How growing up in middle America led to my revulsion of seafood…and then helped me reverse course years later.
Growing up in the Midwest, we had the best cattle and corn, but our rivers ran murky brown and the fish had names like “crappie” and “orange roughy.” I conditioned myself early on to dislike anything from the water, and now I want so desperately to get over this revulsion.
From what I understand, there is some really delicious seafood out there. I tried sushi once, and I couldn’t get it past my tongue before my stomach turned over and my brain tightened up. Eject! Abandon mission! “Maybe you should start with California rolls,” my friend suggested, reminding me of my culinary inferiority.
Consider the places I have lived and the opportunities I have missed: San Francisco and its crab (not to mention the sushi), Portland, Maine and its lobster, New York City and its everything. Trips to Sardinia and coastal France have been marred by my mouth’s unwillingness to eat anything born of sea.
“Nothing?” you (and many others before you) ask. No, nothing. “Not even shrimp?” Not even shrimp. “What about seaweed chips?” Especially not seaweed chips. “But, how about tuna?” Not even in the can. I’m not joking—there are no exceptions. And I’m not proud of that.
I want to make it better. I want to eat a delicious bass and appreciate its flavorful offerings, whatever those may be. I want to have a fish-stick-eating contest and inhale 1,000 of them, even dunking them in tartar sauce as I swim laps around you. I want to fly home to the landlocked states and eat all the crappies and orange roughies and pick their little bones out of my teeth.
The same Midwest that put me in this predicament will help me out of it: We’re very good at “mind over matter” in the tundra states. When it gets freezing cold and you have to defrost your car or shovel the driveway, you learn to embrace the frigidity, no matter how horrible it is. You train your body and mind to relax, to find the good in it and appreciate its invigorating qualities. Sure, it’s all smoke and mirrors, but it’s a survival tactic, and it works.
I applied this method to some calamari recently, determined to set the change in motion. As five of my friends watched intently, I placed a piece of it in my mouth, and I let it sit there for 20 seconds as I invited each flavor into my taste buds, searching for the good and blocking the bad as I trained my brain to appreciate its appetizing qualities.
“Mmm, tastes like butter!” I reported as I swallowed it whole. My friends clapped, proud that I finally stomached something from the water. Never has the mind-over-matter thing felt like more of a survival tactic than when I knew that little buttery squid tentacle was residing in my gut.