Metro Magic: You Say Potato, I Say Parmentier

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Metro Magic: You Say Potato, I Say Parmentier
This is the first in a monthly series of stories about the wonders of the Paris Metro System. You might have rumbled through the underground stop Parmentier on Métro Line 3 and caught a blurred glimpse of a potato or two — an odd decorative change from the graceful antiquities, tile frescoes, and riveted copper plates of more famous stations. Or you might have stopped at the station to explore the neighborhood in this corner of the 11th arrondissement and lingered to study the displays featuring pomme de terre lore on the station quais. A botanical tribute to the remarkable potato. Photo © Meredith Mullins Ah, potatoes… that amazing staple of French cuisine. All this potato talk may prompt visions of French fries or mashed potatoes dancing in your head. But perhaps you’re wondering — what do these tubers have to do with this particular metro station? How did this station get its name? The Potato Man: Parmentier Who was Parmentier? A health food promoter A serious scientist A hobnobber with celebrities and royalty A master marketer All of the above The answer for such a complex character is, of course, “All of the Above” … and more. August-Antoine Parmentier (1737–1813) was curious about all things scientific. He learned Latin by age 13 and had a passion for botany, agronomy, and nutrition. He became a pharmacist by trade; but, while in the army, he was captured by the Prussians during the Seven Years War. During his imprisonment, his diet consisted almost solely of potatoes. To his surprise, he realized the tuber must be nutritious because he stayed healthy. Also to his surprise, he discovered that they were pretty darn tasty. When he was released and returned to Paris, he made it his mission to alert the French to the benefits of the potato. Statue in the metro station of Parmentier spreading the potato word (by Albert Roze). Photo © Meredith Mullins Potato History The cultural heritage of the potato in France did not have an auspicious beginning. Potato-less cuisine was the norm for the French prior to 1785. While some parts of the world had been introduced to potatoes for many years (or thousands of years in its homeland Peru), the French did not embrace the potato’s virtues. Potatoes were considered, at best, food for farm animals. At worst, people believed the underground tubers caused leprosy. Parmentier did research and wrote papers, with seductive titles such as “Inquiry into Nourishing Vegetables that in Times of Necessity Could Be Substituted for Ordinary Food.” When the papers didn’t quite convince the public, he used his master marketing skills. He planted a field of potatoes and posted guards so that people would think the plants were valuable. He was also clever enough to give the guards a night off so that people could steal the plants and begin to grow them as the valuable treasures they were. He hosted sumptuous dinner parties for the Paris notables (including Benjamin Franklin) that featured potato dishes for their dining pleasure. For his final marketing push, he gave bouquets of potato blossoms to the king and queen (Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette). He won their favor, resulting in a royal decree that the potato was now an acceptable vegetable in France.

Lead photo credit : Caption: Métro Parmentier—the potato station. Photo © Meredith Mullins

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Meredith Mullins is an internationally exhibited fine art photographer and instructor based in Paris. Her work is held in private and museum collections in Europe and the U.S. and can be seen at or in her award-winning book "In A Paris Moment." (If you’re in Paris, a few rare, signed copies are available at Shakespeare and Company and Red Wheelbarrow.) She is a writer for OIC Moments and other travel and education publications.


  • Marian Jones
    2021-02-11 06:58:40
    Marian Jones
    I really enjoyed this piece. On our last two or three trips to Paris, Parmentier has been 'our' stop, so I knew a little about its potato connections. But not so much about Monsieur P himself and I've found it fascinating to hear more. Do you know if its true that the green metallic netting effect to be seen in that station represents the bags potatoes were stored in? I think maybe I read that somewhere .....


    •  Meredith Mullins
      2021-02-12 12:06:11
      Meredith Mullins
      Bonjour Marian, Thank you for writing ... and for mentioning the lattice work in the station. You're right, it is potato oriented. It is reminiscent of garden trellis work or potato net bags—either idea is farm related. The seats are also farm related—replicas of tractor seats. And I agree ... Monsieur P was a fascinating person. Take care, Meredith