1 of 2
Shutterstock
Amy Choate-Nielsen escaped to the desert to unplug from electronics, but when she came back, she decided to find a way to get back to her roots — through food.

On day two of my stay in the Navajo hogan, I had a dream.

In my dream, I was sitting on the same bed, using my computer. I felt drowsy and had the urge to sleep, but I just couldn’t close the screen and put it aside. I continued doing what I was doing, bobbing my head, dozing off and then snapping awake again. I knew I needed to stop, but I just couldn’t. I felt torn, but overwhelmingly unmotivated to do anything about it.

When I woke up for real, I felt the lingering anxiety of my subconscious machinations, and a huge sense of relief that my computer was still tucked away in my bag, useless in the vacuum of internet access. I looked at the ancient red rocks outside the door and felt my brain shift like it was an antidote. The rest of the day I rode my bike on muddy roads, I wandered down to the banks of the Colorado River and threw clumps of dirt into the water just to see the ripples and traced the shadows of sunset up the high cliff walls until everything was shrouded in a muted grey.

I imagined that I reached the level of simplicity my great-great-grandparents experienced as they made their way from Texas to Oklahoma years ago. At the very least, I felt like I was back in my childhood again, riding my bike around my neighborhood hidden off the Oklahoma turnpike. Back then, time was always still and slow, but now, it’s complicated and harried. And I am so easily distracted by my phone and that siren computer.

As I drove home the next day, I wondered what it would be like to live in a place where I felt so removed. If I lived there always, where would I go to get lost? And where does that need come from? Was life really simpler in my grandmother’s day, or am I just looking at the past with rose-colored glasses? My great-grandparents certainly saw plenty of sunsets in their day, but walking from Texas to Oklahoma couldn’t have been much of a vacation.

As all of this was swirling around in my head, coincidentally, I decided to embark on a 30-day experiment. As I said before, I’ve been thinking about detoxification for awhile, but this was a counterpart to that: cleanse.

Instead of eating anything that crossed my path, as I normally do, I decided to eat only organic fruits and vegetables, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef and wild-caught fish. I wanted to eat more like the generations before me, and I was curious to see how it would feel and if the food looked any different.

I’ve always viewed the label “organic” with skepticism. I don’t think putting that label on lollipops, organic toaster pastries, graham crackers and macaroni and cheese necessarily makes those items more healthful to a body. But I wonder about pesticides, genetic modification and nutrient depreciation from a world that emphasizes bigger, better and faster as a model. On one hand, I see the value of growing methods that can yield more food in undernourished countries. On the other hand, I wonder how much my food has changed since my grandmother’s day, and what it is doing to me. I wonder what it is doing to my children.

The first thing I observed in my dietary adventure is that the organic food I purchased was tiny compared to its non-organic counterpart. Organic celery hearts were about one-quarter of the size of the celery stalks I’m used to. Organic frozen strawberries were about the size of a quarter, compared to the size of a small fist. The free-range chicken was much more dense, less slimy, and a deeper, meaty color that was closer to red than the blush-pink chicken I normally cook.

Aside from the visual changes I noticed, there were monetary changes. For all of those smaller items, my grocery bill was about three times the normal amount. A pound of free-range chicken breasts was about $8, grass-fed beef was even more. As a result, I noticed that I valued my food more, partly because it was so expensive, but also partly because I saw it as special. I didn’t want to waste a bite of it. So when I cut up the celery, I cut it all the way to the very end. I even ate the leaves once. I cooked a whole chicken and scraped every last morsel off of the bones, and my children devoured the meat.

Comment on this story

I realized that as I started paying more attention to the food I was eating, I felt compelled to cleanse other areas of my life as well. How could I insist on eating organically and wholesomely and not apply the same standard to the things I take into my brain? In the end, what I crave most is authenticity — inside and out.

I have a long way to go. I have yet to figure out a happy medium that works for feeding my family, and I am taking baby steps toward putting down my phone and stashing away my computer. We’ll see where that journey takes me. Maybe it will lead to the desert again, maybe not. In the meantime, I had a different dream.

Only this time, it was about bread.