[FOUNTAIN]Regal power packed into a humble tuber

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[FOUNTAIN]Regal power packed into a humble tuber

In Parmentier Station on the Paris subway there is a marble statue of a gentleman wearing shorts and a powdered wig. In his left hand he holds a potato basket and in his right a potato. It is a statue of Antoine Augustine Parmentier, who is known as the “father of the potato” in France.
Parmentier, who was a pharmacist and agriculturist, had to eat only potatoes when he was held hostage by the Prussians during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). After the war, Parmentier spent 40 years studying potatoes, saying he was able to survive his imprisonment thanks to the tuber. The value of Parmentier’s research became apparent during the Napoleonic era. Napoleon Bonaparte believed that a military’s strength came from a self-sufficient food supply. Parmentier suggested potatoes as a food source, and within 10 years potato production in France rose 15-fold. It was Parmentier who had suggested to Louis XVI that the king wear potato flowers in his buttons. Parmentier elucidated the beauty of potato flowers to Marie Antoinette and changed the dress code of the then-royal household to potato flowers. His effort effectively rid Europeans of their prejudice against potatoes.
It might have been because of its looks, but the potato was unused for 200 years since its introduction in the mid 16th century. The potato was also accused of being the “product of the demon,” an “aphrodisiac,” and the “cause of all sickness.”
The charges were first cleared with the publishing of an article in 1750. A British doctor John Hill revealed for the first time that “potatoes have no poison.” Hard days were still in store for the spud, however. In the early 19th century, George Gissing described the potato as a “humble food” in his novel “The Nether World.” The British legal scholar Richard Cobden said, “People who eat potatoes will never be able to perform their abilities in whatever job they choose to have.”
On the other hand, there were scholars who noticed the value of potatoes ahead of their time. In 1664, John Foster predicted and told Charles II that “Potatoes will be the certain key to solve the shortage of food,” and “mass cultivation of potatoes in England and in Wales will bring an economic miracle.”
Thomas Malthus wrote that potatoes would be a useful alternative in solving the problem of famine. Recently, World Vision, an international organization for aid and development, has launched a campaign to “bloom the potato flowers of love.” It plans to help solve the food shortage problem in North Korea by increasing the production of seed potatoes.
There is a saying that even a king cannot help the poor, but the equation changes when potatoes are involved.


by Yi Jung-jae

The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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