When the potato was first introduced to Europe, many were wary of the mysterious tuber. Believed by some to cause leprosy, peasants had no desire to try it, and often used it solely for animal feed. Only in fits and spurts did far-sighted individuals realize the crop’s potential and seek to share it with the world.
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was a Frenchman taken captive by the Prussians during the Seven Years War. During his captivity, he was fed almost exclusively potatoes, and came to realize their value. Upon return to France, he became determined to spread them and their benefits throughout France. He managed to introduce potatoes to the aristocracy, but the peasants were less susceptible. However, he concocted the following plan.
He planted potatoes at Les Sablons, on the western edge of Paris, and had soldiers guard the crops during the day, ordering them to chase away any curious peasants. At night, however, they promptly left, giving the peasants time to sneak in and steal the crop, eager to try something so valuable that it needed to be guarded so thoroughly. Soon, potatoes spread throughout the city as people tried them and discovered their quality.
As for Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, he was awarded the Legion of Honor by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 for his accomplishments and efforts.