Grab 'n' go, grab-bag—not to mention the grabbing president. What does it mean when suddenly the whole world is something to be seized?by Chris Townsend / September 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
I grab a bite to eat. I grab a drink to go with my lunchtime meal deal. I head back to the office, in time to grab a quick nap. Here I am, fully engaging in grab culture.
Eat food away from a table and you too can consider yourself to be grabbing it, at least according to the brands who want to sell it to you. Greggs, that resurgent force in the world of discount baked goods, invites us to “grab” everything from its doughnuts to its breakfast butties. According to Subway’s signage, the only apparent way to get their “sub of the day” is by grabbing one. McDonald’s opened its first ‘Grab-and-Go’ restaurant in London earlier this year—a kind of drive-through for the carless—and fancy vegan face-stuffery like Livia’s “Biccy Boms” also make use of the “Grab N Go” formula. All things now are up for grabs.
It is worth asking what kind of a culture goes around grabbing everything in sight. After all, the ubiquitous invitation to “grab some food” is a deeply strange one when you stop to think about it. Any impressionistic sense that “grabbing” is not such a wholesome thing is amply confirmed by the (excellent) leading definition of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘To grasp or seize suddenly and eagerly; hence, to appropriate to oneself in a rapacious or unscrupulous manner.” Rapaciousness! This is the kind of grabbing a Dickens villain does, at a cloak or cane, before rampaging out of the room. Grabbing as a rapacious activity, then: an aggressively greedy way of going about business.
‘Grab-and-go’ is an industry term for the consumer’s supposed desire for convenience culture on the move, and it is no passing trend. The food industry magazine The Caterer reported in 2017 that the grab-and-go market is worth £20 billion a year and rising. We could endlessly moralise about the state of our grab-happy nation, or instead we could try to work out what it is advertising agencies and marketing departments think they are doing when they tell us to grab.
What quality do they think they’ve seen in public, that they expect it will grab and then go? Walkers no doubt call their larger packets of crisps ‘Grab Bags’ because ‘grab bag’ is an existing expression, meaning ‘random selection’—but there isn’t anything random in sight, and…