Traditional Rastafarian Food

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Traditional jerk chicken on a plate served with black beans and rice, plantains, cilantro and fresh mango salsa.
Traditional jerk chicken on a plate served with black beans and rice, plantains, cilantro and fresh mango salsa. (Image: otokimus/iStock/Getty Images)

Simple, natural foods and preparation techniques characterize a typical Rastafarian diet. They’re part of a lifestyle called Ital, or I-Tal, that not only touches on nutrition, but also life in general. Among the other tenets of the religion practiced in Jamaica and around the world is that blacks will be redeemed and returned to Africa. Their veneration of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, the use of marijuana and a prohibition against cutting your hair are notable aspects of the religion.

The Basics

In its purest form, the Ital diet eschews any foods considered non-organic, and excludes meat and dairy products. Some Rastafarians follow dietary guidelines found in the Old Testament that allow non-red meat and fish. No matter the interpretation, food must be wholesome and healthy, and prepared in ways that reflect the cook’s roots. Adherents avoid artificial flavors and additives, purchase food locally and use outdoor kitchens to prepare large pots of food.

Organic and Natural

Use of organic products is the only hard and fast rule for Rastafarian cooking. Natural herbs and spices -- including the notoriously hot Scotch bonnet pepper -- are used as substitutes for salt, which is considered unnatural. Common ingredients include coconut and coconut milk, beans, legumes, roasted seeds and callaloo, a leafy green plant used in soups and stews. Tofu and bean curd substitute for meat. Fruit juices and herbal teas replace milk and coffee.

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