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.
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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.