top of page

Ital Diet - Life & Nourishment

In case you are sitting there wondering what Ital is or means, it is a word used to celebrate the dietary guidelines used by some in the Rastafari movement, essentially a whole food, plant based diet. It derives from the English word Vital. Variations of this word and idea resonate widely throughout reggae lyrics and conversations.


Last night (I wrote this Sunday) I saw One Love, the Bob Marley movie.  Back in the day, we (myself and the club owner I worked for) used to throw the biggest reggae event in NYC weekly, Exodus Reggae Tuesdays and had a radio show on WNWK of the same title.  I have been incredibly blessed to know and learn from many legendary roots and culture reggae artists as well as the Rastafarian community at large in New York. That movie was soul medicine I didn’t know I needed and brought up so many memories.  I have a longing in my chest to go to either NY, Miami or Jamaica like - NOW.  


Starting last night my entire being has been calling for Ital food and I have been running roots reggae non-stop. 


A big pot of healthy Ital stew simmers on the stove
Ital Stew with fresh corn on the cob rounds

Today I spent two hours shopping and gathering everything for a variation of an Ital stew that a rootsman used to bring to the club and serve outside cups to people outside from a massive pot.  So many conversations were had around the likkle fire under that pot as we warmed ourselves from the inside with vibrantly healthful nourishment and from the outside with fellowship and community.


He told me that he would spend all day cooking the stew before bringing it over in his van.  He said it was a prayer and a blessing made manifest through each movement and infusing the food with intention.


Now, I love to cook and make elaborate meals on occasion but today something else was afoot.


All of the stirred up emotions, the reminiscing movie reel playing in my head, the deep desire to connect with this beautiful culture all came into play.  For the last couple of weeks I have been ruminating on ceremony, ritual, sanctuary and how these important things fit into our overworked/over busy culture. (Expect more on this in the next while)


I am writing now as the stew simmers and breaks it’s components down.  I started this project about 7 hours ago.  I am still in some kind of flow state.  Today has been a ceremony of some kind that will culminate when we partake of this food.


What is different about today than any other day?  I believe it is headspace, intention, focus and sloooooooowing down.  


Ital cooking as it has been taught to me is about whole fresh foods, avoiding processed ingredients and being mindful of where the ingredients came from.  For instance, homegrown produce is preferred if possible.  Meat and dairy are avoided unless you raise the animals yourself.  Salt should be as clean as possible so sea salt or Himalayan salt if you choose to salt your food.  Herbs and spices should be fresh cut if available.  It is about staying healthy and being spiritually connected to the earth.


As I was preparing the food today, I could literally feel my body, my essence, asking the ingredients to lend their vitality and life force to us.  No, I am not a crazy person or at least I don’t think so.  This just was… happening.


The recipe I remember calls for plantains, I chose greener plantains because something in me said - that’s more full of life.  There are many root vegetables and some squashes - I felt compelled to peel all of them to shuck off whatever had touched “the contaminants” and chop only the clean insides into the pot.  I took only the seeds out of the squashes and chopped in all of the soft fibrous guts.  I picked off leaves and chopped fresh parsley, cilantro and Thai basil.  There were no fresh scotch bonnets but I found a sauce made in Kingston to use.


Ya’ll.  The flavor is uncannily like the rootsman’s stew.  I have never made this before and am just going off my memory of what he told me and some variations because of what is available. Given my car accident brain injury, this is somewhat surreal.


This day has been a major moment that I haven’t fully unpacked yet.  Maybe that’s what this writing is part of.


Carefully gathering and preparing all of the ingredients as my family flowed around me; surrounding us with life giving music with lyrics about unity, revolution, love, community, improving the conditions of humanity… just SPECIAL, special.

 

My point here is, taking time to lean into what is calling you is healing and if feels important to talk about.  I will probably write more about sanctuary and ritual but for now I wanted to share this moment with you all and invite you to slow down and soak in your own version of what your essence is saying you need.  You deserve that.


I was asked the recipe for the stew so I will share here what I did so if you’d like to make it, you can give it a try.  I recommend a playlist of Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Toots & The Maytals, Sly & Robbie, Black Uhuru, Third World & and any other roots reggae artists you love.


Ingredients:

2 bunches green onion

8 cloves of garlic

2 TBSP butter

Allspice

Turmeric

Black pepper

White pepper

Likkle curry powder

Some bay leaves

Thyme

Sage

Pink Salt

2 tomatoes

Carrots

Potato

Purple yam

White yam

Dasheen

Green bell pepper

Acorn squash

Butternut squash

2 greenish plantains

6 ears of sweet corn, cut in small rounds

Coconut milk

2 cups water

Fresh parsley, cilantro, Thai basil, one bunch each, chopped

One fresh Scotch Bonnet pepper if available or a sauce to taste if not.  If you use the fresh, just float it in the stew, don’t chop it in or pierce it or you may have way more heat than you care for.


Basically prepare as any stew.  Melt your butter, put in your onion, garlic, bell pepper, spices and start them softening while you wash and prepare other ingredients.


Add the water and start to add your prepped and chopped vegetables.  Get everything in the pot, bring it up to a boil, stirring, keep it hot hot and cook it long enough that the root vegetables start to break down and thicken your stew.  Continue seasoning to taste.  Create variation at will.  My only note is that if you add meat other than fish, this is no longer ital.  


Listen to your body and what it is saying it wants.  Enjoy. 


One Love (& Sunshine) - Maaike