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The Daily Need

The All-American sandwich: Fresh and natural? Anything but.

There’s one in every office. At noon, when the other cube warriors are ransacking the vending machines, texting orders to Manchu Wok or slipping off for a McDouble, she takes out a brown bag. She doesn’t say a word, but you can hear her thinking.

“Who was playing bumper carts at Kroger’s last night while everyone else was watching Modern Family? I was. Who stumbled into the kitchen at 6:30 a.m. while everyone else was burying their alarm clocks in a pile of dirty laundry? I did. And now who’s going to eat something wholesome at her desk — hi, boss! — while she dashes off a few more cranky-customer-placating emails? I—”

Junk food/fast food/takeout aficionados, vengeance is yours. That turk ‘n’ cheese on wheat Ms. Virtuous is waving around like a victory flag? It’s a sodium bomb made from geriatric ingredients pumped up on the equivalent of Restylane, Botox and serial plastic surgery — the Donatella Versace of foodstuffs. Let’s break it down!

The All-American sandwich deconstructed:

Wheat Bread (2 pieces)

Age: 1-8 weeks

Age-defying secret: Back in the early days, packaged bread was kept fresh ‘n’ fluffy with a combination of mechanical mauling and heavy doses of preservatives. But nowadays, -ides, -ates and -ites in the ingredient list get you all riled up, so industrial bakers have shifted to “clean label” — i.e., you’ll never know a thing — enzyme-based life extenders.

Beauty tip: Try a little calcium dioxide for a whiter, brighter crumb, or for that cozy wholegrain look, a dash of caramel coloring.

Sodium content: 380 mg

Hickory-smoked turkey breast (2 ounces)

Age: 2-6 months

Age-defying secret: Bring out the heavy arsenal! In addition to your traditional curing preservatives (the nitrates, nitrites and their ilk), mix and match from the following: vacuum-pack, modified atmosphere, oxygen scavengers, antimicrobial films, irradiation and ultra-high pressure.

Beauty tip: Your girls’ natural enemies are time and nature. Don’t give in! And with the firm texture and perky appearance of a “whole-muscle restructured meat product,” you don’t have to. Blend fibers from up to three large muscles in a brine of water, salt, phosphates, dextrose, starch and flavors, and cook. The result: a cute little mound with just the right jiggle and superior sliceability.

Sodium content: 660 mg

Provolone cheese (one slice)

Age: 4 months or more

Age-defying secret: Let us pause to pay homage to cheese, the only food in your sandwich that’s actually supposed to be old. Provolone is formed by stretching cow’s milk curds, then letting naturally occurring enzymes and microbes go crazy for several months to a year. The invention of cheese — delicious, long-lived and exceedingly portable — is surely one of the greatest achievements in human culinary history. Reverential silence.

Beauty tip: None needed. Who doesn’t appreciate a mature cheese in all its stinky, crumbly glory?

Sodium content: 180 mg

Mayonnaise (one tablespoon)

Age: One year or more

Age-defying secret: How long should you keep homemade mayo? A week, tops (eek! raw eggs!). The industrial version, however, has been given eternal youth by turning it into a dead zone (at a pH of 3.7 to 4.2, the product is more acidic than acid rain) crisscrossed by rancidity patrols of calcium disodium EDTA molecules.

Beauty tip: Twofer special! Use EDTA to touch up gray roots when artificial coloring starts to go streaky.

Sodium content: 90 mg

There’s nothing fresh nor natural about your officemate’s “homemade” sandwich. Worse, even if she’s young, white and healthy, she’ll blow more than half her daily sodium allotment on this one meal — 1,310 mg or 57 percent of her Recommended Daily Allowance. And if you’re over 40, African-American or have high blood pressure, don’t even think “turkey and cheese.” That RDA figure skyrockets to 90 percent. A better option? At three ingredients, no preservatives and 80 mg of sodium, a bag of chips from the vending machine may be just the thing.

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  • Gary

    With fat, starch and salt, that bag of chips is almost the perfect food… if only chip manufacturers could learn how to add caffeine.

  • mermaid

    In my opinion, dark chocolate covered almonds are the perfect health food.

