If you amble through Paris’s popular Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, among tombs of celebrated philosophers, singers, and playwrights, you may discover a grave surrounded by potato plants. If an admirer has stopped by recently, there may even be a tuber resting atop the tombstone. You have found the final resting place of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, history’s greatest potato promoter.
When Parmentier was born, in 1737, the French disdained potatoes: Farmers grew them as animal feed, but they were seen as unfit for human consumption, with the potential to cause leprosy. At the time of his death, though, potatoes were grown throughout Europe, and the hardy, dependable crop was credited for breaking a cycle of famine.
No one could take more credit than Parmentier, an army pharmacist who, after being taken prisoner and fed a constant diet of potatoes by the Prussians, made it a personal mission to convince his countrymen of potatoes’ merits. After all, he emerged in good shape.
As a man of science, Parmentier took a scholarly approach, which included writing the treatise “Inquiry into Nourishing Vegetables That in Times of Necessity Could Substitute for Ordinary Food.” He was also a showman: His promotional efforts included dinner parties featuring course after course of potato-centric dishes (among other celebrities, Thomas Jefferson attended); planting a small potato field near Paris (and posting guards to make them seem worth stealing); and allegedly getting King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to wear potato flowers.
Although widely accomplished, Parmentier is best known for his work with potatoes. He received the Legion of Honor from Napoleon, and judging from the potatoes left on his grave, remains fondly remembered.
Know Before You Go
The grave can be found in Division 39 of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery.