Low Concept

The All-Mackerel Diet

Think your veganism or paleo diet makes you special? Think again.

Mackerel tuna and short-bodied mackerels preserved on ice.
Mackerel: It’s what’s for dinner. And breakfast. And lunch.

Photo by Espen E/Shutterstock

Back when I was a vegetarian, it was not uncommon for people to speculate openly about my excessive self-regard. “You think you’re better than me, don’t you?” meat-eaters would sometimes ask. “That’s a complicated question,” I would answer. “I know that I make better dietary choices than you. Let’s just leave it at that.”

This mutual antagonism served me well for many years, but lately, with all of the newly devised prestige meal plans—the paleos and the macros, raw foodism and Münchausen by proxy—my ovo-lacto status began to seem, well, ordinary-lame. My inflated sense of self would wither in the company of strict vegans and the gluten intolerant. And it stung something awful over Easter when a young boy in my neighborhood discovered a life-threatening egg allergy. Little anaphylactic brat hit the jackpot. Instant gravitas for him. Last straw for me. I had to make a change.

Hey allergy kid, I dare you to invite me over for dinner. What’s that? Do I have any dietary restrictions? Why yes, I’m an exclusivo-scombrophage. I eat only mackerel.

That’s right, I’ve been living on a diet of exclusively mackerel for almost two hours now. I know, impressive. But I won’t pretend it’s been easy giving up other foods. And I certainly won’t claim it’s for everyone. Not like those hotshot breatharians, who dine out smugly on just air and sunshine. “Anyone can do it!” they say. What they don’t tell you is that Earth’s atmosphere is more than three-quarters nitrogen. Yeah, you have to really like nitrogen.

So why mackerel? For starters, Scomber scombrus—what we call Atlantic mackerel—is something of a superfood. According to the federal government’s Nutrient Data Laboratory, a 5-ounce portion of the fish contains more potassium than a banana and nearly as much iron as a steak. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fishwatch.gov notes that mackerel is “rich” in the all-important omega-3 fatty acids and an “excellent source” of selenium and vitamin B12. Protein? You bet. Phosphorous? Hell, yes. Vitamin D? It’s stupid that you’re even asking.

What’s more, Atlantic mackerel is harvested locally, right off the coast of the good ol’ U.S. of A. And because it’s a schooling fish, it can be caught easily and humanely using simple drawstring netting, with little or no impact on other species. Provided you live in the Northeast, roughly between Washington, D.C., and Maine, the fish can be ocean-to-table in just a few hours. If you happen to live elsewhere, well, then it doesn’t matter. From what I gather, people in the interior of the country are not interested in eating for personal health and nutrition, and those on the West Coast are not interested in eating.

In short, mackerel is a model of sustainability and sustenance, and, as a result, earned a coveted “Best Choice” distinction from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s esteemed Seafood Watch. None of which, to be honest, would matter to me at all if not for mackerel’s most important quality: It stinks. Like, Who died? stinks. Like, Can I have everyone’s attention? There is evidently a rotting corpse buried somewhere in this room and we need to find it stinks. Mackerel, you could say, separates the breatharians from the mere breathers, the fish-lovers from the fish-toleraters, other monotrophic eaters from me. Take the tunatarians, for example. Ha! I could do two years of only tuna standing on my head (the USDA recommends eating tuna while standing on your head as a deterrent to consuming too much mercury). And don’t get me started on the salmonvores. Piece of cake. Literally. In a blind taste test, 80 percent of Americans couldn’t distinguish between salmon and birthday cake.

Subsisting wholly as I do on one food, you’ll agree, is all the more extraordinary for its being mackerel. It’s just the competitive edge I need in the gastro-conspiracy of one-upmanship to subordinate you. I can see that nagging inferiority complex smeared all over your face along with the bacon grease left over from breakfast. And I know what you’re thinking. That I’m better than you, right? Sure, I believe that it’s a personal failure to ignore, as you do, the environmental disaster of large-scale pig farming in North Carolina, where many of the state’s rivers are thick with hog waste; or the ethical holocaust of commercial hatcheries, where assembly line workers toss male chicks—barren by accident of birth—into grinding machines; or the abject rectangularity of meatloaf, which casts a garish neon glow across your dinner table that reads: “Déclassé.”

I get it: Few have the exceptional willpower and moral clarity to be an exclusivo-scombrophage. But those of us who can eat only mackerel must, however inadequacy-inducing or malodorous for others. Actually, it’s for precisely those reasons that it’s the honorable thing to do.