My Existential Fish

I had an existential fish yesterday. To be more specific it was an existential salmon.

To fully understand how one of those aquatic wonders could be existential, you’ll have to understand one thing: I don’t eat fish. I hate fish. I always have. I hate fish so much that when I was younger my sister would trick me into eating her fish by calling it chicken. I would take a bite and make a face of such disgust that I’m certain she ordered fish sometimes just to see if I would fall for the “no worries, it’s chicken” line again. I hate fish so much that I can often taste it in dips or casseroles before anyone else has begun wondering what was in that dish.

A lot of people think that my distaste is based on a bad sample. They think I was a picky eater and that my parents didn’t try hard enough. That’s just not true. I was far from a picky eater. When I was a kid, my parents had to assure waiters that I had meant to order escargot. In elementary school my friends were grossed out when I talked about eating squid. I didn’t hesitate to try haggis. Strangers used to stop my dad at Crabby Bill’s to ask how he got his kids to eat crab legs. He didn’t know how to get us to stop. Weird food, gross looking food, and food that came wrapped in it’s original form didn’t me.

And my distaste wasn’t based on one bad experience. For years, my mother searched for a miracle fish. She hoped, like everyone else assumed, that there was some magical type that I would eat. It wasn’t a crazy dream. I loved sea food. I ate oysters, scallops, and mussels without complaint. If I loved all non-fish sea food, how could there not be a fish out there that was just different enough that I would eat it? She tried feeding me baked, grilled, seared, smoked, broiled, and fried fish. She tried wild, frozen, farm raised, corn fed, fresh water, salt water, and market fresh fish. She tried every combination of home cooked or restaurant ordered fish that she could get. But it was no use. I hated them all.

By the time I hit middle school, she’d given up the hunt. Every time she served fish for the family, she prepared a lonely chicken breast for me. I sat at the dinner table and ate as quickly as I could to escape the fish smell.

In high school and college, I politely refused any fish offered to me. I avoided the cafeteria on fish fry nights. I chose chicken instead of fish when we went to a sea food place. I’ve ignored fish without regret for years.

Just after Christmas my mother took Husband and I to dinner. She ordered a sea bass. I didn’t think anything of it until they brought it to the table, but the scent of lemon and thyme wafted through the air. Wondering if I still despised the taste of fish, I stole a bite. I liked it. Thinking that it must be some error, I took another. This is great! I thought. It doesn’t taste remotely fishy. I wish I had ordered it. Maybe I like fish now.

They say your taste buds change every seven years. I’m willing to believe that.

When Husband and I got back to Tennessee, I was determined to see if that fish had been a fluke (get it? get it?). There have been other foods that have grown on me. I used to hate Brussels sprouts, or at least, I didn’t used to like them. They were weird and tasted generally of the color green. When I eat them now, they are crunchy and good. They still taste kinda green, but a delicious green, like spinach or asparagus. They are in regular rotation at my house.

If my tastes could change about Brussels sprouts, why not fish?

I wanted to test it out with sea bass, but there wasn’t any at the grocery. Instead, I bought some salmon, which Husband said was one of his favorite kinds of fish. I hunted around until I found a recipe that was migraine friendly and had a lot of high reviews. The marinade smelled delicious. When the salmon came out of the oven, I couldn’t wait to try it.

But it tasted like fish. Not like the delicious lemony sea bass, which hadn’t tasted like anything I remembered. This salmon had the same fishy taste that I’d loathed my entire life. I held each flaky bite in my mouth and thought: this is what fish has always tasted like. Do I like it?

I couldn’t answer. I ate the whole piece and had the leftovers for lunch, and I still don’t know if I like this flavor. I’d assumed that the sea bass had proven that the flavor of fish had changed somehow, like the sprouts. The sea bass hadn’t tasted like fish, and so, clearly, the fish taste had become a pleasant flavor in my mouth.

My first reaction was to hate it. I mean, I’d always abhorred that flavor, so I must hate it right? But I didn’t. I didn’t know if I liked it either. I found myself wondering when this neutrality had developed. If I didn’t have an opinion about fish now, what had happened to that hate? Where could it have gone, and how could I have not noticed its departure? How did I form these preferences anyway? What basis could I use to judge all the things that I thought I loved or thought I hated? And if fish tastes the same to all people, why wouldn’t everyone think it tasted good or tasted bad?

There’s got to be a lot of science out there that explains this stuff, but in that moment, I drifted in a sea of quandaries that could not be answered. I felt like a snowball that a younger version of myself had rolled down a hill. I’ve been barreling down this course ever since, and I never stopped to question it.

I am honestly no closer to knowing if I like fish now or not. Husband and I are going to get some Tilapia for the next fish experiment. Maybe if I try enough kinds, I’ll be able to form an adult opinion on it. Maybe I’ll be able to determine what dictates my likes or dislikes for foods. If you guys have any suggestions, feel free to throw them out there. For now, I’ll be looking for that miracle fish.


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