat or less. Their results are not typical. Your loss
if any will vary. SUBWAY® does not endorse the diet Jared created and cautions
anyone embarking on a weight-loss plan to consult their physician.”

In other words,
Subway wants to ensure that, while you’re spending more money at Subway, you
understand that you may not actually be dieting healthfully.

It’s a delicate
balance that Subway maintains between selling subs and not endorsing Jared’s
diet—and it is “Jared’s diet,” never “the Subway diet”—but Subway is clearly
having their cake and eating it, too. Subway spokesperson Michele Klotzer was
quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “We’re very proud of Jared’s
accomplishment, and we’re pleased that our low-fat sandwiches could fit into his
meal plan, but it’s not a diet that we endorse by any means.”

Similarly, in a
press release, Subway’s corporate dietician Lanette Roulier hammered home the
fact that her company doesn’t endorse Jared’s diet: “It’s great that it worked
for him, Roulier said, “but I would rather he had eaten a balanced breakfast and
more fruits and vegetables.”

Eh? Subway would
rather Jared ate more broccoli than subs? To me, these comments seem ripe with a
form of chutzpah akin to that which the tobacco companies flaunt every time they
sponsor an anti-smoking cigarette. “Eat our subs and you might lose weight, but
be careful because this ain’t a legitimate diet and we don’t want to be held
responsible if it proves unhealthy for you”—that seems to be rather a mixed
message they’re sending.

Let’s face it,
though: Jared’s popularity is as much a comment on American society as on
Subway. Jared rose to fame because his diet stimulated a tremendous
psychological mechanism, one rooted deep in the American psyche. That mechanism
involves a fear of gaining weight and a gut-wrenching, sometimes debilitating
desire to do something about it.

America is home
not only to the most “obese” people in the world, but also to the fittest, and
those ads must also have influenced hordes of other Americans suffering, not
from excessive weight, but from the unforgiving body culture rampant in the
United States. Unlike the “obese,” these people suffer through every day
worrying about that scintilla of flab on a body that’s otherwise healthy or, in
some even sadder cases, practically emaciated. (Insert your own tirade about all
the unreasonably thin stars appearing in magazines, movies, and TV shows here.)
In America, thin isn’t just in, it’s all. So, there’s the unfortunate dichotomy:
millions of Americans desperately need to lose weight and millions more
desperately need to stop worrying about losing weight. Big Business profits from
both groups.

Jared Fogle rose to
fame for the same reason that every new diet book tops the bestseller list; for
the same reason that dieting is the favorite subject of TV talk shows, soft
television news, and nearly every major women’s magazine. Jared offered yet
another new way for people to lose weight. At least that’s what we’re lead to
believe. But in 2002, though we have more diet books than ever, we also have
more unhealthy people and we have more healthy people agonizing over their
weight problems. Does a diet book ever come out that offers us anything new at
all? The principles for successfully losing weight remain the same, but they’re
not the quick fix some of us want. Jared’s diet isn’t revolutionary: he reduced
his calorie intake and started exercising. To be brutally objective, his success
was due as much to his native strength of will, as his diet. He was lucky to
have that willpower, not lucky to have stumbled into Subway. Still, with Jared’s
innocent assistance, Subway has cashed in on one of America’s greatest fears,
the fear of being fat.

People worry
about their weight and the market responds to their fears by churning out
endless and often costly advice. We must know that what really we lack is not
the right diet book, but the right eating habits, the right amount of
determination or, most frustratingly, the “right” genes. Strategists for the
aforementioned businesses must understand these dynamics too, even as they tap
into the described stimulus-response mechanism. Can we argue, then that
corporate America’s eagerness to benefit from this mechanism is (at some level)
an exercise in inhumanity? I think so.

Jared had a dire
health problem. He desperately needed to lose a tremendous amount of weight and
he did it. So far, as we’re constantly reminded, he’s kept it off.

Nonetheless, his
enormous popularity—the success of the Subway campaign—tells us a lot about our
society: We’re gravely concerned with being or becoming overweight. We’re
incapable of doing much about it. We’re more than slightly awed by those who can
do something about it. Subway has turned that awe into big bucks.  Z