It is a clear blue day, the flowers are in bloom, and the birds are chirping songs of grandeur. Smiling students of all races, genders, and socioeconomic levels are sprawled out on the lawn eating lunch, presumably loving life and everything around them. Scenes like these often adorn college admission brochures and used to make my high-school-self roll her eyes. These smiley lunch-eaters couldn’t possibly represent real people, I thought. They must be the handiwork of some photographer trying to lure students in with a gimmicky hook that doesn’t truly represent the school in question.
But all skepticism aside, I am here to tell you that at Grinnell, such an experience is real, it’s anything but cheesy, and it’s called Grab and Go.*
Grab and Go is a meal replacement program that allows students to pick up a bagged lunch rather than make a trip to the dining hall. Students swipe their Pcards and in exchange receive a paper bag filled with an apple, chips, two cookies, a bag of carrots, and either a vegetarian or meat sandwich, depending on their dietary preferences. A fountain drink of one’s own choosing completes the ensemble. What happens from there depends on the student in question.
Many take their meal back to their dorm rooms or into the library to munch while they finish homework before class. This practice is a very legitimate use of the system, but others have different plans for lunch. As opposed to using Grab and Go as a means to increase homework efficiency, these students use it as a way to expand upon and enhance the lunching hour, a way to take the already social experience of the dining hall and enjoy it on their own terms.
Monday through Friday afternoons, weather permitting, I take my bagged lunch outdoors and gather with a group of friends on one of Grinnell’s many lawns. The sky really is beautiful. The grass feels nice beneath our bottoms. Depending on the day, the squirrels scamper, romp, or frolic. And there is a sense of satisfaction in escaping the fluorescent lights for a bit of natural sunlight.
In between bites of hummus, these real live lunch-eaters talk about interesting happenings from class (like the time my psychology prof’s dog threw up all over the floor during a demonstration of operant conditioning), discuss politics (which presidential candidate we support), plan weekend activities (checking out the local pumpkin farm), and relish the ones from the previous week (flying kites naked).
Once our tummies are full, we pass around the sections of the New York Times, catch up on current events, and share articles we find particularly amusing. And what’s really spiffy is how often people passing by stop to chat and even join us. There’s something about a picnic that inspires passersby to slow down and enjoy the afternoon.
Grab and Go picnics may not be all you can eat, but the company is all you could want, the scenery is all you can see, and the conversation is all you can imagine. Plus, outside the dining hall you have the freedom to shout, to roll around in the grass, to play bocce ball amongst the squirrels, and to collect pretty leaves to give to a friend later that day.
We’re probably not quite as photogenic as those folks you might see in college mailings — some of us have been wearing the same T-shirt for the past three days, others are bleary-eyed from a long night of paper-writing, and we don’t necessarily represent every single demographic breakdown. But we do come together on green lawns, under blue skies, for one hour each afternoon, to eat, to socialize, and to connect. We are beyond the viewbook. We are Grab and Go.
*Last year, Grab and Go’s format and menu changed in order to accommodate its move to the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center. Since the move, the program has been renamed Outtakes. Regardless of the name change, those old enough to remember the old format continue to adamantly call it Grab and Go.
Erin Sindewald '08 is an English major from Orland Park, Illinois.