Olive Toil: Why I’m Forcing Myself To Eat Something I Loathe

Olive Toil: Why I’m Forcing Myself To Eat Something I Loathe

It’s soft. My molars don’t feel much resistance as I chew. My first thought is: “this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be”. But that’s just the garlic, and the hint of chilli it was doused in. That subsides quickly . . . Now I’m left with the overwhelming, unfamiliar, unavoidable taste of the olive I’ve just forced myself to eat.

Picture by Steve Jurvetson

It’s strange; I’ve never thought of myself as a fussy eater. I’ve tried many things most would baulk at: insects, snails, frogs’ legs, lamb brains, tongue. I believe in trying anything once. I think of myself as an open-minded eater. And there’s food I hated as a kid, but have now grown to love: broccoli, spinach.

But not olives. Never olives. My rallying cry whenever anyone raises the (always good) idea of ordering pizza: “no olives!”

This has always been a problem in my household. My wife loves olives. She wants to put them in everything: salads, sandwiches, home-made pizzas. I’ve always felt as though my own selfish, bratty behaviour is preventing my wife from eating the food she loves.

And that’s why I’ve decided to make myself like the food I loathe most in the world — one day at a time. Starting from yesterday, I’ve vowed to eat a single olive every single day for a month, with the expectation that, at the end of it all, I’ll actually enjoy eating olives. I fully believe that I can teach myself to like a food that I absolutely hate, just by forcing myself to eat it regularly.

But, for now, it seems like an impossible task. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I willing placed a whole olive on my tongue and began chewing. It was an act of sheer willpower. My physical being wanted me to reject this strange food. I forced myself to eat slowly. It would have been too easy to simply gulp it down without consequence. I had to properly taste the olive, of my own volition. I had to make that conscious choice and stick by it.

My stomach was literally heaving. I wretched. Somehow I managed to keep the olive down, but the smell, the taste at the back of my throat, hovering around my taste buds like a dense, rancid fart, remained. In my imagination it sank to the pit of my stomach; I could visualise it sitting there, alien, unwanted, like a stick of chewing gum, refusing to digest.

That was my first olive; tonight I eat my second. I’m not looking forward to it, but if I keep on eating, maybe someday, I will.

Kotaku editor Mark will be filling us in on his attempts to overcome his olive aversion every week throughout January. If you’ve got any useful advice to get him through the process, share it in the comments.


  • Please tell me you’re not eating jarred onions!

    I’d recomend going to a nice italian deli or stall at a market, and buy some with the pit still in. Ask the staff for their nicest olives. Dont be afraid to get some stuffed with cheese. They may ease the transition.

  • I’m trying to force myself to like olives as well. I found a dip that is mixed olives and feta all processed together and it’s pretty delicious. Perhaps try something olive based before you go out-and-out eating a straight olive.

  • The idea of eating an olive being so displeasurable is completely beyond my comprehension. Here’s hoping the experiment works out for you!

    Plus one to the comments about being sure to eat good olives though, not just the jarred rubbish.

  • I’m sure Freud would have a field day with this kind of self torture Mark.

    Maybe you could work up to “real olive eating” by skirting around the issue and chowing down on some nice antipasto first and then maybe sneak in some olive tapenade. I defiantly think Jeremy is right, olives come in a huge variety and in varying qualities. I sincerely hope you’re not eating Home Brand black olives from Coles or something, sounds like the wife possibly has you sorted there though.

    I hope it works out for you in the end! 😉

  • There might be one type of olive you like that gets you into the other olives.

    As the anti-drug lingo goes, you might want to call it a “gateway olive”.

    I suggest Kalamata olives, which are my favourite and different from all other olive types I have tried.

    I would suggest as Jeremy does, to combine with cheese to ease the transition.

    Get some crusty Italian bread, put slabs of cheese on it, slice up “slivers” of 1 or 2 Kalamata olives onto the bread – put it under the grill for 3-5 mins until cheese is melted. Try to eat that first before you go for the whole raw olive.

    I got into anchovies using the crusty bread and cheese method 🙂

    • And wine…

      Until recently, I was an avid hater of all kinds of stuff: olives, brussel sprouts, blue cheese, spicy food, all wine, etc. As with everything tho, people’s taste pallets evolve as we grow older, and now I’ve discovered that the key to learning to enjoy something you loathe is to not try and face it head on alone, but combine it with something you love, and slowly increase the ratio to the point where you find yourself no longer bothered about it.

      All the above listed things I would put into my favorite food categories now 🙂

  • Olives are awesome!
    It’s like tasting beer for the first time and loathing it, but then
    a year later and you can never get enough :).

    Same advice as above, stay away from the jarred sh*t, because
    9 out of 10 times it will taste like sh*t.

    I like mine stuffed with fetta cheese or chilli and garlic,
    preferably green olives :).

  • The type of olive makes a big difference. Even people who like olives will prefer some types compared to others. In general, olives from a good deli will taste better than the ones from a jar in the supermarket. Those sliced black spanish olives you get on cheap pizzas are the olive equivalent of a processed cheese slice. Also most stuffed olives are underwhelming.

