Rastafarianism is a religion that is centred around the idea that the Messiah is Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia. Traditional Rastafarians believed that black individuals should go back to Africa and establish a new country, as set forth by black nationalist Marcus Garvey. A number of Jamaicans who have followed this religion have withdrawn from mainstream Jamaican society, separating themselves from organised white religions such as Christianity. Most Rastafarians believe that Ethiopia is the holy land, and they are the chosen people. Since the emergence and popularity of Bob Marley, the movement has been associated with reggae music, which has been used to celebrate the religion as well as protest against injustices.
For Rastafarians, it is important to live simply, away from influences of others, especially white cultures. This means that they live in natural settings, and their foods are those that come from the land. The food that Rastafarians eat is known as Ital food, which means that it is all natural and has not been chemically altered in any way. This is why their diets do not contain alcohol or caffeine. Ital is derived from the word “vital.” Rastafarians believe that this is the best way to keep the body pure and healthy.
Rastafarians often have similar diets to those that were laid forth in Leviticus 11, in that they do have pork, salt or oil in their diets. Although many Rastafarians do not eat any meat because they are vegetarians or vegans, the ones who do often only eat fish. The rules, according to the Bible passage, are that fish must be less than a foot long, and they cannot be shellfish. In order to keep food pure and to allow it to act in a similar manner to a medicine for the body, many Rastafarians refuse to cook in aluminium pots, opting for clay ones instead.
Many Rastafarian dishes contain both fruits and vegetables. One of the main ingredients in Ital food is coconuts, a fruit that is abundant in Jamaica and can be found in many foods. Many Rastafarians extract coconut milk from coconuts and use it in different recipes. Often it is the first ingredient that is added, followed by other ingredients such as pimentos and scotch bonnet pepper. Thyme is added as a substitute to salt, adding flavour to dishes.
A number of different foods have been incorporated into Ital cuisine, especially by Rastafarians who live outside of Jamaica. In other countries, some of the natural ingredients that are essential to Ital dishes are not available, so people sometimes have to use canned foods. This means that sometimes preservatives and salts are part of food that they cook. Sometimes foods that are abundant in other countries, such as tofu, are added to Ital recipes as well. Often Ital dishes have ingredients similar to those found in African and Indian foods, but the main goal of Rastafarian food remains to be as natural as possible.
Although the Ital diet is limited in many ways because it does not contain meat, salt or milk, it contains breads, main dishes and desserts. The different types of dishes allow for a more balanced diet for Rastafarians. Some of them include sesame glazed beans, made up of green beans, a red bell pepper, dry mustard, honey and sesame seeds; Ital soup, made up of yam, pumpkin, cabbage, green pepper, garlic, sweet potato, carrots and tomato; crispy raw vegetable summer rolls, made up of carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, peanuts, soy, ginger and garlic; Irie salad, made up of corn cobs, sweet potatoes, onion, spring onions and apples and infused kola juice, made up of grated kola nuts which are used in Africa for energy.
In Rastafarian communities, it is often women who prepare food because their roles, in a similar manner to other societies, have traditionally been to take care of the homes and family. Although they often live differently than women in other societies, dressing in more conservative clothing and refraining from wearing make-up and other chemicals, they are often responsible for the households. In Rastafarian societies, women are seen as queens, but they often play minimal parts in the communities.
Just as Ital food is important to Rastafarian societies, herbs such as marijuana have also become significant to the practice of the religion. Rastafarians often smoke a form of marijuana that is an Indian strain of hemp, which is stronger than other forms and can cause visions and hallucinations.