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.