French-Algerian restauranteur sees ‘solidarity fridge’ use double during lockdown

The founder behind the Les Frigos Solidaires association is French-Algerian restauranteur Dounia Mebtoul. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 June 2020

French-Algerian restauranteur sees ‘solidarity fridge’ use double during lockdown

DUBAI: In 2017, the gastronomic capital of Paris installed its first ‘solidarity fridge’ in a bid to curb food waste and provide food in modest quantities for those in need. The initiative proved popular, and 53 fridges are currently scattered across France. The founder behind the Les Frigos Solidaires association is French-Algerian restauranteur Dounia Mebtoul. 

“Not everyone is concerned about food waste, and it’s a huge problem,” said Mebtoul, who co-founded her eco-friendly restaurant La Cantine du 18 with her mother as head chef in 2012. “We need to fix this problem, and to do so, we need the help of everyone.” 

Mebtoul, 28, founded the first solidarity fridge as a community project outside her restaurant in the multicultural 18th arrondissement of Paris. All fridges are free to use, and people can contribute unused dried foods, fruits, vegetables, eggs, biscuits, and dairy products. For safety reasons, however, alcohol and home-prepared meals are not allowed inside the fridges.

The idea to establish solidarity fridges came to Mebtoul while she was living in London, where she first encountered the philanthropic concept. Today, Paris is home to 15 solidarity fridges. French mayors and government officials have since contacted Mebtoul to purchase fridges from the association and place them in the streets of Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Grenoble, and Marseille, among other cities. 

“Each fridge is inside a wooden box, which is crafted by a carpenter in the 18th arrondissement, where the association was created,” she commented on the fridge’s locally supplied simple, three-layer design. 

Like most restaurants and cafes in the country, Mebtoul’s French-style tapas eatery was closed during the strict eight-week lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). She said that her staff has received some financial aid from the government during what has been a difficult time for the culinary industry. On June 14, President Emmanuel Macron officially announced that the lockdown would be lifted, meaning that Mebtoul’s restaurant could once again open for customers, who are, however, required to maintain social distancing outdoors and wear masks in its interior spaces. 

While most of the association’s fridges did not operate under lockdown, three were accessible. According to Mebtoul, she noticed more generous contributions from citizens during the lockdown. Approximately 80 jobless and homeless persons per day benefited from the service — nearly double the pre-lockdown amount.

“We wanted to recreate a social link between people. It’s just like what we do at La Cantine du 18, where we welcome everyone,” she said.

How to travel post-COVID-19

Updated 07 July 2020

How to travel post-COVID-19

  • As borders begin to re-open in the Middle East and around the world, here is how to deal with traveling in a post-pandemic world

DUBAI: When it comes to the Middle East, July seems to be a marker. From Bahrain to Egypt, Morocco to Dubai, borders are tentatively opening, with plans to jumpstart tourism a sign of better days to come. But still, a question hangs heavy. Even if we are now allowed to travel, will the experience ever really be the same again?

From where you can go to how much it will cost, what you can do there to a fear of going in the first place, the very essence of travel stands on the precipice, and we are all at risk of a lesser life experience because of it.

For Dubai-based, Euronews Travel TV presenter Sarah Hedley-Hymers, the biggest repercussion is the resulting knowledge hit. “Traveling makes me hyper-attentive,” she said. “The newness of places stimulates all the senses. I’m like Bradley Cooper in the movie ‘Limitless,’ absorbing different destinations like a sponge, expanding with the knowledge of it all, energized by the novelty. Not traveling feels like a protracted comedown.”

But while COVID-19 may have grounded the first half of 2020, the green shoots of recovery are slowly creeping through the cracks. Tentatively, travel is once more an option, but if you are planning post-pandemic travel, preparation is paramount.

Where can I travel to?
June saw much of Europe slowly re-open its doors, albeit with entry generally restricted to EU nationals or returning residents. In the Middle East, July 1 saw airports open in Egypt and Lebanon, along with tourism facilities in Turkey. Dubai will welcome visitors from July 7, Morocco from July 11, and Bahrain hopes to re-open the King Fahd Causeway — and its border with Saudi Arabia — by the end of the month.

Tourists from around the world stepped foot in the UAE for the first time in nearly four months on July 7. Shutterstock

The re-openings are fluid, with plans changing daily. Best advice? Check carefully ahead of any trip. There is a good chance that restrictions will still apply, both with the country you are heading to and the one you are departing from.

Will air travel be more expensive post-COVID-19?
As fleets have lay grounded for months, the big fear was that airlines would have to charge extortionate fares in order to recoup losses. Thankfully, the opposite might be true.

“With regards to the cost of travel, views currently vary and it’s difficult to accurately predict airline strategies,” said Ciarán Kelly, managing director of the Middle East & Africa Network at FCM Travel Solutions. “But some people expect fares to stay low as airlines struggle to get customers back on board.

“Whether it’s a free checked bag on your flight, discount vouchers — as we’ve seen already from Etihad — free wifi or other incentives, airlines are going to have to do everything they can to get people back into the skies.

“Of course on the flip side, faced with huge losses to make up and potentially emptier planes, they could go the other way and raise ticket prices. But even if that happens, it’s also likely they’ll adopt more lenient change and cancelation policies, as has been seen over the last few weeks.”

What if I am scared to travel?
A perhaps unexpected repercussion of COVID-19 on travel is a fear of staying safe. A recent poll by Mower, an independent marketing, advertising and public relations agency in the US, found that only 16 percent of Americans would be comfortable flying again once restrictions were eased. For Reem Shaheen, counseling psychologist at Dubai’s Be Psychology Center, the key to allaying fear is preparation.
“Apart from concerns over the virus, the overwhelming worry at the moment is access. Most people are struggling to not only figure out a travel destination with open borders, but also if they’re able to return to their country of residency,” she said.

Most people are struggling to not only figure out a travel destination with open borders, but also if they’re able to return to their country of residency. Shutterstock

“I believe that the fuel of this fear lies in the feeling of helplessness. The best way to manage that is by gathering as much information as possible. This could be by knowing where the hospitals are, preparing for a safe return to your country of residence, or simply learning the protocols on social distancing of the country that you’re heading to. Working to gain control over situations within your power will help reduce the fear and anxiety triggered by traveling during the pandemic.”

When should I travel again?
While open borders might signify an invitation to travel, the reality is that things might take a little longer before the world is comfortable in transit once more. But while your travel experience might now be a little different, you would hope that the opportunity to embrace new experiences will once again prove too good to resist.

Travel equates to more than the sum of its parts, not just the act of being there but the attributes it brings. Patience, acceptance, kindness and curiosity — those are the traits that you pick up on the road, and without the ability to move freely, we are all missing out. Plus, as Hedley-Hymers said: “If nothing else, it’s always nice to find a corner of the world that doesn’t have a McDonald’s on it.”