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"Ital is Vital"

Amber Sulick

Food is more than fuel for our bodies, it nourishes our souls and feeds our hearts. A significant part of Rastafarianism is eating Ital. Ital is a rastafarian term for a saltless and vegetarian diet. Not all rastafarians strictly follow this diet, however it is held as an ideal. In Nyabinghi ceremonies, eating Ital is part of the ritual protocol for all participants.

There are many different aspects of an Ital diet, many different singular beliefs and philosophies on eating Ital, however, there are a few unifying beliefs that exist. Eating Ital makes one more pure. If one fills there body with whole foods from the earth, they will inevitably exist in a higher, purer state. They will run on divine fuel. Just the act of becoming aware of what one puts into their bodies is a consciousness raising experience. Rastafarians regard there bodies as temples for the Hola life-force (spirit). Therefore, they are determined to eat food which will balance not only the body but the spirit as well.

"Eat of the TREE OF LIFE"

The Rastafari I-talists avoid pork and shell fish, insects, creeping creatures, animal flesh, fowl and their juices. They avoid large fish and fish grown without scales and fins, and most eat no fish at all. Rastafarians also avoid added salt in their foods, vinegar, mayonnaise and all alcoholic beverages and liquor. They also avoid bleached white substances such as white sugar, white flour, white bread, white rice and chemicals and artificial additives and colouring. A particular branch of Rastafarians, called the Nazerites, eat no grapes or fruits-of-the-vine, such as pumpkins or cucumbers. Rastafarians avoid blending Ital foods with other food, as well. Rastafarians refrain from anything polluted with pesticides, or any type of packaged foods. Some rastas are serious enough to avoid using synthetic plastic countertops. Kitchens, therefore, are made with natural materials, like wood, and food is served only in bowls that have come from the earth, like gourds or wood.

The reason for avoiding pork and shellfish is because they are environmental scavengers, and regarded as unclean. Large fish are avoided because they feed on smaller fish, and if one is going to eat flesh, it mush be the flesh of plant eaters.

Most Rastafarians believe that in the beginning of creation it was not intended for man to eat flesh.

"And Jah said, Behold I have given every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed, to you it shall be for meat (food)." -Genesis 1:29

People had no need to kill, and in that time the people (Israelites) walked side by side with Jah, and were everliving and didn’t experience illness or death. However, at some point it is believed that people fell into temptation, and began to transgress from Jah’s beliefs. By these acts, people were led into slavery, and they lost touch with the higher life, and they no longer walked side by side with Jah. Then, Jah chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery. For forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. During this time Jah provided the Israelites with Manna, a substance which could be used to make bread. During their long journeying, the Israelites grew tired of eating the Manna all the time, "and the children of Israel also wept again, and said Who shall give us flesh to eat?" -Numbers 11:4

At this point Jah decided to provide the Israelites with quails. "And say unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow; and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord saying, Who shall give me flesh to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the Lord shall give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome to you; because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before him, saying why can we worth out of Egypt?" -Numbers 11: 18-20

In one explanation, it is said that the Israelites desired something they didn’t need. In the beginning, people had no need for the flesh of other animals, but as they grew away from Jah, they developed an unneeded desire for flesh. So, Jah has allowed the Israelites to eat flesh, but under strict regulations, because most flesh is simply harmful to the human body and mind.

"Let your Food be your Medicine and your Medicine be your Food"

Eating Ital is holistically healthy. Ital food is physically sustaining, mentally and spiritually nourishing, and environmentally conscious. The dominant beliefs in most European countries is that meat and milk are a nutritional, necessary part of a healthy diet, and there is not very much stress put on the dangers of the preservatives and additives that are so present in most food marketed to the people. Also, the general belief is that eating Ital vegetarian or vegan is an insufficient diet. There is a general argument that eating a diet like this does not provide one with enough protein. Protein, however, is composed of amino acids, which are necessary in the body to replace decomposed cells. Plants can synthesize amino acids directly from the air, earth and water, but all other living beings have to obtain their amino acids either directly by eating plants or indirectly by eating animals that eat plants. Therefore, there are no amino acids derived from animals that can not be derived from plants.