  • tlb84

    I beg to differ. I make sandwiches almost every day for lunch, and none of the ingredients are as evil as this article describes, as long as you buy them from the right places. My bread is a handmade daily mini loaf that stays relatively fresh for a few days (and the ends make great morning toast AND it only costs 99¢!) with only the normal bread-making ingredients. My ham/turkey is fresh cut from a deli, low/no sodium, or cut from a fresh roasted ham/turkey breast (5-6$ per week). My cheese is also deli-cut, but I agree, no cheese is really “good” cheese (but it’s delicious and only about $1 for 5 slices!). Dress it with some fresh lettuce or sprouts or vine tomatoes, and you’re set! Chips? Try “Food Should Taste Good” Sweet Potatoes and you can’t go wrong. Is it healthier than the “average” sandwich above? At no more than 500mg of sodium, absolutely! Is it cheaper, and healthier than a bag of chips? Not even a question. And, is it cheap? My weekly lunches cost less than a sandwich combo at most shops, so definitely.

    (I also get all of this at Whole Foods, so their reputation would be tarnished if they sold crap.)

    Don’t knock the office brown-bagger.

  • carpetbomberz

    I’m unconvinced. Even with the vending machine chips, there is so much air in that $1.25 0.75 oz. bag that it cannot even drop properly into the delivery slot to retrieve. At least where I work that’s the case. As for all the other measures and statistics I heartily say Bring it On! Portion size and cost of fuel to have food delivered or to drive out and retrieve it? Does that factor into the total cost of ownership of the lunch? Or the personal time spent on those activities? I say the brown bagger is kinder to the environment, and gets more actual personal time during the lunch break (and time is the MOST valuable thing one has apart from health).

  • Carmabella25

    It’s true that many Americans are tricking themselves into believing they are eating healthy when really most of the food in our stores is not really made of food at all. However, If you buy the healthier models of each of these ingredients you would actually have something good for you. I have to say it can’t be healthier to eat a Big Mac extra value meal………

  • Birdgirl39

    My favorite sandwich is Tempeh with romaine lettuce and tomatoes. I use a very thin application of mayo, and I am always satisfied. Being a vegetarian has its perks……

  • Tsinpb

    “(I also get all of this at Whole Foods, so their reputation would be tarnished if they sold crap.)”

    Ummm…. Whole Foods reputation IS tarnished for selling crap. They are all about profit, don’t kid yourself! Organic Consumers Association has been forcing them to ‘come clean’ for a few years now.

  • Daisy

    I found this article non-informative. It seemed only to negate choices and offered no suggestions for what they’d have someone do for a healthy lunch. Sorry, a tiny bag of greasy potato chips ain’t gonna cut it for me.

  • Laura

    A banana with peanut butter is my favorite portable lunch. I don’t think any brown baggers are as concerned about health as they are about cost. If it were an issue of the healthiest possible food, a crisp salad from a restaurant somewhere would be ideal. For me, it’s an issue of expense.

  • Joytreg

    I’d love some suggestions for a healthy sandwich. Is homemade bread okay? What about fresh roasted turkey instead of lunchmeat? Alternatives would be nice rather than just a bashing, especially when people are actually have good intentions.

  • Sontaron

    And yet another reason I’m disappointed that “need to know” (almost never) replaced NOW on PBS.
    First I tend to eat vegetarian so turkey not really a problem. But doesn’t that assume that the person went out and bought the worst turkey and say didn’t cook there own and then sliced it. Thus saving money and getting a better ingredient. Wheat bread wouldn’t that depend on the type you buy you know I’m thinking the low sodium no sugar added high fiber whole wheat bread I buy or the wheat bread I make not really there with the high sodium. The only item that this article has any major points on is the cheese but I tend towards cheddar so that is even less sodium there. finally I don’t tend to use mayonnaise I prefer hummus. So with all of that really I should have gone with the fried potatoes. Because only sodium matters? Balancing fat, protein, and carbohydrates nor making sure one gets enough vitamins, minerals and fiber actually matter?

  • Kate

    I think everyone has lost their sense of humor. How many people who are marginally into healthy will read a serious article on their sandwich? NONE! They won’t even listen. As a past president of an organic co-op, it is because when they come face to face with the bad choices they are overwhelmed if they can’t afford the good ones. So this is one way to get the info out — with humor.

