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.

In Lebanon, single-concert festival serenades empty ruins

Updated 05 July 2020

In Lebanon, single-concert festival serenades empty ruins

  • The Baalbek International Festival was streamed live on television and social media
  • The night kicked off with the Lebanese philharmonic orchestra and choir performing the national anthem

BEIRUT: A philharmonic orchestra performed to spectator-free Roman ruins in east Lebanon Sunday, after a top summer festival downsized to a single concert in a year of economic meltdown and pandemic.
The Baalbek International Festival was instead streamed live on television and social media, in what its director called a message of “hope and resilience” amid ever-worsening daily woes.
The night kicked off with the Lebanese philharmonic orchestra and choir performing the national anthem, followed by Carmina Burana’s “O Fortuna,” a 13th century poem set to music.

The program, which ran for just over an hour, included a mix of classical music and rock and folk tunes by composers ranging from Beethoven to Lebanon’s Rahbani brothers.
Held in the open air and conducted by Harout Fazlian, the 150 musicians and chorists were scattered inside the illuminated Temple of Bacchus, as drones filmed them among the enormous ruins and Greco-Roman temples of Baalbek.
Festival director Nayla de Freige told AFP most artists performed for free at the designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
The concert aimed to represent “a way of saying that Lebanon does not want to die. We have an extremely productive and creative art and culture sector,” she said.
“We want to send a message of civilization, hope and resilience.”
Baalbek itself became a militia stronghold during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, but conservation and tourism have revived the ruins over the past three decades.
Lebanon is known for its summer music festivals, which have in past years drawn large crowds every night and attracted performers like Shakira, Sting and Andrea Bocelli.
Other festivals have not yet announced their plans for this year.
Lebanon has recorded just 1,873 cases of COVID-19, including 36 deaths.
But measures to stem the spread of the virus have exacerbated the country’s worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Since economic woes in the autumn sparked mass protests against a political class deemed irretrievably corrupt, tens of thousands have lost their jobs or part of their income, and prices have skyrocketed.
Banks have prevented depositors from withdrawing their dollar savings, while the local currency has lost more than 80 percent of its value to the greenback on the black market.