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EXCERPT: Rules for the Perfect Meal

Perfect?! A dangerous boast, you must be thinking. And, in truth, there was much about my personally hunted, gathered, and grown meal that tended more toward the ridiculous than the sublime. I burned, just slightly, the crust of the cherry galette, the morels were a little gritty, and the salt, which in keeping with the conceit of the meal I'd gathered myself in San Francisco Bay, tasted so toxic I didn't dare put it on the table. So I seriously doubt that any of my guests, assuming I was out of earshot, would declare this a "great meal." But for me it was the perfect meal, which is not quite the same thing.

I set the date for the dinner -- Saturday June 18 -- as soon as my animal was in the bag: wild California pig would be the main course. Now I had a couple of weeks, while the pig hung in Angelo's walk-in, to coordinate the entree with whatever else I could find to serve. In planning the menu the rules I imposed on myself were as follows (and the exceptions thereto follow what follows):

1. Everything on the menu must have been hunted, gathered, or grown by me.

2. The menu should feature at least one representative of each edible kingdom: animal, vegetable, and fungus, as well as an edible mineral (the salt).

3. Everything served must be in season and fresh. The meal would reflect not only the places that supplied its ingredients, but a particular moment in time.

4. No money may be spent on the meal, though already-purchased items in the pantry could be deployed as needed.

5. The guest list is limited to those people who helped me in my foraging and their significant others. This included Angelo, Anthony, Richard, and a friend named Sue who took me on an unsuccessful chanterelle hunt on Mount Tamalpais. Plus of course Judith and Isaac. Unfortunately, Jean Pierre was in France. There would be ten of us in all.

6. I would cook the meal myself.

As the rulemaking suggests, the meal was a conceit -- an ambitious, possibly foolhardy, and, I hoped, edible conceit. My aim in attempting it, as should be obvious, was not to propose hunting and gathering and growing one's own food as an answer to any question larger than the modest ones I stated out with: Would it be possible to prepare such a meal, and would I learn anything of value by doing so? I certainly don't mean to suggest that anyone else should try this at home, or that a return to finding and producing our own food is a practical solution to any of our culture's dilemmas surrounding eating and agriculture. No, little if anything about this meal was what anyone would call "realistic." And yet no meal I've ever prepared or eaten has been more real.

Excerpted from The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Copyright 2006 by Michael Pollan. Published by Penguin Press.

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