It is healthful and mindful to eat live foods, such as raw fruits, vegetables and their juices, herbs, seeds, nuts and grains. Rastafarians believe that eating food like this teaches ones body to live and have longevity. They understand that simply, we are made of what we eat; pure live foods build pure blood streams and clean systems. Rastafarians believe that by eating strictly Ital, one can avoid disease and illness. Disease and illness root from high levels of waste matter in the system, which is a result of consuming more than the body can assimilate or eliminate. Foods that are very high in protein, specifically, are the cause of this, for example, meats of all kind, eggs, fish, and cow’s milk. Also, overusing starchy food and tea can cause intestinal ills, constipation and leucorrhea. When the body suffers from diseases and heaviness, the root of the problem most commonly is digesting the wrong combinations of devitalized inorganic indigestible foods, such as greasy, fried food, which are very readily available throughout the United States and Europe.

Environmentally, obtaining most or all of your nutrients from plants is less harmful than obtaining nutrients from flesh. It takes more energy to feed livestock animals tremendous amounts of vegetable proteins in order for them to reach their "slaughter weight." In order for a farmer to produce 5 Kg. Of flesh he would need to feed the animal at least 15 Kg. of grains. It is more conscious to save that energy and food by obtaining nutrients from plants directly.

Also, by eating Ital, one avoids supporting such things as genetically engineered foods. Most all rastas try to eat as close to all certified organic foods as possible. A rastafarian from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, speaks about genetically engineered foods in the following way:

"In a globalized economy, the poorest countries of the world are exporting their food to the already well-fed countries…In a globalized economy, food-sufficiency is replaced by food-dependency…Genetically engineered crops are difficult to control. They can cross-pollinate with other plants, or migrate, or mutate. If a pest- or herbicide- resistant strain one day spreads from crops to weeds, a superweed could multiply and be nearly impossible to stop, threatening the world food supply. One hundred U.S. scientists took this danger seriously enough to warn that ‘it could lead to irreversible, devastating damage to the ecology’… The biotech industry says it is ‘ecological’ because it decreases the need to use chemical sprays. At the same time they make that case, one biotech giant Monsanto, is marketing the number one chemical herbicide in the world: Roundup. And they are genetically engineering certain crops to resist Roundup… As a result, farmers use even more Roundup since the cash crop is protected from it. Other biotech companies are doing the same thing with their own herbicide. Is this what they call ecological agriculture?…The true effect is to increase the use of pesticides and thereby increase pollution of the soil, air, water table, rivers and oceans. Pesticides make the water undrinkable, kill fish by the millions, and in the long run turn the soil sterile… "

- "lion of judah’

For rastafarians, eating Ital is mentally and spiritually sustaining as well, along with being physically nourishing and socially conscious. Many rastafarians regard cooking as a creative meditation. Every aspect of the preparation of the meal is considered sacred, the materials and ingredients used and the attitude and state of mind and heart of the individuals cooking. Rastafarians only dine on food prepared in a pure and clean state of mind. Individuals that are bleeding at all are considered unclean, so they can not participate in the preparation of a meal, for example women during menstruation, or men who have unhealed cuts or scrapes.

Some Rastafarians believe that meat makes an individual vicious and aggressive, therefore eating a plant based diet makes one peaceful and grounded, like the plants themselves. Many rastafarians also feel that eating impure foods or drinking impure drinks makes one feel guilt. That is how many rastafarian individuals decide what food is good for them and what food is not, by following their conscious they are guided to what is beneficial. It is a decision of the heart. Regardless of any decisions, it is always known that natural food and drink are always trustworthy, and the closer to nature, the more pure the food source is.