    Brown or black olives were picked when they were ripe, while green olives are less ripe and tend to be more bitter and harder in texture.

    A good variety to try at first are the Greek Kalamata olives (soft, sweet and brown). Make a fresh greek salad of cucumber, tomato, fetta, kalamara olives and a squeeze of lemon – it’s summer on a plate!

    So forget the nasty things from the supermarket, go to a decent deli and get the good stuff.

    • “cucumber, tomato, fetta, kalamara olives”
      That would be a salad of 4 things i loath (well ok so i love tomato sauce, and fetta when combined with ricotta and spinach), but like that, horrific.

  • good on you.

    also try to ramp up your dosage of olives – eat one raw as usual, but then later in the day, eat one or two more masked with philadelphia cheese and bread. that way you’ll get used to it hidden amongst other flavours.

    hope it goes well, tell us the result.

  • I am the same with olives.. and also the same with fresh oysters.. I can handle cooked muscles, though I’m not a big fan of them either.. but fresh oysters.. *puke*

  • LIfe’s too bloody short to eat food you loathe… especially olives [blurg].
    It’s not like olives offer any essential vitamin or a cure for anything. They’re a silly fruit that can’t even be eaten straight from the tree.
    Give up on this silly quest and eat something that doesn’t taste like rancid farts.

  • I used to hate olives too until I went to my uncle’s farm overseas and was forced to eat them for a couple of weeks. Now I love them so this plan of yours just might work!

  • I personally don’t think that’s the best approach, I cant stand the taste of a plain olive but I dont mind them at all on pizza, in salads, in olive bread or even just with a watercracker or vitawheat, especially if it’s stuffed with cheese. Unless you truly love the taste of olives you need something to cut through all the salt and dilute the flavour a little. I’m sure your wife wont be upset if you’re not joining her for a bowl of them by themselves, but if you can get used to how foods like pizza or a salad taste with a compliment of them mixed through, which I think you’ll find a lot easier, then you should make it through to the other side like a teenage kid who doesn’t like the taste of beer. Forcing yourself to eat a food you clearly dont like raw and by itself will only trigger flashbacks of unpleasantness when you get a small taste of the real thing in your wifes cooking, you’ll instantly be reminded of the 31 times you had an entire mouthfull of the objectionable ingredient.

    That said you could do the exact opposite and buy some over the counter cepacaine anesthetic mouthwash that the dentists give you after wisdom teeth removal. Rinse mouth until your tongue is numb with the local anesthetic then pack your mouth with 20 olives and chew but dont swallow. As the anesthetic wears off you’ll slowly be eased into the most intense olive flavour you could imagine. After that a tiny olive ring on a pizza will taste like nothing!

    • hehe interesting idea. Will this also work with stuff like boiled cauliflower in cheese sauce, brussel sprouts and freaking red cabbage? Just mentioning those
      three in the same sentence already arms my gag reflexes.
      Damn you to hell Dutch food!

      • Mmmm cauliflower in white sauce.. lovely.. and brussel sprouts.. not so bad these days.

        One thing that got me eating spinach was this: Strip the leaves off the spinach, then roll them with tasty cheese in the middle. Now steam them till the tasty cheese is all melted.. wonderful!

  • I am a counsellor, and I use a lot of mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy. Recently, I’ve started trying to use my therapy knowledge to start eating more vegetables that I never liked, and it’s worked really well. It’s just a matter of being completely aware of how your body and mind is reacting to the taste, accepting the reactions without trying to force anything, and then retraining your mind to reframe the experience.

  • Nice one Serrels!
    I never used to like Olives either, but I grew to like them eventually.

    I agree with a lot of the other comments saying try different types of olives and olive based foods and flavours. I find if I shoot for variety, and think of it as appreciating the taste of the olive in as many ways as possible, it motivates me to enjoy it more.

    I try to frame nasty tasting things I want to like, as “good food” my brain is being an idiot about; eventually it will wake up to itself. 🙂

    Interestingly, this might also work in reverse for foods I shouldn’t eat…must try this from now on!

  • Mark, it sounds like you already like garlic and chili, so those marinated olives may be a good start for you. But everyone is different. Some people only like the “chaap and nasty” stuffed green olives you get in jars from the supermarket.

    There is also a small portion of the population known as “super-tasters”.
    At least according to Dr Karl – and who would argue with Dr Karl?
    Super-tasters are very sensitive to certain flavours – especially bitter flavours. If you hate all bitter foods then this may be you. But stick it out – it’s only a minute a day for one month – what’s to lose?

  • I will be following this very closely as my partner and I have the same olive problem. I’m anti-olive and he INSISTS that if I just tried harder, I could do it. I maintain, that is BS.

  • Try some good quality Sicilian olives, preferably in oil, not vinegar; and not stuffed. They are the best in my view and are actually a bit different from most others.

  • I didn’t like olives much myself, until I went to an italian restaurant and tried a pasta with an olive and tomato based sauce. Man, it was good!

    Olive and tomatoes are a great match. With some parmigiano/parmesan cheese on top. On top of a crusty slice of pane di casa, drizzled with olive oil.

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