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Information from the official website of J.K.Rowling is generally considered canon. I remember at least one case when she 'changed her mind' after a particular rule has been published on her website (what happens with a secret if a Secret Keeper dies). Nevertheless, the information from the website can generally be considered reliable.

A rather obscure piece of information is J.K.Rowling's Wizards' Ordinary Magic and Basic Aptitude Test (W.O.M.B.A.T.) published on her website in 2007 and now accessible with a Time Turner.

In particular, we know that only one of the following options is correct (as the software allows you to choose only one option):

Which of the following is CORRECT?
a. Food can be conjured out of thin air.
b. Any object can be Transfigured into food.
c. Foodstuffs can be increased, Transfigured, summoned from a distance and magically cooked.
d. It is impossible to make the inedible, edible.
e. Food-related Charms are some of the simplest forms of magic.

W.O.M.B.A.T. Grade 3, 13 June 2007, question 8

The test appeared on J.K.Rowling's website before the release of Book 7, but we can almost safely assume that there was no time for J.K.Rowling to change her mind after compiling the test (though she must have submitted these questions weeks before they were eventually published).

As Hermione explained in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

Your mother can’t produce food out of thin air, no one can. Food is the first of the five Principal Exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfigura[tion]. It’s impossible to make good food out of nothing! You can Summon it if you know where it is, you can transform it, you can increase the quantity if you’ve already got some...

It means that the correct option is c, and therefore all other statements are false. So, apparently, you can make food out of something else, though not any object can be transfigured into food. Can you come up with any example of such transformation mentioned in the books?

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  • 2
    Good question! Even the HP Wiki doesn't come up with an example of transmigration of something into food. It suggests conjuring an animal, but even then the conjured animal would not last forever. – user56 Sep 18 '11 at 11:13
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    Could you eat the conjured animal? – Xantec Sep 18 '11 at 12:33
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    Does turning a teacup into a rat count (Or visa versa?) – PearsonArtPhoto Sep 18 '11 at 16:52
  • I would vote this up a 100 times if I could. Great question! – ykombinator Sep 19 '11 at 13:38
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The science of transfiguration is not well-explained (it is magic after all), except for Gamp's Law concerning the creation of food out of thin air. However, it is generally implied that there are limits; there are four other exceptions to Gamp's Law, just as a start.

In-universe, it's specifically the conjuration of food that is impossible; the creation of food out of nonbeing. You can Vanish food (meaning to send it into nonbeing), you can Summon it from somewhere else, Banish it to a different place, you can clone it with a Geminio charm and thus have double the amount, and you can transfigure food into some other form, all of which are transfiguration. However, in all instances within the arc, you never see a plate of hot prepared food created out of nothing with a single spell. Instead, you start with raw materials, and can use magic to aid in the preparation of food. It's explained in Book 4 (though not in the GoF movie) that the food on the House tables magically appears after first being prepared below in the kitchens by the house-elves, placed on tables directly underneath the Great Hall, then transported upwards to similar plates on the House tables. That's the only instance of food seeming to come out of nowhere.

It is also hinted that transfiguration, while not particularly painful to a living thing, does not actually turn one thing into the other. Horace Slughorn, for instance, transfigures himself into a broken overstuffed chair to hide from the Dark wizards he thinks are coming for him. Dumbledore undoes the spell, but it would be a pretty fair guess that Slughorn would have also had the means to reverse it somehow, otherwise he'd be a chair forever; not a brilliant escape. That means he didn't actually become a chair, he just took on the appearance of one.

By the same token, if you were to turn a rock into a rock lobster, it may look like a lobster and walk like a lobster, but if you were to boil it, I would imagine it would taste like a rock, because it wasn't really a lobster; it was a transfigured, artificially animated rock.

That would be the simplest theory behind the rules, in-universe. Out-of-universe, I would imagine it was simply some hand-waving on Rowling's part to explain why, if magic could do all these wonderful things, wizards could still go hungry. There's a lot of other explanations involved in limiting the power of magic in certain touchy circumstances (bringing people back from the dead, for instance), much of which is very simply to service the plot of the novels.

5

The single closest example I can find, when using the Lexicon as a resource, is an example that came from the first book, chapter 8. Professor McGonagall changes her desk into a pig. One could presumably cook the pig, and eat it.

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This might be a trick question. Note that there is no mention of magic in option (d). So if you take some plant or animal that is inedible raw, and then cook it, you are proving it wrong. Even wheat or rice fit: they are practically inedible raw.

So this question may show whether the wizard may solve problems with ordinary skills where magic fails.

