Lucky for me, I grew up with a mother who was quite vigilant about nutrition. We had super healthy, home-cooked meals almost every night, and painfully waited in supermarkets as Mom read every single label and ingredient of the foods she bought. She lectured about the dangers of sugar, partially hydrogenated oils, and soda, and made me sit at the dinner table until I finished my spinach.
I grew to have a ridiculous knowledge of food and how to read labels. I remember sitting in my freshman dorm room, lecturing a friend about why grapefruits are healthy and why she shouldn’t have thrown away the white layer between the skin and the fruit (btw it’s called pectin, and its good fiber that lowers your cholesterol and flushes fat out of your body. Just fyi.) At some points in my life I rebelled and ate whatever I want, and other times I ate so pure my blood was probably green from all the vegetables I consumed. My friends were concerned.
Now I strike a healthy balance, but my food label reading habits have yet to die hard. But read on, my friend, and learn about my shocking mistake that humbled me to pieces.
Over the last year, I’ve visited quite a few Mexican restaurants with my boyfriend and his family. Growing up in Connecticut, I wasn’t exposed to many authentic Mexican places. But here in Los Angeles, there are taco stands and restaurants everywhere. Literally everywhere. And everyone loves them, so I figured I ought to give them a shot.
I’m cool with guacamole, salad, chicken, chips, and salsa, but other things on the menu are questionable. I found out “carnitas” means pork, and “asada” means beef, so I mostly steer clear of those. One time my boyfriend ordered “menudo” soup, and leaned in with his spoon to give me a taste. I asked what it was, and after I put the wretched thing in my mouth, he told me it was beef stomach. Ew!
So after that experience, you would think I would be more careful with what I ordered the next time we went for Mexican. The family all sat laughing and happily telling their orders to the waitress. I couldn’t decide, but I wanted to know what “chorizo” was. The restaurant served chorizo with scrambled eggs in tacos and salads. I can’t remember who, but someone told me it was like seasoned chicken. I might have heard them wrong. But the next two times I went there, I innocently ordered chorizo and eggs over a big tostada salad. It was delicious.
Flash forward to a few weekends ago, when we were standing at the meat section of the grocery store. We saw packaged chorizo, and gleefully decided to make our own chorizo and eggs for breakfast the next morning. I grabbed it without even thinking, and he cooked it up the next day.
The next day, I decided it was my turn to cook breakfast, so he jumped in the shower as I began to chop the onions. When I pulled the chorizo out of the refrigerator, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t even know what chorizo truly was. My worry set in when I saw that it came in a clear tubing like sausage. Almost shaking, I flipped over the package and read the ingredients.
“Beef [Salivary Glands, Lymph Nodes, Fat (Cheek And Tongue)], Chorizo Seasoning (Paprika, Salt, Spices, Mustard, Garlic Powder), Vinegar, Textured Soy Flour, Sodium Nitrite”
Oh. My. God.
I quickly threw the chorizo and eggs into the pan, holding my breath and looking away as I stirred, and flopped everything onto a plate for my boyfriend. Suddenly I was SO NOT hungry.
How could I, a holistic nutritionist who grew up with the food label nazi, have not been diligent about researching this chorizo, or at least reading the label before it was placed in my shopping cart?
So consider this for just a moment. How many things are you putting in your shopping cart that you didn’t bother to read the label? And if you do read the label, are you okay with putting less than mediocre ingredients in your body? If there are words you don’t understand, chances are it’s a chemical that is terrible for you. Or maybe there are weird animal parts, or toxic flours (soy and wheat), or added sugars.
As for me, I’m thinking of eating greens and doing a colon detox for the next few months until I feel better about this chorizo incident. Yuck. Oh well, we all make mistakes.
Except I certainly will not make the same one twice, and I hope you don’t either.
Action item: Go through your cupboards, fridge, and pantry, and check all the labels of the food you eat. If there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce or you don’t recognize, pitch the product. The less ingredients you put into your belly, the easier you’ll be able to digest the food, assimilate the nutrients, have energy, and burn fat!