Gathered around the Ultimeats.

This story begins, like so many others, with a late night at the pub. We are sitting around the table, slumped in our chairs, sated with laughter, hands folded over our stomachs or lazily grasping a half-finished pint. Cliff leans forward with a mischievous smile and a conspiratorial look. “Have I ever told you guys about the Ultimeat Pizza?”

He feeds us the details. The Ultimeat Pizza was devised by Cliff, his brother Colin, and two million years of hunter-gatherer instinct. An extra-large pizza, thick crust, extra sauce, and every meat topping that Pizza Pizza offers.

“Except for anchovies, of course. They’re not a real meat.”

The night he and his brother first ordered the zoo on a ‘za, Cliff could barely finish four slices. That night, he was so stuffed that the discomfort woke him up. “We’ve been talking about doing it again. You guys up for it?”

Eight of us made a pact that night to tackle the ten-topping titan. The date was set: two Sundays thence. Because there were so many of us, we would order two pizzas, each paying ten dollars and receiving three slices. We did not know what we were getting ourselves into.

***

The big day came, and I had completely forgotten about our agreement. A lot had happened since that night: Easter weekend with my grandparents in Niagara Falls, a huge exam for my Literature course, a piano recital canceled under unfortunate circumstances, the completion and submission of my undergraduate thesis. I had other things to think about. Lucky for me, as Rick stepped out the door that afternoon, I asked him where he was going. “To a meeting, then to Cliff’s house for the Ultimeat. You’re still in, right?”

Suddenly all the details of our agreement came back to me. “Yeah, still in. I’m heading to campus soon for a meeting myself, but send me a text message when you’re finished and we’ll head to Cliff’s house together.”

The meeting I referred to was of the newly-elected Student Representative Assembly, the governing council of our student union. I had served on the SRA for three terms, but my impending graduation meant that I had not run for a fourth. It was time for the election of my successor as Bylaws and Procedures Commissioner, and I wanted to be there to arrange for a transition meeting. A few minutes after Rick left, I got a text message: they were just finishing the business item directly preceding the election. I dashed off to campus.

***

My haste proved unnecessary. Minutes after I arrived, the assembly voted to recess for a 45-minute dinner break. That passed, and then the candidate for my old position ran unopposed. Business continued, and I looked at the time anxiously. Surely Rick’s meeting should be done by now; he said it would take an hour, and it had already been ninety minutes. I thought to myself: I hope they haven’t forgotten about me. Although I usually avoid premature nostalgia, with my last days as an undergraduate student winnowing away, some part of me couldn’t help regarding the Ultimeat pizza as a challenge rather than a meal, a notch in my axe (and perhaps my belt) that I could look back upon with fondness as part of the happy-go-lucky days of my waning youth.

My cell phone vibrated, buzzing against the table it was resting on. I had not been forgotten. Rick was heading home; I texted back to say I would meet him there.

At home, I grabbed what I needed to document the event: pens, a notebook, and my camera. We made the 20-minute walk to Cliff’s house with a detour to the convenience store for root beer and ginger ale. We were among the first to arrive.

The living room was neat and tidy, everything having perhaps been cleared out to make way for the mammoth spread. As more contenders arrived, we learned that only seven of the original eight would be taking part in the feast: me, Rick, Cliff, Colin, Martin, Kara, and Carson. There was Andrea, too, there to watch, but unable to participate (we ordered her a small vegetarian pizza as a consolation). Cliff wrote out a list of toppings to make sure we left nothing out.

***

The master list of ingredients.

It was time to order. Cliff dialed. We told his housemates to pipe down in the next room. Martin and I activated the recording functions on our phones to document the call.

We had bad luck with the first attempt to order: the Pizza Pizza operator kept interrupting with offers of irrelevant three-topping specials. Feigning a bad connection, Cliff hung up on her and tried again.

The second time, we reached someone more cooperative. Cliff placed the order very meticulously. “We would like two extra-large pizzas, each with the following. Thick crust. Extra sauce. Pepperoni. New York-style pepperoni. Italian sausage. Italian ham. Bacon strips. Bacon crumble. Mesquite chicken. Barbecue steak strips. Salami. And ground beef.” There was a short pause. The operator was quick on the uptake. “Yes, that is every meat topping you offer. Except anchovies.”

Then Cliff ordered Andrea’s veggie pizza and four marinara dipping sauces. With the business complete, Cliff allowed himself a small joke with the incredulous woman on the other end of the line. “This is adequate food for three people, right?” Cliff smiled. She had burst out laughing. The order came out to just under 80 dollars.

When the delivery man came, it took him three trips to bring us our full order. The boxes were surprisingly heavy. We paid the delivery man, and set the two boxes on the table before throwing them open in unison. There was a collective gasp.

“Oh my God,” someone said. It might have been me.

We each took our first piece. The toppings that fell off as they were slid out of the box could have furnished a Meat Lover’s pizza on their own. Not quite sure what to expect, I took my first bite.

I thought the amount of meat on the pizza would be excessive, that my Herculean task would be slightly unpleasant. I was wrong. That first bite of pizza was the best I have ever eaten. Each mouthful was decadent almost beyond measure. “I feel like Louis XIV,” I exclaimed.

I never knew it was possible to be meatdrunk, but we all were. We made jokes about dying of meat poisoning, and about how many animals gave up their lives for our meal that night. After two or three slices, we each hit our “meat wall.” Some of us found a second wind and kept going.

If this were not a story about pizza, would you even know what this was?

When Rick took his fourth piece, which came with half the toppings from an adjacent piece that someone was unable to stomach whole, the tension in the room was palpable. It was as though we were being threatened by an invisible meat monster, and he was preparing to do battle with it. I imagined that a fourth piece would have been my undoing. Rick later told me that as he looked at that piece on his plate, he feared the same thing.

But he got through it. Both pizzas finished, we had met the Ultimeat challenge. That night, after a very slow walk home, I slept like a baby. A baby who had eaten his weight in meat. It is not something I would do again, at least not for a while, but I am glad we did it.

Despite what this story may suggest, I believe very strongly in the principle of moderation. The wasteful nature of our day-to-day existence is taking its toll on nature, and the Ultimeat pizza is by no means a sustainable practice, ecologically or economically. But a little excess can be instructive from time to time. Without fully experiencing the delights of living, how else would we know what it is we are trying to preserve?

20 April 2009 — 11:40 pm