Commentary, Opinion

McGill’s new library must provide students with better, more affordable food

McGill has a food problem. The provision of affordable campus food is a myth.

But this time next year, one of the main campus food sources and perhaps the epicentre of the problem, Redpath Café, will be torn down along with the McLennan and Redpath libraries to make way for McGill’s new $140 million Fiat Lux Library Project.

And aside from where we will study or what will happen to food provision in the meantime, my question is: How will McGill improve campus food options with this new library?

I occasionally venture down into the sterile underpass that is the café in Redpath library. And when I do, I buy myself a Kit Kat and a Coke (the liquid kind), which comes to about $6. Actually, as my friends may testify, I do this most days. It’s my brunch. 

Why Kit Kats instead of, say, poké bowls? Or sandwiches? Or sushi? Because the price of the Kit Kat at the till doesn’t fill me with an overwhelming sense of dread. 

The fact that Redpath Café, a university caféteria with as much pizzazz as a border-control waiting room, charges similar prices as nearby restaurants is ridiculous.

Sésame, a nearby Montreal poké chain, offers a mini-salmon poké bowl for $9.50, which is basically what you get with Redpath’s salmon poké bowl. Except, Sésame’s after tax and tip will still be on the right side of $16, and Redpath’s won’t. And Sésame’s isn’t bland to the point of being totally regrettable, like Redpath’s.  

Or take the sandwiches. I think we can all agree that Super Sandwich’s taste better, yet Redpath’s are still more expensive.

The other campus food options don’t solve the problems, either. Dispatch Café and Gerts, both as a café and a bar, are also overpriced. And lest I remind everyone, Gerts is student-run by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). 

The problem of price goes hand in hand with quality, and Redpath Café hasn’t found the salt. 

Let’s imagine if Redpath Café was a high-quality restaurant, “The Grill at Redpath,” if you will. On the menu, beef burgers from Canada’s finest, grass-fed cattle, and vegan burgers that are so good you don’t have to pretend to enjoy them. Maybe—just maybe, I’d think about forking out 16 bucks on lunch. That is, if I didn’t want a Kit Kat.

Unfortunately, this isn’t “The Grill at Redpath,” and we’re not a bunch of bankers looking for an extravagant midday blowout, despite the Desautels kids’ better judgment. We’re students that need a bit of grub in between classes, and McGill’s provision of accessible, affordable food on campus is inadequate. Period.

The new library offers an opportunity to address this. But from the details given so far, I’m skeptical that they will.

Reading through the project proposal online, I couldn’t find a single mention of food, drinks, or cafés. In the most recent feedback from the 97-page 2019 Lib Qual survey, which uses student feedback to analyze the libraries, there’s no mention of food services either. And, to my knowledge, in terms of reaching out to students to find out their needs for a campus café, there’s been zilch.  

This is despite recent calls for more affordable campus food, previous surveys conducted by SSMU, and the highest food inflation in Canada since 1981. 

Of course, improving the provision of affordable campus food is no easy feat. And even with improvements, students will no doubt still complain—I’m afraid that’s just what we’re like. 

But, make no mistake, when this new library opens in 2027, it won’t matter how many new computers, fancy chairs, or great big glass walls there are—if students can’t find a decent bite to eat, the complaints will pile up and pile high. 

Providing affordable food on campus is too important to be forgotten about. It must be prioritized.  

And it starts with asking students two questions. What do you want on the menu? And how much are you willing to pay?

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