Somehow, somewhere, sometime when I wasn’t looking, my wife Sandy turned into what I notoriously label “a label reader.”

I’m not talking about labels on polyester stretch pants that you have to read so you don’t set them on fire under a hot iron or melt them in the drier. Actually, if we read more labels on our clothes, fewer sweaters would come out of the wash so shrunken they could fit Curious George. Sandy does, however, fervently read nutrition labels, especially on dog food to determine whether it’s “Made in China.” If it is, we don’t buy it. We’re patriotic, so we always look for the “Made in USA” union label.

High on the list of this country’s problems is what I call “supermarket gridlock,” which occurs when shoppers clog the aisles of Big Y, Whole Foods and Stop & Shop, because they’re standing around reading labels instead of moving along. When you’re supposed to stay six feet apart, this can be really annoying.

Is it necessary to read all the ingredients that go into a can of cream of tomato soup, including the sugar, the fiber, the sodium and those wonderful additives that I can’t pronounce, much less understand, like butylated hydroxyanisole and the all-time favorites, sodium nitrate, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and the ever popular high-fructose corn syrup. This is where modern science has taken us.

I believe every omnivore, carnivore or herbivore — or whatever kind of “vore” you are — reaches a point when he or she spends way too much time in the supermarket obsessing about ingredients. In our case, we’ve been known to argue over whether I can put Little Debbie Zebra Cakes in the cart, although I can never seem to find them in Whole Foods. Our discussion can get pretty tense, and a few times people have told me, “SHHHH!” when I raise my voice in defense of Little Debbie.

I have to remind them that we live in America and at least for today I have the right to free speech, although I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring. Never forget that free speech doesn’t necessarily mean quiet speech, so if a married couple wants to argue about the nutritional value of Devil Dogs, that should be protected under the First Amendment until they decide to throw out the Constitution. And let me say publicly that I’ll go all the way to the Supreme Court to defend my right to eat Ding Dongs.

The other day I did the grocery shopping and decided to bring home a few surprises for my wife. I got some blueberries and strawberries, but they weren’t organic so she wouldn’t eat them. I also got a bag of Doritos, but she couldn’t eat them because they weren’t gluten free. Then, I got some gluten-free butternut squash soup, but she wouldn’t eat it because there were too many calories, not to mention too much sugar. I also got a half gallon of milk, but she wouldn’t drink it because it wasn’t lactose free, fat free and calcium enriched.

It was truly a learning experience. That’s the last time I’ll do the shopping. This, I guess, is what happens when you don’t read labels. I should also mention that I bought some cold cuts, including pepperoni and salami, which she refused to eat because of the sodium nitrates and a World Health Organization study that said processed meats are a leading cause of cancer. I ask you: What Italian doesn’t eat pepperoni? Italians must know something because they invented the Mediterranean Diet, and if that’s good for you, pepperoni must be too.

Times have changed. When I was a kid, they didn’t even have food labels, and the world was a happier place. And happiness is something money can’t buy. Nowadays, everyone reads labels if only to impress their fellow shoppers.

But do you honestly believe people take calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and carbohydrates seriously? If they did, we wouldn’t have a major health crisis in this country, would we?

Joe Pisani can be reached at