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  • +1 because I think cooking is the answer here, but magic doesn't even fail with this. You can use magic to cook something, accomplishing task d, since "foodstuffs can be... magically cooked". – wyvern Jun 23 '15 at 2:22
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I know this is an old topic, but I found this very interesting. As you say, answer c is right, so that means d is incorrect and it is possible to turn the inedible into something edible.

This sounds to me, that if you turn an object into a pig, like McGonagall did, you could eat it. Someone here said that transfiguration doesn't last, that the transfigured object eventually changes back to its previous state, but I can't remember ever reading that. After all, in st. Mungo's there are healers to reverse transfigurations, which sounds like you could be stuck with it of nobody actively undoes it.

Now I would imagine that one of the other exeptions to elemental transfiguration would be life. This could mean that the transfigured pig wouldn't be truly alive, perhaps because it has no soul. But I don't see a reason why it would taste like a desk if you ate it. I don't remeber exactly what Rowling said about transfiguration, but it was something along the lines of 'transfiguration changes the thing's essential being'. That would mean that the pig truly isn't a desk anymore.

Answe c also states that you can transfigure food, although it doesn't say specifically if that goes both ways.

Essentially, I don't think wizards can create life, but I do think they can transfigure the physical qualities of something edible, like skin and muscles etc.

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It seems only food can Transfigure into food.

It seems most likely that only food can be Transfigured into food. In a specific example of food-based Transfiguration, Hermione tries to Transfigure moldy bread. She is unsuccessful, but since she tried it, presumably it theoretically could have worked. This is likely because bread is already food, and only food can be Transfigured into food.

“By nightfall, Harry felt discouraged and anxious, and a supper composed largely of mouldy bread, upon which Hermione had tried a variety of unsuccessful Transfigurations, did nothing to help.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 11 (The Bribe)

The first of the Principal Exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration says that food can be transformed, but it seems most likely that it means food can be transformed into other food, not that inedible things can be transformed into food. In the example above, bread is already edible, so it would be possible to Transfigure it into food, but it would not be possible to Transfigure a stick into an apple that can actually be eaten.

“Your mother can’t produce food out of thin air,’ said Hermione. ‘No one can. Food is the first of the five Principal Exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfigur—’

‘Oh, speak English, can’t you?’ Ron said, prising a fishbone out from between his teeth.

‘It’s impossible to make good food out of nothing! You can Summon it if you know where it is, you can transform it, you can increase the quantity if you’ve already got some –”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 15 (The Goblin’s Revenge)

When Harry, Ron and Hermione are on their extended Horcrux-finding camping trip, they only ever attempt to eat things that were already edible. This is not due to lack of necessity, since they do end up going hungry a lot, and Hermione is skilled enough in magic to at least have attempted to Transfigure food out of something inedible if it was at all theoretically possible, even if she did not ultimately succeed.

“This was their first encounter with the fact that a full stomach meant good spirits; an empty one, bickering and gloom. Harry was the least surprised by this, because he had suffered periods of near starvation at the Dursleys’. Hermione bore up reasonably well on those nights when they managed to scavenge nothing but berries or stale biscuits, her temper perhaps a little shorter than usual and her silences rather dour. Ron, however, had always been used to three delicious meals a day, courtesy of his mother or of the Hogwarts house-elves, and hunger made him both unreasonable and irascible. Whenever lack of food coincided with Ron’s turn to wear the Horcrux, he became downright unpleasant.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 15 (The Goblin’s Revenge)

Hermione gets better at finding them edible fungi, but never attempts to turn leaves into sandwiches, for example.

“The fact that Hermione was getting better at identifying edible fungi could not altogether compensate for their continuing isolation, the lack of other people’s company, or their total ignorance of what was going on in the war against Voldemort.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 15 (The Goblin’s Revenge)

Additionally, she tells Ron that he can find the ingredients and attempt to charm them into something worth eating, which, in addition to the other evidence seen when they are camping, implies that they need edible ingredients to make into food even while using magic.

“Harry caught the fish and I did my best with it! I notice I’m always the one who ends up sorting out the food; because I’m a girl, I suppose!’

‘No, it’s because you’re supposed to be the best at magic!’ shot back Ron.

Hermione jumped up and bits of roast pike slid off her tin plate on to the floor.

‘You can do the cooking tomorrow, Ron, you can find the ingredients and try and charm them into something worth eating, and I’ll sit here and pull faces and moan and you can see how you –”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 15 (The Goblin’s Revenge)

Therefore, it seems highly probable that it is not possible to Transfigure anything inedible into food.

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