Many rastafarians reason that the foods which they eat are the carriers of natural energies which when consumed are converted into physical forces and used by the body. Eating Ital connects one to the earth, and because Ital is natural, the rastafarians feel it surpasses all forms of materially sophisticated lifestyles. It brings rastafari closer to Jah and his natural creation, and symbolizes affinity to the natural and spiritual. Ital is an ancient, natural tradition, so it opposes the separateness so prevalent in modern society. Ital is life-energizing, and sustains the physical body and the inner spirit in perfect balance.

"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are".

"Eat Rasta"

As I have covered many of the restrictions on an Ital, rastafarian diet, I feel that it is important to balance these statements with the diverse, creative, life sustaining opportunities of cooking Ital. Ital cooking is known for it’s use of flavorful herbs and spices, it’s natural, pure ingredients, and it’s tendency toward rich flavor.

There is an Ital restaurant in New York City called Ital Itations. In a review of the restaurant, Jessica Harris said the following:

"… I selected the fillings for a medium-sized plat: coconut-flavored stew peas and rice, a massive brick of macaroni pie, brown rice, and a rich tofu and tomato stew, the whole topped with two slices of wonderfully sweet fried plantain. I accompanied it with a bony but tasty fried fish covered with a mass of tangy sweated onions and a refreshing glass of homemade ginger beer complete with small bits of grated ginger. The taste combinations in the helping of starch were intriguing and satisfying, and the ginger beer was sublime."

-The Village Voice: Features: Jessica Harris

The food used in most Ital rastafarian cooking originates from many different areas. The jackfruit, tamarind, sour sop and sweet sop, cannabis sativa and some mangoes come from India. Cane sugar, ginger, cocoa and bananas were introduced by the Spaniards in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The breadfruit and the otaheite apple came from Tahiti. From Afrika, the ackee and the yam came. In the late nineteenth century, refugees fleeing from Cuba after the revolution brought with them cigar tobacco.

Some typical Ital drinks are banana punch, coconut punch, ginger beer or mango nectar. A recipe from The Rasta Cookbook for coconut punch is the following:

Ingredients: 1 mature coconut

1 _ pt water

4 oz raw cane sugar

_ tsp almond essence

Shell the coconut, peel and finely grate the flesh. Mix the grated coconut with the water and strain the mixture through a sieve lined with muslin, squeezing the muslin to extract all the juice. Discard the coconut. Add the raw cane sugar to the coconut liquid and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Flavor with almond essence and chill.

Some typical Ital snacks or appetizers are plantain chips, avocado dip, carrot fritters, or fried ripe bananas. A recipe for carrot fritters from the same cook book is the following:

Ingredients:

3 medium-sized carrots

4 oz wholemeal flour

_ tsp baking powder

_ tsp ground cinnamon

_ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

3 oz raw cane sugar

2-3 tbs milk or soy milk

vegetable oil for frying

Peel and grate the carrots. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a bowl. Add the sugar and mix in the grated carrot. Pour on the milk a spoonful at a time stirring the ingredients to produce a soft dropping consistency. The mixture should not be too wet. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan. Drop table spoons of the carrot mixture into the oil and fry until the fritters are golden brown on both sides. Serve hot.

Typical Ital main courses are baked sweet potatoes, sweet corn and rice, cashew nut patties, fried yam cakes, millet and tofu patties, breadfruit in coconut sauce and vegetable stew with cornmeal dumplings. A recipe for Breadfruit in Coconut Sauce from The Rasta Cookbook is the following:

Ingredients:

_ breadfruit

1 medium-sized onion

2 medium-sized tomatoes

2 tbs vegetable oil

1 bayleaf

1 sprig thyme

freshly ground black pepper

_ pt coconut milk

Using a sharp knife slice the breadfruit into thick wedges. Peel the breadfruit and cut out the heart. Peel and chop the onion and tomatoes. Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan, add the onion and fry until soft but not brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, bayleaf, thyme and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the coconut milk and bring the liquid to the boil. Add the breadfruit, cover the pan and simmer on a gentle heat for thirty minutes or until the breadfruit is tender.

