When I prospied at Grinnell on the beautiful and fateful 20th of April two years ago, I went to have lunch with my mom. The “cheery checker” at the front door asked me to remove my jacket and bag before entering. Surprised, I looked to my mom; I have a severe seafood allergy that requires me to keep an epi-pen close at all times. She explained this to the checker. “Sorry, you can’t bring your bag inside,” was the response. A bit of a cold exchange with the checker was required before they permitted me to bring my small bag with my epi-pen inside the dining hall.
From my first day in the Grinnell dining hall, not as a student yet, I’ve had problems with its culture. The social pressure and seemingly illogical rules make spending time there unpalatable. There is constant pressure to be surrounded by friends at all times. Eating alone is the ultimate embarrassment- but it shouldn’t be! Alone time is essential and valuable. For those of us who are more introverted, the pressure to always be seen eating with a swarm of friends can be exhausting and anxiety-inducing. Basically, the dining hall fosters a hostile environment which, especially with the new Grinwell campaign, doesn’t seem to reflect Grinnell at all.
I am continually perplexed by the fact that I can’t bring a half-eaten piece of bread outside of the d-hall, but I can eat it on the inside of the glass door with the guard watching me, and I can throw it away. This not only promotes food waste, it creates a precedent for food policing. Students can take ice cream outside, but not lactose-free desserts. This policy does not take varying dietary needs into account. Additionally, it promotes unhealthy or disordered eating habits. As someone without an eating disorder, but with an anxiety disorder, being in the Grinnell dining hall translates my general anxiety to anxiety around food. Food policing is never good, especially in a college environment where many people struggle with anxiety and food disorders. The abundance of rules formulated to support commercial goals, which promote a culture of distrust around students as consumers, shifts the dining experience from a time meant for fulfillment to an anxiety-inducing arena.
I view food as a way to connect with people. Mealtimes are for self-care and nourishment. When there are so many rules that seem to be practiced out of distrust and in favor of corporate goals, it makes mealtimes at Grinnell stressful, not enjoyable. I personally take issue with rules that are in place simply for the sake of being in place. For example, it makes no financial difference to the dining hall whether I finish eating my garlic bread while I’m grabbing my backpack outside, or if I eat it with the “cheery checker” watching me while still inside the dining hall. I find it ironic that the dining hall claims to be conscious of food waste, yet would rather a student throw out a piece of bread than consume it outside of the premises. Once I saw someone near the exit frantically eating ice cream sandwiched between two cookies. Ice cream was falling all over the place. The guard stood nearby watching, saying, “you can’t take ice cream out unless it’s on a cone!” This was entertaining for me to witness, but also endlessly frustrating. Where is the logic? This is not an issue of the dining staff members that enforce the rules, but of whoever decides the policies.
I think the root of this problem is the corporate structure of Grinnell Dining. Are they really so concerned with saving every penny for the dining service that they distrust students and guests? Can they really afford a new $4,000 hot dog roller, but not more extensive vegan options or more humanely raised meat products? Doesn’t it go directly against Grinnell’s principles of self-governance to force students to remove jackets before entering for fear of food theft? Who is making these rules? Why don’t we, as students who pay copious amounts of money for this service, have a say in making these policies? There is clearly a disconnect between what student voices are saying and the Grinnell Dining decision-making. It almost feels like an entirely different place from the rest of campus. The rules of Grinnell College don’t apply. The values of Grinnell College don’t apply.
The JRC was built as a central link of the campus. It embodies one of my favorite parts about mealtimes, which is feeling like a part of Grinnell’s community. If the d-hall fosters an environment where community members don’t feel safe, can we really feel like we belong? I suggest they stop enforcing rules for the purpose of demonstrating authority and saving pennies, and strive to create a more inclusive and accessible dining hall environment that reflects our values and allows students to simply enjoy food.