    And NO, most people are not buying organic or roasting their own and I know a ton of vegetarians that are now dealing with heart problems. Come on! Be honest. Most brown baggers are doing something like this (I can think of three coworkers right now), and most are doing it to save money. Salcedo’s article was tongue in cheek while making a point, to wake up not the organic folks (we’ve all known most of this for many years). There are many parents that give their kids a high-fructose corn syrup protein drink (two in my family even though I have told them it is possibly the reason for the ADD) and make them a bologna sandwich. When we are in a hurry we also look at buying one of the low-salt organic frozen lunches when they are on sale, and keep them in our freezer for those busy days. Most can’t or won’t bother with organics. They do not know that the word “Natural” does not equal anything, but is the newest in a string of marketing ploys. Natural is not governed by the government, so it can imply but does not mean diddly-squat. If you want to do it “right” look at the movement “Slow Food” and buy organic whenever you can, and especially read labels for the ites, ates, etc. Footnote: Not all vending machines are equal. At one company they stocked there’s with sandwiches made by the coffee house in the building, DAILY. Better than a six-month old burrito.

  • foodie

    This is such a ridiculously misguided evaluation of a sandwich compared to a bag of chips. Obviously, if one chooses fresh-made ingredients instead of pre-fab garbage (whole grain bread baked daily from a grocery or bakery which lists its ingredients, fresh meats instead of packaged and maybe replace mayo with mustard), the sandwich has more necessary fiber, vitamins, protein, good carbs, etc. than your bag of chips. People are designed for a well-rounded diet and a bag of chips for lunch doesn’t cut it. If this is just about sodium intake, then maybe the article should have been rewritten from a “do you know where sodium is hiding in your diet” viewpoint, rather than setting it up by bashing people who pack their lunches. Just weird, guys. Weird.

  • Barb

    I agree! The writer also forgot to mention the fresh tomatoes, lettuce and other veggies that we normally add to our sandwiches…

  • IvanAps

    Based on this article, her picture and bio, I think it is clear that the author is a nutbag without a clue. I just looked up the totals for the sandwich I just consumed and here is how it breaks down:

    100% Whole Wheat Bread – 2 Slices, 2oz of Boars Head Over Roasted Turkey (3 slices), Tomato (2 slices), Reduced Fat Swiss Cheese (1 slice), 1tbs Hellmans Light Mayo.

    Totals: 265 calories, 10 grams Fat (16% DV), 2.5 grams Sat Fat (12% DV) and 720 grams Sodium (30% DV)

    Seeing that lunch should always be your biggest meal seeing it is the one that allows the body the most time afterwards to burn the calories consumed, these numbers are AMAZING.

  • Ptboat67

    Well, if the girl with the lunch bag made her own luncheon meats, like real cooks do, then she wouldn’t have to worry about the issues of the processed crap offered at the counter. It’s nothing to roast turkey, chicken, or beef, nor is it very difficult to make other forms of classic sandwich toppers and she wouldn’t have to miss Modern Family in order to do it.

  • Dmassidda

    The message reminds me of the Frances Moore Lappe’ book I’m reading, Hopes’s Edge. Our corporate food culture is killing us as fast as it is destroying the planet. The article is as enlightning as it is fun. We need to see these things.

  • jlewis

    I make my own whole wheat bread, for about $5 in materials I get six loaves of bread and two large pizzas (though honey oat pizza crust is an acquired taste). I also make my own English Muffins for eggs in the morning. I do buy sliced meat but try to stick to the low sodium varieties. Cheese is just too delicious, stop trying to harsh my world. I use spinach in place of lettuce and home made bruschetta when winter tomatoes run out of flavor. My kids are the envy of the lunch table when my sammaches come out, even the ones who inexplicably have happy meals.

  • Lisa

    I pack my lunch for a bunch of reasons: saves me from food hunting TIME (who has 30 minutes to try and figure out WHAT to eat). I already spent the money on the groceries (saves money to make my lunch FROM them). I buy bread from bakery (it molds in 2 days, a sure sign of no preservatives). I eat smaller sized sandwich if I make it (definitely HALF the standard deli sandwich). I get to sit and eat and READ a book during lunch….a real break. Packing your lunch is still wiser than fetching food on your lunch hour…..

  • Thaigold

    Excuse me, but I’m an American in my mid-eighth decade. I enjoy Turkey sandwiches, Whoppers, Mac’s, and KFC. I drink alcohol every evening – since I was in my thirties. I also subsist on an Asian diet – possibly 75% of the time.
    Americans need to stop being sissy babies about existence —AND LIVE.
    Please, am I missing the bus here?

  • The Wing

    Thai gold, I wouldn’t say you’ve missed the bus per say, but that you’ve been on it longer than most: your age is well past (10 +/- years) the average for a typical U.S. female. Perhaps that Asian diet and thoughtful moderation are your fountain of youth?

    P.S.: I loves me some Thai food!