Finally, some typical ital dessert foods are baked bananas, coconut tart, mango cream, steamed groundnut pudding, mango ice-cream and banana ice-cream. The Rasta Cookbook has a recipe for coconut tarts:

Ingredients:

6 oz wholemeal flour: _ tsp baking powder

3 oz unsalted butter or vegetable margarine

1 mature coconut: 3 slices fresh root ginger

8 oz raw can sugar

_ tsp freshly grated root ginger

4-5 drops vanilla essence.

First make the shortcrust pastry. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and rub in the butter or vegetable margarine with the fingers. Add cold water a tablespoon at a time and blend until the ingredients form a soft, but not sticky, dough. Knead briefly on a floured surface and let the pastry rest in a cool place while the filling is made. Peel and grate the coconut and the ginger and combine with the sugar in a heavy based saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil rapidly on a high heat stirring constantly until most of the liquid evaporates and the coconut takes on a translucent appearance. (The mixture should be moist but not wet.) Flavour with nutmeg and vanilla. Roll out the pastry and use to line an 8-inch tart or pie dish. Fill with the coconut and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees C. for about 20 minutes until the pastry is lightly coloured.

As these recipes portray, rastafarian Ital cooking is creative and tasty, and uses bold flavors and sometimes unorthodox combinations. From personal experience, Ital foods are truly some of the most delicious around, if approached with an open mind and heart. Most of the ingredients to the recipes included in this document are ingredients that are commonly available in Jamaica. However, it is possible to eat entirely Ital in Vermont, for example, modifications and substitutions are pretty simple to make, and as long as any substitute used is of a natural, organic origin, it is Ital.

Living Ital is more than just eating Ital, however. Living Ital is a philosophy of nature; it is natural and simplistic, almost like roots reggae. Living Ital is striving to be at one with nature, at peace with oneself and with all things surrounding. Reaching this point is considered one of the highest states, a high that derives in music and chant, in good health and vitality and in the holistically nourishing food that is consumed by the rastafari.

Eating Ital is not merely the act of eating food, it is a sacred ritual, performed again and again, which I-nites the rastafari with their creator and His creations. Living Ital connects one to a higher power, and is a vital part of rastafarianism. In closing, included is a passage from The Second Itation of the Itations of Jamaica and I Rastafari:

SHINE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE

Shine like a blazing fire, shine like a blazing fire

Ihighziahbhere Yihmohsgahnh, shine like a blazing fire

May the words of I and I mouth and the meditation of our hearts

be acceptable in they sight oh Jah Rastafari

Shine like a blazing fire, shine like a blazing fire

King Alpha and Queen Omega

Beginning and end, Selah.

Shine like a blazing fire, shine like a blazing fire

Sing a new song in the morning Jah Jah done you no wrong

Shine like a blazing fire, shine like a blazing fire

Say Zion I awake and sing the rising sun

Just like the morning sun Lord knows we got to shine, shine, shine

It’s not the love you take, it’s the love you give

Got your rightful place in this earth to live

Shine like a blazing fire, shine like a blazing fire

Sing a new song in the morning Jah Jah done you no wrong

Sing a new song in the morning Jah Jah done you no wrong

Say Zion I awake and sing the rising sun

And like the birds fly free, human psychology and bad mind got to get a blow

Shine like a blazing fire, shine like a blazing fire

Say Zion I awake and sing the rising sun, zion awake and sing the rising sun

Shine like a blazing fire, Shine like a blazing fire

A riverside and watch the waters run

Just like the flowers Lord knows, you got to grow, grow, grow.

-THIRD WORLD/Michael (Ibo) Cooper, Stephen (Cat)

Coore, Willie Stewart, Richard (Bassie) Daley

"Ital is Vital"