Olive Toil: Hatred Is A Hard Habit To Break

Olive Toil: Hatred Is A Hard Habit To Break

There’s a difference between an experiment and practical use. And there’s a difference between proving a point and doing something of value. If I’ve learned nothing else during the Olive Toil challenge, I have learned that.

Picture by Avlxyz

Typically when you prove a point, you walk away with an inflated sense of self-worth, but little else. You say “I told you so”, feel good for two seconds and then realise you are a twat. I may be able to eat olives, and sort of enjoy them, but it has no practical value in my life. My life and the way in which I live it has not changed, and I don’t expect it will.

And my life from now into the future will most likely remain olive-free.

My name is Mark Serrels and for the past month I have eaten a single olive, every single day. I wanted to see if it was possible for a human being to transform his tastes. There is no food I loathe more than olives.

Before this experiment I could barely hold them down. Every fibre of my being wanted to expel the foodstuff from my gullet and vomit it up. Now? I can eat them; I can also mildly enjoy them. Well, scratch that, I can eat one type of olive –maybe a slight variety if pushed.

Technically this is a success. I have proven my point. My experiment has been a success, but the larger goal remains elusive. And that’s the tragedy.

I believed if I ate just one of the food I hated most in the world, every single day for one calendar month, by the end I would enjoy eating it. I was right. But I had hoped this experiment would open my taste buds to a plethora of new culinary experiences — olives on pizza, olives in greek salads — and it hasn’t.

My olive experience went from a sweat-drenched nightmare to something I could tolerate, and it happened so quickly I could barely believe the transformation. The move from tolerance to enjoyment was far more difficult, but it came — eventually. The difficult part was adapting this new taste to different scenarios.

Olives are a strange food. There are multiple types, and they all taste slightly different. I had grown accustomed to green olives from my deli, but when someone offered me a Kalamata olive I almost vomited on the spot. I couldn’t enjoy the black olives added to pizza. Despite the daily challenge, I could only eat one type. I still dreaded olives ruining meals I would have enjoyed otherwise.

The brain is a complicated thing. Training it is like asking a caveman to install a carburettor in a Mercedes Benz. It’s monkeys writing Shakespeare — I was like a rat in a Skinner Box. Slowly I had become accustomed to something artificial, but when it came to applying that knowledge in the real world I was woefully unequipped.

I couldn’t apply myself.

The litmus test — every time my wife’s family gets together we order pizza, I suppose you could call it a family tradition. There are over 12 of us, so we buy in bulk. Four large BBQ Chicken Pizzas and four large Vegetarians. With extra olives.

This weekend, for the first time in years, the entire family gathered at my wife’s parent’s house and, of course, pizzas were ordered. My ultimate goal in doing this was to be able to freely eat olive pizza and enjoy it in the same way I mercilessly gorge on the BBQ Chicken pizzas.

On that count I failed miserably.

I made so many mistakes. If I was to do this practically all over again, I would take the advice I ignored so readily. I’d move slowly, I’d integrate olives into different foods — salads, pizza — I’d eat a larger variety. I’d eat more of them.

Argh! But what’s the point? I’ve proved my point, a point that proved to be pointless. Olives are now out of my life, and I’m glad to see the back of them.

There’s a difference between an experiment and practical use. I’ve succeeded, but all that’s left is an empty jar, and the weird, salty taste of olives hanging at the back of my throat.


  • hmm ok, I was thinking of doing this for my stomach churning hatred of Beetroot.
    But if you failed so poorly at something I love, I don’t think I’ll put myself through it.

  • 31 days out of your life isn’t very long.

    How many years as a kid did you hate broccoli and spinach? Probably more than a month.

    If you actually “wanted” to eat olives then this wasn’t the way to do it. As you’ve mentioned, people generally add olives to other things (salads, pizzas etc), if you really wanted to eat olives then I’d be eating meals with olives as a small extra.

    What’s the point of being able to consume olives individually but as soon as you order a meal you vomit?

    To me it just seems your experiment was doomed to fail from the beginning.

  • Think of Kalamata Olives now as the same as green deli olives a month ago; shoot for the strongest flavour, and you will like all the milder ones in one fell swoop. Start with the milder ones, and you’re going to have to repeat the process for all the other flavours.

    This theory does not incorporate non-linear frequency/favourability curves, in either circumstance.

  • I didn’t eat bananas until I was 28 years old. Couldn’t stomach the taste or the thought of them, although I loved banana bread. Then I realised it was silly not to eat bananas, and forced myself to give them a fair go. Suddenly I was opened up to a whole new world of banana experiences and I heartily enjoy them now (although I wouldn’t recommend them on pizza).

    The lesson here is that by proving you can stomach olives even if you don’t love them, you can stop letting your olive neurosis spoil your enjoyment of foods that happen to have them. And, your in-laws will stop making fun of you to your wife behind your back because you don’t like olives. Or maybe the lesson is just that you should have bananas instead. Either way, well done for at least trying.

  • I once hated Olives almost as much as the writer of this awesome journal on Olive eating. Now I absolutely adore them – I started by eating them on pizza – from there I learned to love them on other things. I actually didn’t try to love them it just happened…I just could not be bothered removing them from my pizza once and from there it just grew.

    Coriander – that’s another story – my body, physically cannot hold it. It tastes like soap to me. I’m thinking of using this strategy to hopefully at least make them tolerable for me.

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