The Rastafarian culture and religion, originating in the Caribbean country of Jamaica, is based on Ital, a word that indicates vitality, or a vital way of life. In striving to maintain an Ital lifestyle, Rastafarians live in harmony with the creator, other people and the natural environment. These tenets are a critical aspect of Rastafarian food, which nourishes the body with pure, wholesome ingredients. Using traditional techniques and distinctive cooking styles, simple foods are combined to create complex flavors, textures and aromas.

Dietary Standards

Rastafarian food contains no preservatives, chemicals, artificial colorings or flavorings. Whenever possible, food is produced on local family farms and cooks avoid packaged food from large supermarkets. The diet is primarily vegetarian, as Rastafarians eat no meat, chicken, pork, shellfish or fish without scales. However, fish is sometimes appropriate as long as the fish measures less than 12 inches in length. The food contains no salt, but herbs and spices are used generously.

Cooking

Rastafarian kitchens are as natural as possible and often, cooking is done outdoors over wood fires. Dependence on modern technology is limited and because cooking involves mostly fresh food, some kitchens have no refrigeration. Food is cooked primarily in clay pots and served in wooden bowls, gourds, or other earthy materials. Wooden spoons, often made by skilled woodworkers, are used for stirring. If metal is used, it is in the form of cast iron pots or similar materials. Aluminum is avoided, as Rastafarians believe that poisons from the aluminum leach into the food. Food is cooked slowly to enhance its natural flavors.

Fruits and Vegetables

Rastafarian food is rich in a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, most of which are eaten raw or lightly cooked to retain the flavor, texture, and nutritional quality. Scotch bonnet peppers, grown in the Caribbean and other tropical areas, are used in many dishes. The colorful peppers are valued for their smoky, spicy flavor. Cassava, a tuber that grows in tropical climates, is a carbohydrate-rich, starchy vegetable that grows even in poor soil. Cassava is used much like a potato and is also ground into flour. Coconut is a staple in traditional Rastafarian dishes, which utilize the coconut fruit as well as the milk and oil. Other fruits and vegetables used in Rastafarian dishes include spinach and other leafy greens, cabbage, onions. potatoes, yams, pumpkins and carrrots, as well as strawberries, oranges, papayas, currants, melons and other tropical fruits.

Nuts and Grains

Many Rastafarian foods are served with brown rice. However, a variety of roasted seeds, sometimes ground with a mortar and pestle, are often used. Various beans, peas and other legumes ensure that the meat-free diet contains healthy amounts of proteins.