Marketing 101: History’s greatest potato promoter relied on science and stunts

Antoine Parmentier painted by François Dumont in 1812.Neither prison food nor Prussian food have a great reputation, but during the Seven Years War, the combination made quite an impression on Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. Born in 1737, he became a pharmacist in the French army and spent three years as a prisoner of war. The prison diet consisted largely of potatoes, which the Prussians cultivated but the French viewed with disdain. Once freed, he made the potato his obsession. While the spud had crossed the Atlantic (from its native South America) in the late 1500s, it was viewed with suspicion in many European countries. In France, it was fed to pigs but considered suspect for human consumption. Superstition held that it was poisonous or caused leprosy—based on gnarled potatoes resembling the stubbed appendages of lepers. The fact that potatoes grow underground, and not from seeds but from chunks of the tuber, also darkened its reputation. Potatoes weren’t sold or grown in any great volume. But after returning from three years of the potato diet with his health intact, Parmentier set to work to prove that his own experience was no anomaly… Read further