At the end of the academic year, Première Moisson’s current lease on their space in the Redpath Library basement will have expired. This news has sparked a debate about whether the lease should be renewed, and, if not, what should replace it. The café, which sells coffee, sandwiches, pastries, and snacks, is notorious for its high prices and mediocre products. The Redpath Première Moisson lease debate highlights the broader issue that McGill fails to provide its students with options that are both healthy and affordable.
In 2014, McGill replaced the Tim Hortons in the Redpath Library basement cafeteria space with a Première Moisson. As the Montreal Gazette reported at the time, students were unhappy with the change, preferring Tim Hortons’ affordable selection. Most options at Première Moisson are expensive for the average student, with the cost for rather small sandwiches climbing up to eight dollars. While McGill boasts about Première Moisson’s quality, citing a ‘gourmet selection,’ students tend to disagree. In January, The McGill Tribune conducted a survey of McGill students’ opinions about Première Moisson: Out of 314 respondents, only 29 said they would want the lease renewed.
Issues with food affordability and quality on campus do not end at Première Moisson. Vendors such as Quesada, Starbucks, and Dispatch often fail to provide food that is simultaneously healthy and inexpensive. There are some alternatives: SNAX, a student-run café in Leacock, is affordable, but payment options are limited, and some students will always opt for one of the chain restaurants around campus instead of paying hefty fees to take out cash from an ATM. Another alternative, the student-run initiative Midnight Kitchen, offers free vegan and vegetarian meals to students but is currently unable to function due to the renovation of the University Centre. Those living in residence are forced to pay almost $6,000 for a mandatory meal plan. Unlike many other schools, the plan does not provide students with unlimited meals. Not only is cost an issue, but such a system fails to provide students with the option to cook for themselves.
Some may counter these arguments by claiming that students are more than welcome to avoid Première Moisson if they so choose. However, this ignores the reality facing a sizeable portion of the McGill population: While some may have the means to pay for such items, many do not. Financial and economic status should not put these students at a disadvantage.
Others might also argue that it is students’ responsibility to prepare their own meals should they have a problem with the price of food on campus. However, this fails to address the crux of student life at McGill: The pressure placed on students, especially around exam season, can be extreme. There is a well-documented correlation between nutrition and stress levels, fatigue, mood, and alertness. Students often lack the time or energy to take care of themselves when they are overwhelmed with school work. Because Première Moisson is the only option in the McLennan-Redpath library, it leaves students with little choice but to spend large amounts of money to feed themselves during stressful periods. It can be hard to justify extensive meal-prep when coursework is so time-consuming. If McGill truly values the well-being of their students, offering more affordable food options is a good way to prove it.
Students’ position seems to be clear: It’s time for Première Moisson to go. What McGill does next will demonstrate whether it prioritizes student concerns, and McGill should replace Première Moisson with another, more affordable option.