The Perfect Meal

My Thoughts on the chapter “The Perfect Meal”
by: Emma

I have to admit that the chapter “The Perfect Meal” really moved me. In this chapter, Pollan talks about the creation of his “perfect meal,” the painstakingly long process it takes to get there and finally the end result, a beautiful dinner night shared by those who had influenced his new ways of gathering food and using nature’s resources like never before.

His perfect meal however had rules, rules that have been a continual theme throughout the novel.

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.

The chapter moves sequentially, as if you are in the mind of the person who is preparing the dinner party. I felt this chapter really hit home for me; as I have thrown countless dinner parties where my weeks are consumed by every little thought that needs to be done for the week. First starting with your idea of a menu, then finalizing the menu, then preparing in the days leading up to the big day and finally the big day which is organized by the hour to make sure no detail goes forgotten. In this chapter Pollan writes, “I started cooking Saturday’s meal on Tuesday morning…” (399)

A few underlying themes of the chapter were; the possibility of the impossible, the idea of learning from creating such a production of a meal like this and the ability to adapt to a new way of cooking and sticking to it.

“Would it possible to prepare such a meal, and would I learn anything of value – about the nature or culture of human eating – by doing so?” (392)

This is the last chapter of the book, so it concludes with quite a few ideas around human eating in general and the nature in which we feed ourselves. Pollan compares his meal to that of a quick 20 minute, $20 dollar meal at a McDonald’s. Completely different in every form, but one that happens everyday. He calls these two meals the extremes, “at far extreme ends of the spectrum,” meals that should happen once in a while, a special occasion. I think this idea is one that really needs to be pursued and understood by society. We need to engage in the world that “sustains of human eating” and understand the diversity in nature, which ultimately would lead us to pose the questions, “what we are eating, where it came from, and how it found its way to our table.” Feeding ourselves is a part of everyday life and so often overlooked by many and seen as a necessity and not necessarily something worth enjoying. The food industry has changed so much since the day of “hunter and gatherers” and for me this book has really opened my eyes to the world of food production and the understanding of eating.

And in the end, what I took away from the chapter “The Forest” and the book as a whole:

I definitely think Michal Pollan has sparked some interest in me that yearns to know more about the way we eat, and more specifically the way North Americans eat. Food, obviously has always been a huge part of my life, all I seem to do is think about food and what I am eating next. But lately I have noticed how people have just zero interest in food, in trying food, in learning about food and in understanding food. This problem even grows in my own family, with many of my siblings who barley eat anything! It is such a concern for me and for months now I have been trying to help teach them what I learn, teach them about eating etc. So after reading this book, I feel more inclined now than ever to do more research to educate myself about the eating habits and the nature of eating in North America. I think it is extremely important and should be a foundation course that ones learn as a child year after year. I mean, we eat three meals a day everyday of our lives, don’t you think we should put a bit more thought into it? Thank you Michael Pollan!

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