Rastafarians refer to the universal energy as livity and thus Ital is intended to increase livity, thereby imbuing the diet with a religious or spiritual significance. Despite the significance of livity as a concept of universal energy reinforced by only putting things in the body that strengthen it, there is no universal interpretation of what constitutes Ital. The most common general principles are that the food should be natural, organic and from the earth, thereby excluding processed foods and meat.
Many Rastafarians avoid salt modified with iodine, preferring to use Kosher salt — which is consequently common on the shelves of Jamaican supermarkets. One of the early leaders of the Rastafarian movement, Leonard Howell, is thought to have introduced the concept of vegetarianism to Rastafari after being interested in the diet of indentured Indian servants in Jamaica. In Hinduism, as well as Buddhism, and taken up by the spiritual practice of yoga, vegetarianism is one way of respecting life and doing no harm to others; it is also considered healthy and thus a way of doing no harm to oneself. Following an ital diet is therefore one of the key spiritual practices of the Rastafari. Some followers actually adhere to a vegan diet, considering diary to be harmful or not strictly ital. Others avoid any food that has been preserved or has been prepared using metal instruments. Clay pots and wooden bowls and spoons are often used in the preparation of Ital food. Many adherents avoid alcohol and other stimulants, but this is less strictly followed.
Throughout Jamaica, many Rastafarian communities operate small holdings or otherwise grow much of their own produce, particularly in the mountains. There are even some very good ital vegetarian restaurants in the capital Kingston serving juices, tonics, salads and other vegetable based dishes. It isn’t necessary to be a Rastafarian to enjoy ital food. Visitors to the island should take the opportunity to sample this tasty, healthy, natural food and return home with a bit more livity than they started with. Ital - the vegan Rasta movement you've probably never heard of until now. Jamaican food, for a lot of us, is probably synonymous with chicken. Also, goat curries, salt fish, tilapia and loads of other such meaty staples. On World Meat Free Day, which is an extension of the Meat Free Monday movement, we spoke to two young people who are spreading a lesser-known message about Rasta culture and its ancient links to veganism. Ital, a variation on 'vital', is a belief system, compulsory in the Nyabinghi Mansion of Rastafari, which dictates that its followers should eat food grown from the earth around them - unmodified. Poppy and Dan recently set up Ital Fresh, a pop-up vegan Caribbean food truck in Liverpool, with the mission to bring Ital eating to the forefront. We spoke to them about Ital, veganism and ancient Rasta philosophy. I don’t think many people really know about it, to be honest, but it leans more towards the spiritual aspect of eating naturally. Historically, Rastas would live in the hills of Jamaica and eat what grew from the earth around them. Processed meats and foods have a low-vibration, which your conscience takes on when consumed. Dan: We all know the term ‘food is thy medicine’ - supposedly from Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine; but he was actually taught this on his travels to Egypt, where he gained knowledge from physicians there. Knowledge from Ancient Egypt, then known as Kemet, travelled with its people from East Africa to West Africa, and then to the Caribbean through the transatlantic slave trade. Also in Kemet, priests training in the temple of Aset would follow a vegan diet in order to obtain a higher consciousness. Poppy: We called ourselves Ital Fresh because we wanted to show that we could bring a fresh, modern approach to the Ital philosophy of natural foods, which are usually one-pot stews and soups. We've styled our dishes to fit contemporary street food menus, whilst still upholding Ital philosophies. Is this also an anti-globalist/anti-supermarkets movement, then? Really, we’re just interested in taking things back to roots. Mass-produced foods are obviously low-vibration foods. If a whole society is living from this mass-produced stuff, it affects culture, public consciousness. How do you balance the need to use natural ingredients with running a business? Poppy: We try to use locally-sourced ingredients as much as possible, so it’s about engaging the community as well. We support local markets and independent businesses as suppliers.
We also use vegan graphic designers and photographers, and the support’s been great. I think there is a bit of a fatigue at the moment with mass-produced stuff anyway. More people are shopping local, organic and independent. The vegan movement is growing at the moment – not just Ital – and a lot of it is linked to the fact that people are becoming more aware of where their food is coming from. Does Ital have anything to do with animal protection? Dan: Well, that’s probably not the primary idea behind the movement, but it plays a big part.
If an animal has been bred for slaughter and kept in a space where it’s not allowed to move freely or live a happy life and then you eat that animal, you take all of that history on. It’s all about being mindful of what you’re putting into your body, as well as where your food comes from. A lot of people might associate Caribbean food with chicken. Poppy: That’s probably one of our biggest challenges!