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.


Review: ‘A Suitable Boy’ mirrors political, personal dilemmas on an unwieldy canvas

Updated 26 October 2020

Review: ‘A Suitable Boy’ mirrors political, personal dilemmas on an unwieldy canvas

CHENNAI: One of the biggest traps when adapting a literary novel to screen is the director’s temptation to include just about everything in the text. Mira Nair’s “A Suitable Boy,” based on Vikram Seth’s 1993 1300-page magnum opus, falls precisely into this trap.

Produced by BBC Studios and now streaming on Netflix, the six-episode miniseries has a canvas too big for comfort, and Nair does not seem to be quite in command. Too many characters, some merely flitting in and out of frame, seem like a jigsaw puzzle, and it is difficult to understand how each one is related to one another. What is even more annoying is that they converse in English, perhaps a production ploy to attract a Western audience.

“A Suitable Boy” is a the six-episode series. (YouTube)

Set in the fictional university town of Brahmpur in 1951, four years after the British left the partitioned subcontinent, the series tries exploring the sense of freedom emerging at the political, social and personal levels. Even as new equations are forming among parties professing different ideologies, and the youth are experimenting with newer notions of romantic love, writer Andrew Davies’ core plot to place the life of 19-year-old Lata (Tanya Maniktala) in the context of a bewildering choice of suitors loses its way in the melange of men and women.

Her sweetly domineering mother insists that she, and she alone, must have the right to choose a suitable groom, but Lata falls in and out of love with three men, each affair accentuating her confusion. There is Kabir Durrani (Danesh Razvi), a handsome history undergrad and budding cricketer who Lata is passionately fond of. Poet and British-educated Amit Chatterji (Mikhail Sen) and disciplined, self-made shoemaker Haresh Khanna (Namit Das) also compete for her affections in a story which conveys the dilemma of a girl fighting to free herself from societal shackles. But Nair goes overboard here. Scenes of Lata kissing Kabir in a public place in the extremely conservative 1950s India appear like the director’s desperate attempt to prove a point. I am sure she could have taken the liberty to digress from the novel.

“A Suitable Boy” is set in the fictional university town of Brahmpur in 1951. (YouTube)

“A Suitable Boy” has other tracks, too. A respected politician’s son, Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter), who is infatuated with an older courtesan, Saeeda Bai Firozabadi (Tabu), plays a role in the series. Lata’s arrogant brother and sister Savita (Rasika Dugal) are part of the motley group. It is her marriage that kicks off the series mirroring the political-religious animosities of a new nation and the personal battles of the youth.

Nair’s debut into television (though not her first in literary adaptations) meticulously details the period, with Stephanie Carroll leading production design and Arjun Bhasin dressing up the characters. The street scenes in what was then called Calcutta appear wonderfully authentic, replete with its quaint trams and hand-pulled rickshaws. Refreshing performances — particularly Maniktala’s — pep up the visual appeal. Yet, “A Suitable Boy” is certainly not in the same league as Nair’s 2001 Venice Golden Lion winner “Monsoon Wedding.”