Freegan Pony, Zero Waste Vegetarian Restaurant, Paris 19ème

 

The most exclusive table in Paris isn't Michelin starred, doesn't have any dress code, and doesn't require several months advance notice to book. It's hidden under the highway supporting the Périphérique, across from a gypsy camp just past Glazart-La Plage, with a pigeon infested port-a-potty outside. When Aladdin Charni opens Freegan Pony's giant metal doors- painted with green vegetables and graffiti letters- he greets each guest warmly as they step inside a cavernous 500m2 space lined with cars and photos from a recent exhibition. A friendly dog sniffs the people filing in, who nearly trip over him (her?) as their eyes adjust to the darkness, lit only by a row of windows in back and a few lamps sprinkled amidst exposed brick. All the furniture is secondhand, purchased from Emmaus, with pallets behind the kitchen counter, moss covered pillars, and a sparklingly clean sink and workspace. Throughout the night, we watch fellow restaurant goers trip over brightly colored vintage rugs, laughing. They crowd onto sofas and brightly colored benches. Music plays from a speaker stationed behind the piano. In the kitchen, volunteers help professional chefs prepare unsold food recovered from Rungis. The ambitious project is one of a kind in Europe, designed to raise awareness about the problem of food waste and divert perfectly good produce from landfills.

     
Photos, Becoming a Parisian  
 
Freegan Pony's sixty seat restaurant has been packed every night since opening in November. Kids dance in the open space with their parents and play football with the dog. Local university students, couples, and middle-aged book club members chat with tourists and expats. After we get our seats, a line forms out the door. A group of girls opt to stand with their food and drinks. The rotating team of highly trained chefs creates an entirely vegetarian menu, with gluten-free and vegan items clearly marked, that changes every day. It helps to get there a little early; ten minutes is enough, since this is France. When guests reach the head of the line, they give their name and the number of people in their party. Next, they pick up silverware and glasses, ordering drinks on the other side of the counter. Names are called for each entree. Once the first course is finished, all dishes- entirely non-disposable glass and metal- are placed in a bin marked "vaiselle." Patrons head back to the counter for plat and dessert, and at the end of each meal, pay what they can afford. Dishes like fresh cucumber, tomato, and mint salad, or expertly seasoned lentils with roast peppers, onions and kohlrabi paired perfectly with the vegan coconut mango dessert. Portions were generous, and every table had overflowing baskets of bread and water carafes.

  
Photos, Becoming a Parisian  

The space laid empty for over ten years before Freegan Pony's volunteer team turned it into a unique art gallery, concert space, and community center with ateliers and distribution programs for needy Parisians and refugees. Now Freegan Pony is being asked to leave the unused space and abandon headquarters for their zero waste food recovery project. Today from 12-6 PM, Freegan Pony is opening its doors to make the most of what may be their last weekend under the Périphérique. From 6-midnight, entry is 5 euros and there will be live music, delicious food, performances, and photography for all. Please sign the petition to save this amazing restaurant from eviction! The volunteers and organizers worked so hard and were so friendly, we never wanted the night to end. Even when we held up the line taking pictures for this blog post, the ladies behind us joked and laughed. When I bumped into people, they patted me on the back and smiled. Also, two Chinese women asked to sit with us which thrilled me because I felt like it validated my Asianness. Places like this remind me why I loved Paris when I first came here five years ago! I find myself forgetting more and more lately and Freegan Pony showed me a side of the city worth staying for. Bring your own cloth napkin and mason jar for beer (wine / beer are 3 euro a glass) to support this great community project today.


Paris to Go

3 comments:

  1. Signed. What a fabulous mission and group of selfless people. I hope the City of Paris changes its mind and soon realizes the value that such a project adds to the community.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! It is a really great addition to Paris. I hope they get enough signatures.

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