It is hard to believe now, but the potato was once a highly unpopular food. When first
introduced into England by Sir Walter Raleigh, newspapers printed editorials against it,
ministers preached sermons against it, and the general public wouldn't touch it. It was
supposed to sterilize the soil in which it had been planted and cause all manner of
strange illnesses--even death.
There were, however, a few brave men who did not believe all the propaganda being
shouted against it. It was seen as an answer to famine among the poorer classes and as a
healthful and beneficial food. Still, these few noblemen in England could not persuade
their tenants to cultivate the potato. It was years before all the adverse publicity was
overcome and the potato became popular.
A Frenchman named Parmentier took a different tack. He had been a prisoner of war in
England when he first heard of the new plant. His fellow prisoners protested the outrage
of having to eat potatoes. Parmentier, instead, thoughtfully inquired about the methods of
cultivating and cooking the new food.
Upon his return to France, he procured an experimental farm from the Emperor, in which he planted potatoes. When it was time to dig them, at his
own expense, he hired a few soldiers to patrol all sides of his famous potato patch during the daytime.
Meanwhile he conducted distinguished guests through the fields, digging a few tubers here and there, which they devoured with
At night, he began to withdraw the guards. A few days later one of the guards hastened
to Parmentier with the sad news that peasants had broken into the potato patch at night,
and dug up most of the crop.
Parmentier was overjoyed, much to the surprise of his informant, and exclaimed,
"When the people will steal in order to procure potatoes, their popularity is
Pieces, January 9, 1992, pp. 13, 14, 15.